Acetate frames hold a particularly important place in our history. It was this product and discovering the master craftsmen (Takumi) of Sabae that laid the foundations for the entire Archibald concept and the start of our adventure.
Having raised a small amount of money to facilitate this journey, I set out as a fresh graduate on what would be the first and most important of many journeys. For about three months, I was fully engrossed in the world of manufacturing.
The journey to find manufacturers that matched my ambitions saw me visiting luxury eyewear factories in China, Italy, France, Germany and Korea, finally ending up in Japan. Prior to my last stop, I had honestly given up on the project. Japan was a last ditch effort to find the answer, because I had become deeply deeply disillusioned with the corner cutting and poor manufacturing techniques I had witnessed on my travels. I even wondered if some of the products I had previously condemned as being rubbish and poorly made were instead, somehow the acceptable norm.
Welcome to Sabae
Four and half hours by 'Shinkansen' from Tokyo, lies the town of Sabae, a small manufacturing outpost in the Fukui prefecture. As you walk out of the relatively small station, you are greeted by an imposing iron statue of a pair of round glasses, immediately clarifying just what the residents of this town do. It wasn't long before I realised things were done differently in this town. A chance encounter with an elder craftsmen leaving the same train saw me invited to one of the most respected frame polishing workshops for tea, and my discovering the pair of glasses that would totally change my perception of high quality eyewear.
The people of Sabae have been making eyewear for over a 100 years. When Japan was first experiencing a manufacturing boom in the 1910's, the town was seen as a second grade outpost where the bulk of low to mid end eyewear was produced. However the Japanese are never ones to rest on being "producers" and as cultural nuances played their role and they injected their own philosophies into the manufacturing process - the town quickly transformed into the outpost for luxury optical manufacturing. The town employs a guild-like system, where each craftsman established their own business as part of the making process. In doing so, the craftsmen became highly specialised and found status as the best in the world in accomplishing specific tasks in the manufacture of a pair. However all was not rosy. The rise of Chinese manufacturing, fast fashion, cheaper, unskilled, industrial approaches and cost cutting my the world's luxury brands brought unscrupulous and dishonest tactics by foreign brands that threatened to destroy the industry in Sabae. Interestingly, the very best workshops would generally refuse to deal with these brands, opting to work with local, Japanese brands and their caution ensured their survival.
After several dinners where my intentions were being sussed out, I managed to convince the son of a legendary craftsmen that our idea represented a solution to preserving their great art therefore allowing the town to thrive. Archibald offered a means to celebrate the great 'Takumi' of Sabae, After all by selling direct, prices would be lower and more people could gain access to these beautiful products - the idea provided a potential solution. The agreement signified the first time in the workshops history an overseas brand was accepted to work under their managed flow of 16 of the top workshops in Sabae. Over time as our team has expanded and the complexity of manufacturing increased - we have established close personal relationships with craftsmen in each of these 16 different workshops. Through dinners, countless teas and enjoyable nights at the local izakayas we have formed a bond that represents everything we want to stand for at Archibald.
Each of our acetate frames require over 190 manual processes prior to quality control. As you can imagine with different processes taking place in different venues in the pursuit of creating truly wonderful and exceptional pieces - scheduling manufacture at this level is fairly complex as any delays and changes require informing all workshops completing tasks further down the flow.
The craftsmen only use locally sourced materials. Acetate from famed manufacturer Takiron Rowland and Japanese three, five barrel and kashime hinges form the basic ingredients and these are supplemented with various resins, chips, nose pads etc that form the result. The production focuses on working in small quantities to ensure each of our products receive the attention it deserves. Each process is carefully handcrafted by artisans who are considered masters at the particular task at hand - a reflection of their skill and over a century's worth of experience. Each of our frames must undergo three rigorous tests for approval – first by the quality control section of the facility and then at two different stages by our most senior expert, referred to as “Sennmu.” Upon completion, each frame receives a unique production number etched into its temple, a reminder that every piece carries it's own creation story and subtle distinguishing characteristics.