Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Empire Strikes Balch....about the Shield

The Shield is our new sunglass. It is a completely new design and was styled around our world champion team rider, Mick Fanning. There has been a ton of hype about the release of these shades and we've been keeping pretty quiet about the secrets behind them...until now. To give you some background on our new lovechild, here is an interview from Empire Ave.
with our PLM, Hillary Balch.

What are the main materials used?
Grilamid frame material, polycarbonate lenses, stainless steel metal hinges. Only the best Italian materials for Mick and his signature frame.

Why did you go with polarized? And what makes Italian made polarized lenses the best?
Mick demands performance in exceptional results in everything he does…so his sunglass was no exception. For the best clarity and high performance, you have to go with polarized lenses. We took it a step further and added hydrophobic (water repellant) and oleophobic (oil, dust, dirt repellent) coatings on all of the lenses too, not just on the the polarized. To top it all off we expanded the selection of tints and colors of the lenses for the Shield. From high contrast copper lenses, to soothing green, to red ionized, we’ve really taken it to the next level with the Shield in terms of performance. The Shield is also the first frame that we are debuting our “Performance Polarized” technology. It’s pretty much our standard polarized lenses but kicked up a notch with the repellant coatings, expanded color offerings, and premium injection process. The thought and strategy behind Performance Polar is to offer a more performance based polar option for the customer that demands more from their lenses and will have the best of the best no matter what element they are in.

What’s the actual design process like when designing a completely new sunglass from the ground up? especially a signature piece…
Long and painful. Just kidding. Normally the process takes about a year to a year and a half. It all starts with looking at our current line and seeing what we need or what we are missing. From there I’ll develop story boards to get the ideas across in terms of target customer, size, shape, inspiration, etc. From there sketches will be made and edited and then we’ll take that to the factories and work on prototypes until we get it perfect. Once the prototype is approved the factory will make the mold and we’ll work out colors, pricing, name, logo, etc etc on our end. With a signature piece, the process is the same, except you have one more element to worry about. You’re not only designing a sunglass that needs to work for Dragon and the customer, but we also need it to work and speak volumes about the signature athlete, in this case Mick Fanning. We don’t want to just design a piece and slap his name on it and force him to wear it. It was really important for us from the beginning to have Mick super involved from start to finish in every aspect, even if that means extending the production calendar by a year.

How much input has Mick had with the design?
Would love to be able to show examples of how excited he was getting. Mick was involved from start to finish on the entire project. I remember getting emails from him two years ago of styles he liked and ideas he had for the frame, so for me that was amazing to have him be so excited and involved from the get go before we even began designing. Whenever he was in town he would come by the office or meet me for lunch and I’d bring the latest prototype and we’d try it on him, talk about it, make changes, discuss colors, drink beers….and him and I were on constant email. We really stepped up our email relationship with this project. Anything we decided on for the frame, even the positioning and sizing of the Shield imprint, we would send Mick an email and get his feedback and thoughts. Nothing was done or approved before running it by Mick first.

Things he knocked back?
There were a few logo options we were working on that he wasn’t too keen on. Mick was great on giving feedback and vocalizing what he wanted and didn’t want, while still being open to suggestions and ideas we had as well. He was super easy to work with. A real dream boat if you know what I mean. (That’s for you Mick).

Things he specifically wanted?
He definitely had an idea of shape and size. He was currently wearing the Calavera and liked that fit and shape a lot so that’s kind of where we started. The main thing for Mick in this process was that he wanted to create a sunglass that anyone can would look good and be functional, but not like you’re trying too hard. If you only had one pair of sunglasses in the world, these would be them. We kept that theme in mind during the whole process. He also named the frame, the Shield, himself. He picked the name for two reasons: one because of his shield/family crest tattoo on his arm that we also had put into the sunglass mold, and secondly because the frame actually acts like a shield protecting you from the sun and the harsh elements.

Things he just went ‘whatevers’ on?
He was pretty lax on colors and let me take the reigns on that. He felt confident that I wouldn’t come up with anything too nuts and that I knew what he was into and what we would wear.

How many style iterations did you go through with Mick before settling on the current silhouette?
I believe the total count was 5 or 6. Usually on projects we go through about 3…4 tops. So we definitely went through a few more tries to get this piece perfect. I’m a perfectionist and so is Mick so you put us together and it could be a deadly combination.

Did he have a certain shape he was looking for?
Mick wanted something about the size of the Calavera with some wrap to it. Something that would fit well, be comfortable, and give good coverage.

Are these the shades that now set the bar in terms of performance for protection for your eyes? How? Why? Compared to what?
I think all the different elements we have going on in the Shield – the lenses, the story, the athlete, the process, technology – really set a bar in terms of a whole complete and powerful package. We have definitely stepped it up in terms of the lenses with the coatings and color options offered, and a big push with the ionized polar which isn’t that prevalent in our market yet.

How long has the process taken?
From first inital conversations to actual production hitting retail? It took a little over two years…from the first time we spoke to Mick about it and started brainstorming till now when it’s being released. Definitely a long process but well worth it when you get the perfect result.

Colors that were rejected?
We kept it pretty simple for the initial colors…Mick didn’t want anything too crazy as he’s a pretty simple guy and not into too much flash. I kept trying to push rainbows and unicorns on him but he wasn’t giving in.


Some Q&A about Hilary herself….

Where did you come from to be the designer for Dragon?
I came from a magical mythical land. I actually started out at Dragon as a domestic sales assistant…plugging away at numbers, Excel spreadsheets, answering calls, all the fun stuff….about a year and a half into that I was offered the product position for eyewear and I haven’t looked back since. It was definitely a learning process for me, trial by fire so to speak. But here I am years later pumping out eyewear and helping people look sexy one sunglass at a time.

Educational path or fell into it?
More or less fell into it I guess….I did take a lot of product development and merchandising courses in college and they were always my favorite classes, so I think that was where it all started for me. The fact that I’m now doing something I love and was excited about in college is pretty awesome…I feel really lucky to be in the position I’m in. Plus I love sunglasses…so it’s a pretty good fit all around.

What would be your dream pair of shades?
Definitely something big, square, and sexy. The Fame is probably my favorite piece in the line, so something in that direction. Thin cross sections and temples, a little bit of a retro vibe, maybe a little bit of a cat eye shape and some funky colors.

Click HERE to see the full interview.

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