June 21, 2011
From its humble beginnings up until now, one moto remains firm at Shwood and that is quality over quantity. Being a handmade eyewear company, it is no easy task to maintain production let alone expand, stand out in the over saturated market, introduce new silhouettes every season and keep on top of everything else in between. We managed to sit down with Eric, owner / founder of Shwood to talk about his passion for wood, perfection and how he keeps afloat with his label.
How are ya’ Eric? How’s Portland today?
Portland is weird. Rain one minute, sun the next and somewhere in between maybe a bit of snow and hail. No, actually right now its quite nice. Sunglass weather, its beautiful. And I’m good, about to dig into a California style garlic chicken pizza. I’m actually pretty excited.
Sounds just like Melbourne…awesome. We understand the “wood” part of the name (pretty obvious DUH) but why the “Sh”? What does the name represent/mean?
This is always a fun one to explain. For the first few years that I was making wooden sunglasses, they had no name. I felt like it was cooler that way. Then I started selling a couple pairs in this local shop downtown, and people were telling me it was time to call them something. I contacted a good friend of mine for help in this matter and he came back a week later with a list of names, One of which was Shwood. It caught my eye, and in a way matched my personality so I asked him the same question you have just asked me. His explanation immediately brought me to the realization that I had just found it. He went on to tell me a few years back him and some friend were staying at a hotel called the Ashwood while on a snowboard trip. The A in the sign was out, so it read _shwood. The next day they went to the local hill for a contest, and had to tell the event staff what sponsors they rode for. They all said Shwood, and explained it was this super misty brand that no one knew about yet was cooler than any of the rest, although it actually was a rundown hotel who employed an incompetent maintenance man. Now its a bit more than that.
That’s cool… I‘m sure a lot of people would know you guys by now, but for those who are unaware of what you do… care to explain?
We are a collective group of hardworking craftsmen and women who believe wood is cooler than plastic and overseas labor is so last year. Oh and we make wooden sunglasses by hand, under the roof of our own production facility in Oregon.
2 years and 5 models later…
We are busier than ever. That whole supply and demand thing they teach you in high school, its been taking us on a pretty wild ride.
Speaking of different models, care to elaborate on the different sunglasses you have in your collection thus far and the types of wood used?
We have chosen a classic route for the image of our brand, and this is represented in our styles. The woods are as premium as it gets, keeping in mind that they are sustainably harvested from trees grown on special plantations with the intent of turning these trees into lumber from the day the seeds are planted.
Expansion is inevitable, what are your plans for introducing new models/silhouettes and more wood variety?
The future is yet to be told, but there are good things in the works. Keep an eye on the horizon, for sure.
While we’re on that topic of expansion, we’re really impressed with how quickly you guys grew from working in your backyard to employing over 20 people now. Care to share the growth process with us?
In the beginning it was just me, making one pair a day, if I was lucky. Through a strange twist of fate I eventually met some good people, 4 to be exact, and wanted to join forces with me to execute on a much bigger vision. Once we made the brand official and opened up our first workshop in this cold, leaky storage bay, the word spread like wildfire. We were backordered over 200 pairs within the first week of launching our website, with just me still running the production floor. The word “employees” was on the tip of all our tongues like hunger brought on by a 5 day fast. That backorder hasn’t ever really disappeared, but we have been able to control it much better with help from the talented people we have brought into what now is know as the Shwood family.
Wow, that’s amazing. What’s you vision for Shwood in the next 5 to 10 years?
In 10 years I’m just hoping to be able to stay creative in some way. As for Shwood, I hope it continues to keep its quality and sense of awareness. Im confident it will, with the people backing it right now. As long as they stay involved with the brand, I’m sure it’ll do just fine.
What does quality mean to you?
It means everything to us. A lot of hard work goes into every pair, which rewards us with that sense of DIY craftsmanship that can only be found in such labor.
It’s a good feeling to be able to look at a piece of driftwood at the beach, or a broken slat in a bench, and tell myself I could make an amazing pair of wooden sunglasses out of it if I wanted to. This is entirely possible, based on our methods of assembly.
There are a million other sunglass labels out there, what were your motivations in starting another eyewear company in the over saturated market? And how do you set yourselves apart from your competition?
Its a plastic world we live in, and this fact is pretty depressing when you think about it. Things are not made how they used to be, for example your typical axe. There are some on the market today that are fashioned with plastic handles. The way the world operated before plastics dominated everything wasn’t as clean, sure, but it carried a sense of quality thats hard to find today. We all felt that the sunglass industry was no exception to this opinion, so we did something about that.
Being a new brand in the industry can be pretty daunting, but how has Shwood been received thus far since its introduction in 09’?
We set out with the intent to share something special with people. The response we have received in the last 2 years has been incredible to say the least. I have had the opportunity to be apart of something I would consider legendary in my own life, which would never have been possible without the backing that has resonated from it all.
Lets talk about the creative processes for a moment. Who comes up with the designs, who produces them and etc? Care to break it all down?
We spend a lot of time staying conscious of what styles are hot on the market at the time, and use some of those select styles as inspiration when designing our own models. As for roles around the shop, I work closely with our brand manager when designing new models, and then once we have something that we all like, it gets passed along to our skillful employees who have learned the techniques necessary to reproduce them on a daily basis.
In everyones lives, we have people we look up to or are inspired by, who is that person to you and why?
Its hard to choose just one. Anyone with a unique vision on life has always inspired me to try and do something different with myself. The person who comes to mind first is Tim Burton. Not that I’ve ever met the guy, but I love every movie he has ever made. His weird creative twist has always had some strange spell over me, I mean every time I watch Edward Scissorhands, no one’s bushes or shrubs are safe for at least 10 hours.
There are moments in time where we find ourselves humbled by what we have achieved or who we are being surrounded by or the positive feedback that we get. What and when was that moment for you?
This is such a good question, but I cant think of one particular instance that stands out from the rest. There have been many times I hear stories from friends who have travelled to distant spots in this world, and have met people who comment on their wooden shades and know about Shwood. That always blows my mind.
We’ve been talking about the brand for a minute now…lets talk about the people behind it shall we? How did you meet the other guys? Care to share the history?
It all happened when a buddy and I made the decision to move to Bend, Oregon and live out of our cars which allowed us to snowboard everyday. I had packed all my wood tools in that same car, with an A/C convertor so I could still operate the power tools in my back seat and make the shades. I ended up meeting one of my future business partners on the hill, who invited me to travel on this bus for a while as part of this snowboard tour. The people who organized this venture into the wild unknown ended up taking a liking to what I had been doing with the wood, and wanted to help me do something with it. I don’t think I could have found better people to help me create this brand if it had been my only intent. It surely wouldn’t be what it is now without them. Funny where living in your car can take you.
We can’t live without good food (for obvious reasons). What are some things you cannot live without and why?
My hammock. Its the best thing I’ve ever slept in. It was my bed every night for 2 months while living on that bus, and ever since I have not met a bed that can touch it.
Music is a big part of our lives here at the Fat Kids HQ, whats on heavy rotation at the Shwood HQ?
The music of wood being cut pretty much burns a whole in everyones’ head on a day to day basis. Think dieing Pterodactyl meets wild boar being attacked by lion, then turn it up. Its lovely. Somewhere in between you might get lucky enough to hear some Devil Makes Three, Bob Dylan, and the Spits. No, wait, thats just the wood being cut again…
Lastly, have you got anyone you’d like to thank for having supported you throughout your journey at Shwood?
My mom in the early days, for giving me the garage to fill up with sawdust and make all the noise I could possibly create, even into the late hours on weeknights. Never once did she tell me to shut up. Sorry. And all the friends who have supported Shwood, and have helped to continually shape it.
Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to be with us today Eric and sharing your thoughts with everyone. We at Fat Kids wish you much success in the many years to come and hope to see you down in Australia very soon. Keep on creating and inspiring!
words by Benny Teh