Creating a production facility of his own in the UK has been a long-term goal for Tom Davies, the British bespoke eyewear designer. The new factory and HQ in Brentford, West London opened in October, as the British brand celebrated its 15th Anniversary. Davies spoke to Clodagh Norton following the launch event.
Q: What does the opening of the factory in the UK represent for the TD Tom Davies brand now in your 15th year?
A: It is a major milestone for the brand. From day one when I first started the company in 2002 out of a small office in Pimlico, I knew that someday I wanted to have production in Britain. I am a British designer and my mission is to create perfect eyewear with the best materials and craftsmanship possible, and I fully believe that I can do all of this here in London.
As we continue to grow and expand I want to focus here in the UK. It’s more efficient to develop and design product at home rather than abroad.
Opening the London factory was also a logical next step for the business not just economically, with rising freight and wages costs in China, but for personal reasons too. I have a young family and travelling to China nine times a year was really taking its toll!
I now sell glasses in 23 countries with 4000 Bespoke frame orders a month. I have just opened my fifth Bespoke Opticians store in London in Covent Garden. It is a very exciting time for the brand and the opening of our London factory signifies our commitment to investing in quality craftsmanship and “Made in England” manufacturing. As I keep telling my staff, we’re just getting started!
Q: Explain how you have managed to achieve this goal and how you have been able to find the eyewear expertise you require? Has the operation in China closed and have you brought some machinery from the Chinese factory to the UK?
A: My plan is to gradually scale down operations at the Shenzhen factory over the course of three years. By 2020, I hope to be producing 70 percent of my eyewear here in Britain. Ultimately, the new facility has the capacity to produce 10,000 frames per month.
I’m really looking forward to training a new generation of craftspeople in our unique production methodology which combines traditional handcrafting skills with state-of-the-art technology. We have started an apprenticeship scheme; we are hiring 10 local school leavers to join our production team. My team of expert Chinese eyewear craftsmen are flying in to train them.
While manufacturing moves here, I will retain the Shenzhen facility as a resource and sales office for the increased distribution across Asia.
Q: How will the UK production change things for you going forward?
A: China has been fantastic for business and the brand but as we’re expanding I really wanted to do it in the UK. The “Made in England” market for luxury goods is huge and British luxury craftsmanship is highly valued around the world.
Opening a new factory and head office in London also opens up a whole new world of possibilities for customer engagement and training. From early 2018, we will be running regular factory tours and product workshops. Understanding the design and production of eyewear is so important and I can’t wait to show my customers first-hand how it is done!
Q: Regarding new releases, can you tell us what you have released at SILMO and will there be additional launches at OPTI in January?
A: At SILMO, we featured my Silver 925 collection. I’m really proud of these beautiful frames and they represent some of my most innovative work yet! Blending classic shapes with sterling silver, the designs are both glamorous and exquisite. The handmade sterling silver frames feature platinum 950 mirrored lenses, 18 carat gold mirrored lenses and some coloured mirrors.
At OPTI, I am launching a new acetate limited edition range called ‘Copenhagen’. This collection was originally designed exclusively for my Danish customers to manage the extra large sizes for the market. But the rest of my sales team noticed it at our London factory launch party in London and everyone requested this for their territories. It seems there is a big market for big heads!
Q: Where is your emphasis today as a brand - on the off-the-shelf products or on ‘semi-bespoke’ frames? Or,with the opening of your stores in London, is the brand offering more exclusive bespoke products in the UK than ever before?
A: It’s an odd thing but since I opened up my first factory, sales have been split 50:50 between Bespoke and Ready-to-Wear. No matter what I do. So these days I'm just concentrating on two key areas: Design and Service. I'm constantly trying to create beautiful frames and make it easier than ever for Opticians to ‘Bespoke’ them.
Q: What will 2018 represent for the brand and what plans do you have now the production has been established in the UK? Are their international stores in the pipeline now you have an established retail model in London?
A: We have big plans for the future and our new London factory provides the perfect launch pad. We are currently considering several potential sites for international stores - watch this space!
Q: Are there particular markets you still have your eye on when it comes to further expansion?
A: We are hoping that our new “Made In England” credentials will serve us well in Asia.