Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to sit down with master lens maker Shinzo Tamura to talk about the upcoming launch of his sunglasses brand. At that time, he had been working with a small team of experts for about three years, to design frames and create a brand that would attract a sophisticated buyer. People like himself, who are equally interested in eye health, as well as a quality product that combines heritage with modern materials.
You actually come from a lens making family.
I do. It started with my grandfather. Or even I suppose it really started with where he was raised. The Tajima region in Japan is renowned for eyeglass lens making. There is a long history that goes back hundreds of years. He started TALEX in the 1930s. And soon after beginning to make polarized lenses in the 1960s, they became considered by many to be the best in the world. It was only natural for my brother and I to join the family business, which I did 27 years ago.
What inspired you to make your own line of sunglasses?
Part of the inspiration is that it's very hard to find frames that are optimally designed for TALEX lenses. Frames are important, they need to be strong and lightweight. And they need to look great on our face, of course. But the lenses are what protect our eyes. We don’t think of sunglasses as part of our health care but they absolutely are.
Can you elaborate on that idea?
I would love to. I’m very passionate about it. The harmful light that polarized lenses block can be detrimental to your eyes over the long term. Similar to the way it can harm your skin.
Exposure to the sun that is too bright also creates strain on the eyes. Many studies have shown that the right lens can actually reduce inflammation and stress in your eyes as well as throughout your body. When light is too harsh or bright it can also create a dangerous situation in the moment. If we are driving, for instance, on the highway and our vision is impaired by glare.
How many different lenses does TALEX make?
If you factor in the different types of lenses, the different colored tints, and the different materials, it’s well over one hundred. Some people think it's just sunglasses. They come in a greenish or brownish hue. But high quality lenses are much more sophisticated.
So for someone who is used to buying whatever looks good when they try a pair on, where should someone start?
We make three primary categories of lenses. For day to day use, I recommend Natural Color lenses. Most sunglasses make the world darker, but what makes TALEX lenses superior is we have figured out how to make lenses that protect your eyes while allowing you to see the world as it is. The colors are accurate, and the light level is almost the same as without glasses.
What are the other two categories?
For people who are active and play sports, our High Contrast lenses are great. They actually increase contrast so you can see more clearly than without glasses. They are ideal for movement. So if you’re playing golf, for example, these lenses make the green more vibrant as well as the ball so it’s easier to track and see.
We also make Brightness lenses which are crucial when it’s cloudy but there is still bright light. Think when you are walking down a city street or driving when the sun comes out as the rain stops. They actually make what you see brighter so you can see better.
It almost sounds as if you could invest in more than one pair.
Yes. In Japan it’s very common to own a few pairs of sunglasses, and leave the house with the one that suits the activities and weather conditions of the day. We even have lenses that are ideal for looking at a computer screen. So for anyone who works in an office, they are going to get much less fatigued by the end of the day than if they are looking at their screen with the naked eye.
Talk a little bit about the frames you have designed.
They are extremely high quality. We choose nylon because it’s a very durable and flexible material, but also extremely light. Something I hear from many people is they don’t want sunglasses that get heavy after a few hours. You can wear our sunglasses all day and into the night and they won’t bother you.
And we have several different styles, all inspired by classic frames from the 1950s and 60s. I have a nostalgia for that time period stylistically, and I think a lot of our audience does as well.
That brings up a good question. Who is your audience?
Really, anyone with eyes. The benefits of high quality sunglasses that protect and preserve your eyesight are for all. But I think our glasses are especially suited to people who are serious about their eye health. If you spend a lot of time outside, for work or fun, you need sunglasses that will protect your eyes from long exposure to the sun.
Let’s say you’re a passionate or professional mountain climber, well then it’s even more important. You are exposed to a lot of harmful light at higher elevations, and seeing the rock clearly when the sun is in your eyes is crucial. But again, anyone who wants to see and appreciate the world better will enjoy our sunglasses.
Thank you Shinzo-san.