We view every collaboration project as an opportunity to learn from companies we look up to, ones who execute their vision in a like-minded way. When NYC-based eyewear manufacturer Lowercase reached out last year to invite us to tour their factory, we happily accepted - and then had our minds blown.
Lowercase is one of a handful of eyeglass manufacturers left in the United States. They source cellulose (plant-based) acetates from manufacturers in Italy and Japan, and then turn these raw sheets of plastic into frames entirely under one roof in their Brooklyn Army Terminal workshop. Co-founders Brian Vallario and Gerard Masci came from different backgrounds - architecture and finance, respectively - but were able to apply their skillsets and ingenuity to a completely new industry that they had no previous experience in.
A distinct lack of eyeglass manufacturing in the US over the past few decades means that there are no equipment manufacturers or distributors here. Almost everything in the Lowercase workshop was purchased and imported from Europe. Brian and Gerard had to travel to visit the manufacturers in Italy to learn about them before making purchases, but then once they landed in the workshop, the two were left to learn their intricacies through trial by fire. As Brian walked us around the factory and described each machine and its function in detail, he recounted stories of how they broke down in the early days and the ensuing mad scramble to learn how to fix them because no local technicians understood how they worked. Over the years, the Lowercase team has added basic mechanical repair to their ever-growing skillset out of sheer necessity.
As dependent as the Lowercase team is upon their machines, we found there to be an incredibly high level of artistry that goes into small-batch eyewear production. Once cut out of a single sheet of acetate, frames and temples are tumbled in four separate drum barrel treatments - 24 hours in each stage - to bring out their shine. Each stage of production requires a specialized machine and in turn, a specialized craftsman to operate it. Each team member has departments that he focuses on, as it takes time to both learn how to operate a machine accurately and consistently. Inserts are pressed into the acetate temples with a temperamental machine that heats the metal up to the perfect temperature that allows it to penetrate the plastic, a task that requires a trained eye to fine-tune the machine and ensure that it's running optimally. Rivet details that are often cosmetic on many eyeglasses are actual indicators of hand-pressed hinges that are attached to frames with just the right amount of pressure.
Brian told us that the finishing stage - specifically the leg hinge - is where the most time is spent on their glasses. He encouraged us to look at other frames on the market to see if their temples perfectly flow into the front, as many manufacturers cut corners which results in a poor match when opened up; some temples exhibit a gap and don't meet the front perfectly, while others overlap and jut out. We appreciated learning about the subtle marks of quality that separate an eyeglass frame made with thought and care from an inferior counterpart.
For our collaboration, we selected a beautiful Italian dual-layer acetate from Lowercase's archives and paired it with their flagship Atlas frame design, a bold and distinctive unisex silhouette that works well on a wide range of head shapes. We love the angular lines coupled with the round cutaways on the corners. The acetate is one of the most unique ones we've seen, as it features a thin striped layer on top welded to a rich amber tortoise underneath. It's quite discreet at first but really comes alive when light streams through the frame.
The temples, which we waxed poetic on above, are attached to the frame using OBE German-engineered 5 barrel rivet hinges, which are all hand-pressed in. The hinges and screws are designed to hold after years of usage without needing constant tightening. They are finished with brown Carl Zeiss lenses that offer 100% UVA/UVB protection; these lenses can be easily popped out should one decide to turn these sunglasses into optical frames.
In a time when factories are set up for efficiency and high volumes, we count ourselves fortunate to be able to work with manufacturers like Lowercase who pride themselves on making things with care and pride. We never thought that we'd be able to work on a custom eyewear collaboration due to the minimums that factories require - but when you're working with a boutique operation based in Brooklyn, these dreams can become realities. We are thankful to the entire team at Lowercase for their partnership, and for teaching us a few new things about the value of attention to detail.
The Lowercase for 3sixteen Atlas Sunglasses release on Friday, January 17th at noon EST via 3sixteen.com, and will be available at our LA Flagship when we open later that day. Each pair of sunglasses ships with a collaborative box, hardshell Lowercase eyeglass case, dust bag, and polishing cloth.