INTRODUCING: Eye Respect, Jonathan van Blerk

Eye Respect is one the last independent eyewear brands out there. Founded and run by Jonathan van Blerk, the company takes pride in making its glasses by hand. The eyewear industry tends to be dominated by one large company that manufacturers most of the glasses in the world. That said, there are still independent manufacturers that deserve our attention and respect. van Blerk's Eye Respect is one of them. 

Jonathan van Blerk is one of the last artisans in the eyewear industry - we should all take a closer look at Eye Respect. We had the chance to speak with him about his company and his thoughts on his industry. 

LC: What's your background and how did you enter the eyewear industry?
JB: I have been working in the eyewear industry since 1993 and have worked on 3 continents within this industry, starting working for Luxotica, then my own independent consulting agency (The AgenC) where we have handled 26 brands since 1997 until finishing with my own company and brands at Eye Respect a ltd where I have the combined role of Creative Director/CEO

LC: What are the current trends in the eye wear industry?
JB: We have been at the forefront of leading the trends into creative pantos, as well as exemplary finished heritage pieces.

LC:The eyewear industry tends to be dominated by a vertically integrated 800lb gorilla. 
JB: That is true... I don't have an issue really other than that they are very behind the times in skill and quality and miseducate their customer.

LC: What are your thoughts on the companies that are offering consumers, at least in the US, direct eyewear? Companies like WarbyParker?
JB: They have a place, as long as the are tightly regulated, also they tend to be 600lb vertical gorillas of their own making.
    
LC: Your eye wear is now distributed across most of Europe, America, and Asia. How do you manage to distribute so widely? Where next do you want to be?
JB: Their is no secret. We feel we make a very good, very affordable product and we work very hard at always improving our offering. We are currently working on Brazil, Mexico & Australia.

LC: What’s the history to Eye Respect?
JB: Eye Respect has always been at the forefront of what I do, even though we are technically only in our 5th year. It is based on mutual respect. Respect for our craft, respect for our industry & respect for our consumer. We are now considered one of the leading lights in England.

LC: What's your favorite pair of glasses from Eye Respect?
JB: My favourite currently is the Dylan, our customers, still the DC.
    
LC: How do you see Eye Respect growing over the next 3-5 years?
JB: We look to improve every facet of our business and help re-educate those that have been miseducated by the behemoths and their porky pies.
    
LC: What's more important in your business - sunglasses or optical glasses?
JB: Optical glasses, although we and our customers love our sunglasses (we of course also have one of the finest su lenses in the world with our Eye Respect x Carl Zeiss sunglasses lens.

LC: I noticed that the optical glasses are a bit more expensive than sun glasses. I would have that the opposite to be the case. Why is that? 
JB: They are not, but is the norm within the industry that the optical has a different mark-up at retail level than the sun does. Another point I don't approve. We have adhered to this only to support that small, truly independent optician who also deserves to stock our collections. 

LC: Can you talk a bit more about your collaborations? 
JB: Some I can, some others are under tight confidential documents. I have from the beginning designed and manufactured all Oliver Spencer's collection.I have done collabs with cult British bespoke tailor, Mark Powell and also currently am doing my second collaboration with Italian leather aficionados Il Bussetto.

LC: How did you find the factory in Italy where your eyewear is made?
JB: Lots of trial and error, and not settling for inferior work, which you do get a lot of in Italy. Also we have renamed this sector Chitaly for obvious reasons as all the behemoths (and a lot of the smaller businesses too, even though they claim to) DO NOT manufacture in Italy.

LC: Can you walk us through how a pair of Eye Respect glasses gets made?
JB: Yes sure. All of the creatives are influenced by people I meet, fashion trends and where I believe we should be going. I always concentrate on fit first, as I believe that without this being correct, nothing will look great. Then I draw by hand, reproduce on software to iron out any potential flaws, produce the first prototype sample by hand, do a sample line run and then finally go on to production (all of course done by hand).
    
LC: What inspires or motivates you when designing eye wear?
JB: I think I mentioned it in the previous question. People, trends and leading into trends. Then making them fit and look great.

LC: What optical brands do you admire or respect?
JB: There are a couple of great small & medium ones.Garrett Leight for coming out and being honest about manufacturing in China, as well as the DNA he has managed to carry over from his dad's previous business. I like Kuboraum as a creative product.
I like Lindbergh for consistency although they took a long time to come clean on where they make their product.

LC: Where does the Eye Respect name come from?
JB: The very name of our brand goes a long way to explaining the motivation behind our existence… Eye Respect… Pause and think for a moment… it is much more than a simple pun. Whilst caring for the eyes of our customers, and offering the finest hand-crafted product at the correct price to market, we also set out on our mission to embrace, utilise and promote the work of our skilled artisan craftsmen and factories, and help the wider consumer understand exactly what goes in to landing a pair of Eye Respect frames on the end of one’s nose. We delve into the issues of real hand crafted eyewear and sharing the experience with our customer base. After all… we are Eye Respect. Eye Respect believes and leads in its Respect for Craft campaigns around the globe.