“Experiment with nature” is Shwood’s mission statement. Indeed, the Portland sunglasses company regularly lives by these words. With skilled craftsmanship and a DIY attitude, each pair of wooden sunglasses is one-of-a-kind. This curious nature has led the company to numerous endeavours, from crafting sunglasses out of broken skateboard decks to creating films, showcasing the beauty of Oregon and its craftspeople. We were lucky enough to grill Eric Singer, the founder of Shwood, with a couple questions.E+E: How did Shwood come about?Eric Singer: There have been five owners since the brand's beginning. I had been making wooden sunglasses out of my garage for a few years (2005-2007) before I met my four partners. I met them by chance on a two month snowboarding trip. We became good friends, traveling from mountain town to mountain town. They saw the wooden shades which I had been building and we started talking about doing more with the idea. After more than two years of brainstorming and prototyping, we launched the company into the world of eyewear.E+E: How does Shwood continue to maintain the brand's focus on "innovation and creation"?ES: Because everything we do is in-house, the innovation and creation part is the easiest. There is almost no wait time from design conception to finished product. As the designer here, I can draw up a new idea, whether it be a new sunglass shape or something top secret, and bring it to a polished, finished prototype in one day. The turn around time to refine and make changes is just as quick.
Other than the famous skateboarding breaks you give your employees, what do you guys do to get the creative juices flowing?ES:
We encourage all of our employees to stay and build stuff during their free time. For example, our scrap wood cut-offs get used to make everything from weird bird sculptures to fancy clothes hangers. One of our guys just used some scrap material to make an engagement ring for his fiance, fully equipped with a diamond. It was pretty impressive. We also once had a 13-foot salmon made out of lens chips we had discarded from our frame cut-outs.E+E:
If you could walk down the street and see one person (dead or alive) wearing Shwood glasses who would it be?ES:
I would love to see Bill Murray wearing a pair in the same gear he wore in Groundhog Day. He’d be chasing groundhogs with dynamite.
E+E: Who was the mastermind that came up with the name "Shwood"?ES: Way back in the beginning (maybe 2006) when it was still just myself carving shades out of blocks of wood, I landed four pairs in a local store in Portland, owned by a friend of a friend. She took the shades on consignment and sold all four pairs in 24-hours. She told me the next day she wanted more but she really needed to have a name to call them by. I hit up a friend of mine who was a marketing savvy type of guy and asked him to help me put a name to the frames. He came up with a list of good ones, one being Shwood. He explained it by telling me about a trip he had recently been on. He was staying at a rundown motel called the Ashwood, a motel so rundown that the “A” in the sign had burnt out. He and his friends went on to tell people about a new company, Shwood, that was going to be a big hit, even though it was just a dirtbag motel. It worked in my head so I started calling the glasses that. It never changed.
Are there more difficult woods to work with?ES:
It has taken a lot of effort to identify what specific species will work for us. There are very few that actually conform to our standards when they are manipulated into the shape of sunglass frames. A conscious effort to not stain our woods or manipulate them to look better has always been at the head of our standards. What you see in our line is real wood, as it naturally looks.E+E:
What are your plans for the future? Different wood? New designs? Big events? Collaborations?ES:
There are very few people who know what the future holds for our brand. It’s becoming a very competitive market and to continue being the leaders of innovation, we built the "Bird's Nest" loft. It is basically a secret upstairs design studio to house new stuff and keep it secret until we can use it. I can tell you that I am extremely excited with the direction we are headed. New materials, new opportunities, new partnerships and new designs are just the beginning. Stay tuned to see it all unfold soon.E+E:
We ask everybody, so here it goes. What do you love most about Portland?ES:
The diversity, the opportunity to be accepted for whoever you are -- creativity reigns supreme in this city. Portland has always laid the groundwork for the DIY mentality. When you combine that with the endless amount of talented craftspeople who reside here, you can walk down the street any day of the week and get either inspired or completely horrified at something you see. Either one is pretty exciting.Check out more of Eric Singer and his company, Shwood, head over to: Shwood
For further inspiration, also take a look at other Shwood projects: This Is Oregon
and Experiment With Nature
Photo courtesy: Shwood