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New eyewear brand Bande de Copains borrows from its architecture roots to create a world where new technology and traditional craft coexist

“Design is really scaleless,” says Pil Sun Ham, founder of new eyewear brand Bande de Copains.  “I was used to working on really large projects, theaters, arts centers, sometimes even entire city blocks.”  Trained in architecture, which she still practices alongside the recently launched eyewear brand, Pil Sun recalls a project from early on in her career.  “I moved to Beijing for work right after school and was working on an Opera House [Harbin Opera House with MAD Architects].  It was my first project with the office and my job was to design the large theater of this space.  The concrete was already in place and the steel erected but we were playing catchup with the interiors.” The concept was a singular wood form that acted like a skin inside the entire theatre, forming the seating, balcony, walls, stage, everything.   The form had to work with what was already there and also function as an opera house theater in terms of code, view sightlines for people, acoustics and equipment. Most importantly, “it had to make you feel something. Good design should also resonate something emotionally or else, it’s just building.”

After Beijing, similar high-profile projects followed, including the Steve Jobs Theatre at the new Apple Headquarters.  While the excitement of high tech, avant-garde architecture, cutting edge technology never really wanes, the desire to create something with a more tangible and analogue set in. “It’s like a Porsche.  No one can deny the clean lines of a brand new 911 GT, but there’s something so damn alluring about the classics.”

Merging these two worlds is what Bande de Copains is all about – using the best of today’s technologies and advancement and bringing it together with traditional manufacturing and craftsmanship.  As an independent brand based in Los Angeles, Bande de Copains joins the ranks of emerging young designers in the city who have cut their teeth at larger names before starting out on their own, bringing with them cultivated industry standards and merging it with a decidedly unique point of view. In today’s post-luxury world where consumers have become savvier, that may be just what new brands need, more than just putting on a pretty marketing spin and story.

Operating as a small independent brand has its obvious drawbacks but there are also distinct advantages.  “The larger the company, the more things you have to compromise or eliminate to meet profit margins.  As a small, independently owned operation, we’re able to make decisions without being hindered by quarterly numbers.  For example, spending more on a custom hinge may not be so noticeable to many people, but for us it’s important to meet the original design intent. The company’s products are handcrafted exclusively in Japan and strives to remain authentic by providing high quality eyewear which focuses on design without compromising in performance. 

This play between scales, large and small, plays through again in the actual operations of the company.  The plan for the brand was always to start off slow on a small scale and the company would very much like to keep it that way.  Small scale helps the brand stay agile, more responsive, and aware of what’s working and what’s not, to constantly monitor, improve, and test new ideas.  It’s also allowed for hand selecting every partner manufacturer with which the company currently works, every material being used, and where it is sourced.  All frames and lenses are manufactured by a small factory in Japan in small batches.  Precision hinges are predominantly coming in from Germany.  Custom branded cases were made in partnership with an Italian company.  In the world of eyewear, the majority of high-end quality products come from two main regions, either the Cadore region of Italy or the Fukui prefecture of Japan.  These are regions where the basis of the economy is solely eyewear, a craft that has been refined and taught through generations.  Even though their design process heavily involves advanced computational software for form generation, it was important for Bande de Copains to make sure that the end product still had a timeless crafted feel.  “There’s something to be said about knowing that the final shape of the spectacles can only be had through by hand finishing, that each piece can be just slightly different because of that. It’s these idiosyncrasies which give it that beauty.  “I think that’s the new luxury,” says Pil Sun, referring to acknowledging the performance qualities and advancements that technology has allowed while respecting age-old traditions.  

Even though the brand’s products sit in a higher end category, the spectacles should not be seen as precious.  I wear them out in the day equally for casual walks and lunches equally as much as I do for hiking. I’ve swam through waterfalls and even ran the Los Angeles Marathon in them so they definitely have stood the test.  They can perform,” says Pil Sun. All frames us Cellulose Acetate (ZYL).  Acetate is an eco-friendly material made from cellulose obtained from wood produced in sustainably managed forests or cotton linters. Lenses are UV 420 Polyamide (PA), providing a combination of optical clarity with superior impact resistance.  In addition to offering full UVA/UVB coverage, they provide protection from HEV (high energy visible) light which lives in the higher wavelength spectrum, 400-420 nm being the most harmful, and penetrates the cornea, causing macular degeneration. The lenses also include performance coatings such as Oleophobic coating and Anti-Reflective backside coating. That may be a heavy hit of industry jargon, but the main takeaway Bande de Copains wants to leave is this: “We just want to create really well-made, good looking products that allow you to live your life the way you want to. That’s it.”  

Those who want to get in touch with Bande de Copains can visit the official online store at https://bandedecopains.com/. Prospective customers with questions can go to the “contact us” option to get in touch with Bande de Copains.

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