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Monday / April 15.
HomemifashionFrom Little Things Frank Seed Grows

From Little Things Frank Seed Grows

Frank Seed eyewear is truly handcrafted – from the frame design to the cutting of acetate, riveting, polishing, and shaping, the bench tools involved are minimal.

mivision met with Francis Hwang, the creative director and craftsman for Frank Seed – and owner of Green Infinity Eyewear – to find out how he bends the rules to create eyewear that is both highly technical and brilliantly creative.

From a studio the size of a shoebox in the Sydney suburb of Lidcombe, Francis Hwang, the creative director and craftsman behind the bespoke eyewear brand Frank Seed, leans into his workbench, manually carving out his next frame.

He’s designed it with and for a specific customer; meticulously going through the options for colour, texture, and shape, and taking into account the person’s head size and the way the frame will best sit on their nose.

Migrating from Korea in 1997, Mr Hwang arrived in Australia with experience designing and manufacturing eyewear from metal, and high expectations for his career.

“I had a plan to work in optics manufacturing, making metal frames by hand. I’d do well and eventually retire – I’d get a beautiful little house and put in a garage. I’d call a friend and over coffee I’d design a bespoke frame for him and then handcraft it. But life has its ups and downs,” he told mivision over a steaming cup of Korean green tea.

Mr Hwang discovered that there was no handmade metal manufacturing industry for eyewear in Australia, primarily because of environmental regulations in place to protect against toxic chemicals needed in fabrication processing. Additionally, the cost of machinery was prohibitive.

However, handmade acetate eyewear was a different story – and an exciting opportunity as it turned out.

ACCELERATING A PLAN

Finding himself without a job, Mr Hwang decided to execute part of his plan for retirement earlier than anticipated, setting himself up in a garage where he could experiment with handcrafting eyewear from acetate.

And it was then that his life took a turn.

Showing his first acetate frame to two legends of the industry – eyewear designer Jonathan Ross Sceats and optometrist George Skoufis – he received the boost of confidence he needed to turn his experiments into a business.

“I had known Jono for about 20 years. He’d been a mentor, so I showed him the first frame I cut out; it wasn’t even finished, and he said, ‘oh this is very nice, you’re very talented. You can show this one to Skoufis’.

“And George was really supportive, too. He talked to me about which shapes would sell and he bought my first frame”.

Mr Hwang went on to work out of Mr Ross Sceats’ studio, and despite the latter’s long iconic designer a trick or two.

“The great thing about Francis is that he’s not stuck in one look or influenced by big brands,” Mr Ross Sceats told mivision. “He understands colour, shape, and balance, which are integral to great design; but he doesn’t play by the rules, so his frames are interesting and terrific.

“He’s also very technical so he’s fantastic at bridge and nose pad designs and lens depth. You put on a pair of Francis’ glasses and they’re really comfortable. We talked a lot about technicalities of frame design and Korean eyewear design – I found myself learning from him after all these years.”

Mr Hwang said it’s this technical process as well as the artistic side of designing and creating frames that excites him. Every frame is a tiny piece of art that gives him immense satisfaction, particularly when he sees how happy a customer is when he hands it over.

“We now supply just over 40 practices with Frank Seed frames around Australia, and the most (customers) I want is 60 because my intention is always to create my frames purely by hand. This is what differentiates my business from others.

“A lot of brands say their frames are handmade, but those companies are using machinery. I always say I handcraft my frames because I hand draw the template for each customer’s frame, I cut the frame to shape using a hand saw, I use a rivet to fix the hinges, and with my assistant James, I manually sand and polish each piece,” he explained.

THE PROCESS OF CUSTOMISATION

Ninety per cent of the Frank Seed frames sold are bespoke, however practices that take on his brand don’t start out by customising frames for specific customers.

Instead, they’re eased into the process, receiving a small entry level collection that ranges from conservative shapes, colour combinations, and finishes to more “crazy” options.

“With bespoke frames the possibilities are endless – you can have a left temple in one colour and shape and the right in another; the bridge can be narrower or wider, higher or lower, and of course the front can be whatever shape or colour you want, including with inset colours and shapes,” said Winston Leung who manages customer service for Frank Seed.

“But of course, it can be difficult for customers to imagine all of these options – to even know where to start. So, we suggest they focus on choosing a few shapes and colours for their initial order and we show them how they can work with those frames to demonstrate the options to patients.

“We find that once a practice has taken delivery of its initial collection, they start ordering bespoke frames and they do this either directly with their patient or by meeting with Francis – so the optometrist or optical dispenser will either bring the patient along to our studio or Francis will go out to the practice.”

Mr Skoufis, who often orders bespoke frames from Mr Hwang for his clients, said he usually refines what the customer needs – colours for fronts, temples, bridge shape and size etc. – then relays that information to Mr Hwang. “Invariably its perfect when it comes back. He has great attention to detail, a flare for colour, his acetate choices are always wonderful, and his customer service is good – once we place an order, we don’t have to think about it again.”

BIG OPPORTUNITIES

While in Mr Hwang’s studio, I was shown the biggest frame I’ve ever seen, freshly crafted from crystal acetate. The frame was for a patient from George Skoufis Optometry.

“I’ve never had a frame as big as this made, but the customer wanted them as reading glasses and safety glasses – he’s a welder, and that’s the beauty of being able to order bespoke frames from Francis,” Mr Skoufis said. “They’re also affordable.”

He said being able to order bespoke frames also works well for those customers who have a particular colour in mind that isn’t available on the shelf, or as Mr Hwang observed, for customers who have an old favourite that is no longer available – he can reproduce the same shape et cetera and add a modern twist (or not).

While Mr Hwang said Frank Seed eyewear will always be handcrafted, he and his team of three have plans to grow the Green Infinity Eyewear company this year by supplying a small number of Korean-designed and manufactured frames they believe will appeal to the customer base.

Visit frankseed.com