There are not many people who share the same passion as optical enthusiast Tommy O’Gara. When news broke out he was launching Native Sons with Shinsuke Takizawa of Neighborhood, all signs pointed towards something to get excited about. I recently caught up with Tommy in his studio in Tokyo to discuss the elements that define the brand and his own philosophy.

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James Oliver / Can you talk about your background and what led you to become an eyewear designer?

Tommy O’Gara / I grew up in the Midwest: riding motorcycles, camping, shooting things, playing on my Dad’s job sites, going to pow-wows, rodeos and eventually traveling with a carnival, just traveling. Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse monument got me. Lots of outdoor concerts, studying art, design and art history at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Worked at the historical society. Traveled to Japan to study and work. Worked. Designed. Snowboarded my ass off. Creative directed Freshjive for Asia, produced the Asanoha project, fell into Dita and placed them in at Asanoha and became the brand’s distributor in Japan. Worked on Dita full-time, creative directed, started the optical line, designed, got deep into manufacturing, traveled Asia extensively and intensely, opened a store in Beijing with Mr. Masunaga, created collabs with: Hysteric
Glamour, undercover, Roen, gvgv, visvim, Neighborhood. Built Dita brand in Asia, built Dita stores, built an eyewear factory, established Dita legends craftsman edition, launched Thom Browne Eyewear in Asia and resigned…. To be a Creator.

JO / What was the catalyst for starting Native Sons?

TO / My feeling that WWII changed the way people lived their lives and the culture that was born of that change. I have always been a student of history… When in doubt… Study history.

Grew up watching Vietnam body counts on TV at dinner time and went through that wave of families whose parents divorced… we had the ultimate freedom and were damaged just enough to seek out pleasure but not really harm ourselves… the 70’s were about rock, Punk and expression.

So, when I have an idea… I just do it without pause for self-doubt… Creating and life are inter-locked and linear… Do not spend much time looking back. So, I spoke with Takizawa san as we both share a similar passion for the history and culture that I grew up in….

JO / Can you please give us some insight into the philosophy of the brand?

TO / The philosophy is to create 100% original eyewear and accessory designs based around writings, sound and images from eras from 1949-59 / 59-69 / 69-79 and on. You see; if you track the culture within these decades there is always a shift in literature, art, music, fashion and design.

We create a balance in design of the product and price as well… Our way. Keeping things “hands on” and core. Our craftsman, Kobayashi San, and the other associate factories and engineers play a large part in that… There is no “middleman” so nothing is lost in translation from design to finished product.

JO /  Can you describe your role and the role of Shinsuke Takizawa’s and how you work of each other. What is the process of design?

TO / I write a lot and come up with a vibe and Takizawa San, Nau (Shima) and I just jam on ideas. Then I do drawings, by hand initially. We dial them in together discussing materials, colors and treatments. Prototypes are made in our factory, then we fine tune them and get things rolling for real.

We work well together… I like to work with other people which is why I enjoyed the collabs over the years… There is a unique synergy and energy working as two creators to come up with a product.

The role of theLIGHT is quite unique, can shed some light on this and how you feel your methods of manufacturing contribute to the label.

theLIGHT is not just our small factory and Kobayashi San, it is also a group of associate factories and engineers who help us achieve the desired finish on the product. As all of our acetates are original cellulose based and color is always key, we could do nothing without the engineers who match and create those materials for us. The same goes for metal construction and plating technical details. I love this part a lot!

But because we have the factory, we can prototype and sample much faster than anyone, dial things in and be rolling.

We also create new technology and tweak old technology and this helps come up with something unique. There is not much new and what there is I do not much care for. As eyewear goes on your face – and your face is polymorphic: high tech super fine wire and avante garde materials often are just too much to wear with your clothes.

JO / What is it about eyewear and the craft that you appreciate the most?

TO / Love the history, lineage, design transformations and changes over time. But, most of all, the challenge to create something that is unique, looks great on faces, fits well and has a price that works for the product and market. This is one of the most challenging products to design in the world. And there are many young and old designers and creators who have done and are doing a fabulous job of fulfilling these criteria without gimmicks. Just great balanced designs. I am working with some now…

Lots happening in 2013!

Dieter rams school of design reigns…. Even in eyewear you may design 100 frames but there will always be those 3 designs that are timeless and that is the proof.

JO / Going forward, what is your vision for Native Sons?

TO / Native Sons will grow organically with like-minded people… Just the mantra “ creating a growing tribe of like-minded individuals world-wide”