Greetings from Japan. My name is Chris Esposito. I am the creator of Ethnicity, the primary designer, and I own and run the factory where our frames are created.
First question I am asked is why do I want to create eyewear for different ethnicities when mine is the basis for design of 95% of the frames out there? The second question is what do I know about what the ethnic groups we design for want? Let me tell you the story.
“My ethnicity makes up 0.05% of the population of where I live in Japan, I know what it is like when nothing is designed for you…”
I am a bit of an oddity. While I was born and raised in the suburbs of Boston in a very un-diverse little town, after college I moved to Japan for what was to be a 2 year stint as a research scientist…I have lived here for more than 25 years now after falling in love with the country and my now wife. I live in the backwoods of Japan, the countryside. In the prefecture I live in, my ethnicity is about 0.05% of the population, in my everyday life I can go literally months without seeing a non-Japanese person. So I understand what it is like when things are not designed for you, clothing proportions are all wrong, shoes don’t fit properly, furniture is not the right size, I hit my head on door jambs in old houses. I don’t expect to have things made for me here when I make up such a small part of the population. But why is it that in the United States or Europe where ethnicities are much more diverse, that design is so uniformly the same?
“I was embarrassed to be asked by an African American customer “what do you have for me” and the answer was “nothing” out of 250 frames in my bag…nothing…”
It all started when I was on a sales trip. On top of designing and crafting eyewear I spend a significant amount of time on the road doing sales. I was thinking of putting out an Asian eyewear line for the US. We are very good at designing for the Asian face, and there are not many options. My staff are all Asian, as are most of our customers. While I was rolling the new line around in my head I was in a shop in Philadelphia, the optician was a big African gentleman. Real big, huge may be a better word. He said, “what do you have for me” and I looked at him, and was embarrassed to say…nothing. I had nothing that would fit comfortably or look good on him. I could have squeezed him into a frame, like I squeeze into clothes here, (honestly, like he squeezed into the frame he was wearing at the time) but nothing was right about what we had, not size, not shape, not color. I typically carry about 250 frames with me when I do sales...I was and am embarrassed. And so the idea was born.
WHAT DO I KNOW?
“I know that I don’t know, that is why we have stylists to show us the way…”
What do I know about what the ethnic communities we aim to serve want culturally? I know that I don’t know. That is why I spoke to Optometrist/Optician stylists to help us with the line. My staff and I are good technical designers. We are good at fitting frames to peoples’ facial structures, good at lines and curves and shapes, good at matching color. Our stylists point us in the direction, push us, not only on shapes and sizes, but intricacies of how frames are worn, optical concerns, colors, what’s in, what’s not available. We provide the ability to manufacture, to hand craft – we are one of only a few factories in Japan that can make a frame from start to finish in house. Our stylists help us to translate our abilities into something designed to fit you well.
I have a very deep belief. We all share more similarities than differences. I believe that our similarities should bring us together, that our differences should not drive us apart. Simply put, we should start our conversations with our similarities and celebrate our differences.