“The man behind iconic eyewear and eyewear industry would be a dull one without this man.”
The eyewear industry would be a dull one without this man. Tommy O’Gara, — Co-founder of Native Sons, is no stranger in the luxury eyewear industry. The man exudes cool and charisma, and that translates well into his iconic frames. We spoke to Tommy on how he began his eyewear journey, his inspirations, and his positive thoughts on the post-pandemic outlook.
Q & A
Can you share with us on how you started The Light Co.Company and the beginning for Native Sons. What were your early influences?
The concept of Native Sons was already nuturing in my mind and heart. The base being the industrial design revolution born out of World War 2. Wanted the brand to have industrial/architectural edge that said, I have always been inspired by Dieter Rams and his school of “Just Enough Design” and the ten points of good design.
Did you enjoy the journey and the experience?
It was a lot of hard work but yes very rewarding. I set up the network of suppliers and traveled the world meeting people and expanding our tribe through the organic communication of “trunk shows”.
Can you explain on what makes Native Sons frames special and different from others?
Native Sons has each collection inspired by events objects music film : you know : people, places and things, not by looking at other eyewear. Gathering the vibe, I live with it, write about it then start sketching and drawing. After we do the specs, CAD drawing, prototype and plan production. It is direct from inspiration to design to factory without a single middleman. We are lucky to have such great associates to think tank production methods with and our factory and team is small but very efficient. Great people working hard for the common goal.
You had worked & collaborated with many great names in the industry such as Sacai, Neighborhood, Madness. And recently you did a collaboration with Wacko Maria for the KOWALSKI glasses, which we know is one of your favorite frame. How did the project 1st come about & how was the experience for you?
Each action toward collaboration is different but a similar MO for working. With Sacai, I got together with Daisuke Gemma creative director of the brand, sat down with him and Ms. Abe and we just talked about the direction of the design. I went back and did a lot of drawings which we edited from there then we started to work on details, acetate colorways and combinations. I presented some opinions and chitose flipped them in a very interesting manner. NBHD : I would just bounce ideas with Takizawa San and Nau (Shima) and we would work forward. For Madness, I would present styles to Shawn or he to me and we would work forward from there on the details. Shawn Yue always does rad branding actions so that is never a worry with him or anyone else for that matter. We just work in a very organic forward method which is how the Wacko Maria thing started. Initially we did a project for the 30 year anniversary of DJ Harvey. Harvey and I have been friends since the dog town tour days 20 some years ago and we meet by chance and by plan when we can. I dig Harvey’s organic vibe and the way he moves people, awe is the word. I busted out the bullitt frame which is a base F Harvey style, so I tweaked this design and came up with some colorways working direct with the man and communicating with WM team. This was a heartfelt project all around. After we decided to do the Kowalski Project which I wear too and I felt that for WM I wanted to present some clean crystaline colors that would change with the wearers skin tone. Boom! A look that perfectly reflects the edge and humour of WM always stocked to work with these rad individuals that come together as a brotherhood.
“EVERYONE SPEAKS OF SUSTAINABILITY THESE DAYS BUT TRUE SUSTAINABILITY IS BORN OUT OF GREATLY BALANCED DESIGNS. AS THE EYEWEAR WE MAKE IS TRULY HAND-MADE BY EARTHLINGS THERE IS NOT SO MUCH PERFECTION AS BEAUTIFUL IMPERFECTIONS. QUALITY OF MATERIALS AND CONSTRUCTION ARE VERY KEY.”
Care to share with us, any new project you are working on now?
I usually keep these things pretty quiet but the Native Sons CRAFTLINE is my baby now. You know when we started with The Motorhead beauty marks, they were so big and bold in comparison to vintage stuff and really nobody was doing these beauty marks at the time but these days everyone is. So I decided to go back to clean old school construction. Creating new hinge plates and separating the ricets center to center @ 3.0mm really smooth, fixed through the feather stamped corewires. These are just so balanced that I really am into it. That tends to allow you to see the shape and the carving of the frames.
We sense that perfection & quality are the 2 most significant elements to you. Do you agree with that?
Everyone speaks of sustainability these days but true sustainability is born out of greatly balanced designs. As the eyewear we make is truly hand-made by earthlings there is not so much perfection as beautiful imperfections. Quality of materials and construction are very key. We use only takiron CBA, Cellulosed Based Acetates made of cotton oil rather than petro-chem products. These are harder, deeper, richer and do not pollute planet earth when destroyed. We have created a series of construction methods that work for our designs and are strong. If you sit on a frame or break it, we can often repair them. Recently we opened our store in Aoyama called “Private Eyes and Trackers” and a lot of the Tokyo heads started rolling in showing me their collections and buying new frames as well. So I told them, “Hey, bring your older frames down, we will tune them up, clean them and put new lenses in them” and they did. So we have been refurbishing and customising a lot of frames lately.
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How & where do you get your inspirations?
I travel a lot in Japan, Europe, Asia and the Americas. I gather inspiration on the road from experiences and things I see. Also do a lot of motorcycle or truck camping so color in the mountains, plains, and seas really move me.
Do you still drive your Mercedes G55? We rememebered last time you drove us back from your office at Kitaaoyama Minatoku to DSM Ginza. Mind sharing with us why you choose Mercedes G55 as your transport?
Actually I drive AMG 320, AMG that I de-badged. This truck is from 2004 and has less computer and less to go wrong with it. It has a V6 engine and runs great but doesn’t kill me at the gas station. A lot of the maintainence I do. Now at 200,000 KM it just broken in. It is black on black so it gets dirty and I let it, haha! I carry all of my camp gear always and sometimes just pull over in the mountains to make coffee and just chill a bit. The bottom line is that “blacky” is just dependable and will go anywhere I have the inclination to go and Fukui can be rugged. Most of the places I travel have some level of ruggedness and beauty.
You are someone who travels a lot. How do you get to know the local and the cultures of the places you visited?
You know I visit the same areas more than once and make aquaintances who become friends. In Malaysia was lucky to go on rides with Dewa and the guys. Hot and dangerous but memorable. And hanging with you all has always been fun. Jeffrey too, so stocked on the culture and geography!
Other than designing for your brand & Snowboarding, what do you do to relax and de-stress?
Haven’t been snowboarding for a long time. But I surf, ride my bikes, listen to music, read and watch docs. When Jake was small, we used to go sailing every weekend and am feeling more and more like getting back into the boat. I love the peaceful glide in a sailboat. I snorkle and dive when I can (previously rebranded and designed gull diving gear). That is about it and of course travel/camp.
“ ACTUALLY I HAVE BEEN WORKING IN THE STUDIO AND LOGISTICS CENTER A LOT. I’M REALLY READY TO GET THE STORE BACK OPEN AND MEET PEOPLE BUT THIS MAY TAKE TIME.”
We still keep the Martin Scorsese concert film on Rolling Stone, "Shine A Light" that you gave us few years back. We feel that you have good taste in movie and movie. Can you share with us 3 movies/documentaries that you've watched during this lock-down period?
Miles Davis, Bob Marley, Keith Richards. There are quite a few more. For bike heads watch, “Greesy Hands Preacher” also west by Robert Redford was rad! But actually I have been working in the studio and logistics center a lot. I’m really ready to get the store back open and meet people but this may take time.
We were on a trip from JB to KL one time, and you asked for us to turn up the volume when Tupac was on the radio. Care to share with us 3 musicians or bands that are important to you personally and are your music of choice when you go on trips/travel?
Well, I’m loving the jazz heads these days. Kamasi Washington, Ryan Porter, Miles Mosely and all of Robert Glasper experiment and trio, Gerald Clayton. Hung out for a minute with all these guys in the last year and you will see some influences in our brand, sauvage. But jazz of all types moves me at different times of the day or different days. Old school of course but experimental too, like Eric Dolphy and some of miles movement.
Any good books/articles you can recommend to us? We bet you have plenty of good reads to suggest.
You know when it comes to books, I read a wide variety from history to science to science fiction which most often becomes reality later on as we all know. I would say during this pandemic here pick up some William Gibson, like pattern recognition (see Errolson Hugh/Acronym) or Neuromancer, maybe some will self books could be good too!
What are your activities during this lock-down period? Have you been staying at home or do you able to go to your studio?
Yep like I said, working with colors or lenses in the logistics center on Kataseyama Kamakura, but I have a studio on my third floor at home too so mostly there. Corey, my assistant and I made a space in the store to work too but we are just working in our homes now.
What is your opinion on the current global situation and what are your forecast on how things will be particularly for our industry, post pandemic?
This was bound to happen and could in reality have some dark undertones such as global euthanasia (killing of weak and elderly) but there is no way to confirm such things. But they are happening. You know after the earthquake and nuclear disaster in Japan, a lot of boutiques closed. As they are now but the strong brands stay and come back collaborate. Human individuality through our fashion choices hasn’t died or slipped into one piece colover alls with patches yet but look out that said online sales are growing even in my industry. It is going to be determined as per the timeline when people can travel the earth again without fear but the human body adapts and viruses morph and change. So we have to change within society and adapt air kisses and hugs are a thing of the past. Polite distance and elbow bumps are the thing, Nodding is cool.
Any last word for us and the Native Sons fans in Malaysia?
Yep, “Hang in there and enjoy everyday. Don’t lose touch with your brothers and sister. Cover yourself with who you are, wear rad frames and whatever don’t kill ya right away, makes you stronger!”
Interview: Jem | Translation: Khalisa Johari | Photography: Tommy O’Gara | Graphic: Adrian Nunis
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