Eyewear Designer and Utelier Specialist Sandra Battistel met with Raffaele Ricciuti, the owner of 1955, a small factory specialising in highly bespoke eyewear manufacturing in the South of Italy, near Potenza. Here this artisanal factory creates products for niche brands as well as for Occhialeria Artigiana, their own collection, that exhibited at the XXI International Exhibition of the Triennale of Milan.
With a background in finance, Raffaele is not your typical entrepreneur. His ambitions are driven by growth as much as by creating the highest quality eyewear his skilled team and factory set-up can achieve. His respect and passion for the craft are evident when he shows me some examples of 1955’s work, while we talk about finding a construction solution to a query I had on some of my designs.
Raffaele’s ethos for the company goes far beyond just merely manufacturing products. His concept of craft is underpinned by a strong connection between materials and work ethic (he is a fan of Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman).
I asked Raffaele where he sees the future of eyewear, what makes 1955 unique and his recommendations to young designers wishing to create their eyewear collections.
What makes 1955 unique?
1955 srl is one of a few small Italian manufacturers covering every stage of the bespoke eyewear manufacturing process in-house, without relying on sub-contractors. We also offer high discretion and every one of our clients’ projects is top secret until it’s available in-store.
Can you describe your setup?
As a small Italian eyewear manufacturer, we use only the best raw materials and components; these are all of Italian origin. This grants us a 100% Made in Italy certification, which we are very proud of.
I would describe our bespoke eyewear manufacturing process as artisanal; our employees use their hands and their heads. The production team is made up of eight highly skilled artisans. We are in the process of hiring two more people and by the end of the year and I plan to bring the total number up to twelve.
We work with a small portfolio of clients who appreciate the values of Made in Italy craftsmanship and who are looking to develop and produce unique, top quality eyewear. Our production line is not set up to churn out vast quantities, as our machines are manually operated aside from one, which we use for precision manufactory. Our technical department also relies on a 3D printer and we are set up to follow our clients from initial concept to finished product.
What is the advantage of offering 3D printing, in conjunction with handcraft manufacturing skills?
With 3D printing, within a few hours, we are able to create an initial prototype, which enables us to fine-tune the initial shape over several iterations, before proceeding to the final, handmade prototype. This way we can reduce sampling lead-times by approximately 30%.
How do you see the future of sunglasses? Are there any technological innovations on the horizon?
The eyewear sector is going through a growth phase and we foresee this to continue for the next few years; as in other product categories, there seems to be an increase in sales for low-cost products as well as luxury ones, while mid-market products seem to be squeezed by these two.
The eyewear industry is frozen in time and most manufacturers are looking at innovation to distinguish themselves from others. We are also investing in the development of unique materials and we have filed a patent application for a new machine.
What are the challenges you face as makers?
As the makers of bespoke eyewear manufacturing, getting our customers to understand that delivering quality requires time and that our costs match the quality we deliver, is perhaps the biggest challenge.
Tell us about your achievements and what you strive for?
Our frames were on display at 2016’s XXI International Exhibition of the Triennale of Milan; we were the only eyewear manufacturers selected to represent our sector.
We are artisans, who aspire to become artists. We work with our hands, our heads and our hearts. In the near future, as well as increasing our production team we plan to invest in technology to support our handcraft skills. While we want to remain, artisans, we constantly strive to improve the quality of our output, by perfecting our products.
For anyone who has never made glasses before, or doesn’t know anything about bespoke eyewear manufacturing but wants to add them to their range – what advice would you give them? How and where should they start? What should they know?
I would advise them to have a clear idea of their target market: Is it high fashion, classic, sport? Are you targeting fashion retailers or the optician market? Are you planning to sell online? Every distribution channel requires you to develop a specific product and pricing architecture.
Generally, our clients are very focused on this point, yet sometimes this is not the case; unless the client is clear on their targets we politely decline to take on the job. We want our clients to be successful; we see their success as our own.
What do you wish people knew before they ome to you with ideas?
We would like people to understand that to achieve artisanal craftsmanship and 100% Made in Italy eyewear, they cannot aspire to turn around huge volumes and expect the same price as with mass-produced eyewear, which is generally made overseas.
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How do you identify the right client?
Normally our clients get in touch with us first, and during our initial meetings, we define price targets and quality expectations. We choose our clients subject to whether they want a collection entirely handmade in Italy.
Sandra Battistel is an eyewear designer and consultant with nearly two decades of experience, and can also be found at EyeSpectacle.
Photo Credits: Andrea Verzola.