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Interview with Yasuhisa Obata and Yukiko Obata/kikiki optique


Model KOP-005 Astronomer Set Col. Navy

Above: Model KOP-005 Astronomer Set Col. Navy


EYEWEAR CULTURE conducted an interview with Yasuhisa Obata and Yukiko Obata from the brand kikiki optique. The concept of the brand is 'Seeking and shaping the charms hidden in everyday life.'. The brand is based in Okachimachi area in Tokyo, the area known for its metalworking and jewelry craftsmanship.


In the interview, how the brand has started, inspirations for the designs, the manufacturing process, and future prospects of the brand were discussed. Brand kikiki optique uniquely combines jewelry techniques such as lost wax casting, with eyewear manufacturing methods from Sabae in Fukui Prefecture.

kikiki optiqueの小幡夕起子さんと小幡泰久さん

Above: Yukiko Obata(Left) and Yasuhisa Obata(Right) from kikiki optique


Thank you very much for letting us visit your workshop. First, could you please tell us how and when the brand kikiki optique started?


Yasuhisa Obata (hereinafter referred to as Yasuhisa):

Initially, we were not manufacturing eyewear frames. My wife, Yukiko was a web designer. She wanted to create something physical rather than just working on screens, so she started attending metalworking classes, which started everything.


I was working in the field of architecture at the time. I decided to attend the classes as well because it looked interesting to me too. My father was an optician. So we began using acetate leftovers to create accessories.


Yukiko Obata (hereinafter referred to as Yukiko):

In Okachimachi area, there are many jewelry designers, so we were thinking about how to differentiate our work. We thought about combining unique materials like acetate with metal. Since Yasuhisa's father owned an optical store, we decided to experiment with familiar eyewear materials.


There was a time when combination frames (frames consists of part acetate and part metal usually on the front part of the frame) were trending. We thought, "Could we make the metal bridge part of the frame cuter?" and decided to give it a try.

小幡泰久さんのご実家のメガネ店

Above: An optical store owned by Yasuhisa Obata's father


Yasuhisa: When we started, we were creating accessories and magnifying loupes using acetate materials. We attended and experienced a handmade eyewear workshop in Sabae city in Fukui Prefecture, while also taking metalworking classes in Okachimachi. At that time, I noticed that the tools were quite similar between the two.


Yukiko: These chocolate cake-like earrings were made with acetate that has a pattern resembling chocolate cakes. We also bent acetate to create bangles. During this time, we operated under the brand name "atelier kikiki" and not the current brand name, kikiki optique yet.

atelier kikikiで製造をしたアセテートの端材などを使って製造したピアスとルーペ

Above: Earings(left) and a magnifying loupe(right) produced by kikiki optiique using brand's acetate leftovers


Yasuhisa: We made loupes with techniques like securing the cat's tail using nylon threads, and I even hand-carved the lens grooves. Since we were already applying techniques used in making eyewear frames, I thought we might be able to make handmade eyewear frames as well.


Yukiko: At that time, online handmade marketplaces in Japan like "minne" and "Creema" were getting popular. We listed the eyewear frames we made in the marketplace. Then, we were able to receive positive responses, and they were also nominated for an award. Realizing there was demand for such cute glasses gave us a sense of accomplishment and motivated us to establish our brand.


Yasuhisa: Initially, we didn't plan to enter the eyewear industry, instead, we approached from the jewelry and fashion industries. In 2017, we participated in a fashion and design joint exhibition called "rooms" operated by a company called H.P.FRANCE then we were awarded the Kameyama Award(a prestigious award given by Mr. Isao Kameyama, Managing Director of H.P.FRANCE, to brands demonstrating outstanding creative and product strength).

2017年、合同展示会roomsで亀山アワードを受賞

Above: The brand receiving Kameyama Award in fashion and design joint exhibition "rooms", in 2017


Yukiko: Perhaps originality of our products were valued.


Yasuhisa: However, it was quite challenging to make the actual sales from industries outside of eyewear industry. We exhibitied in an optical fair called "SITE"(currently called as "IN GOT") for the first time in 2018.


Yukiko: At this time, we changed our brand name to "kikiki optique" from "aterier kikiki". We also completely closed the online store for eyewear frames as well. It's important for customers to be able to try on glasses before making a purchase. Additionally, we believe glasses are complete only after the lenses are fitted and the frames are adjusted for the customers.


Yasuhisa: At first, we lacked confidence that the eyewear industry would accept us. We didn't even know how pricing worked in the eyewear industry. Despite this, we began making sales, for example, to independently owned optical stores, and gradually gained recognition through word-of-mouth and social media platforms like Instagram.


What are the actual differences between producing jewelries and producing eyewear frames?


Yasuhisa: The main difference between producing jewelries and making eyewear frames is that frames are medical devices.


Yukiko: There are about 100 times(laughs) more considerations for wearing comfort and safety, assuming the insertion of lenses for eyewear frames. While there's less freedom, it's interesting to see how we could express ourselves within those constraints. I think jewelry offers more flexibility in terms of design, although safety is also essential. For us, we enjoy exploring and playing with limited parts.


As we have seen in your workshop, kikiki optique's handmade frames require numerous processes and skills. How long does it usually take from the design idea to the final product?


Yasuhisa: Compared to regular manufacturers, we are probably faster. Typically, it takes about six months to complete.


Yukiko: For instance, if there's an optical fair in October, the idea comes in June, and we finalize it in July...


Yasuhisa: Especially since my wife comes from a web design background, she comes up with ideas quickly and gets them out there rapidly.


Yukiko: Websites usually take just a week from ordering to delivery...


Yasuhisa: The speed is different compared to manufacturing. She has a strong will to get things done.


Yukiko: We have heard that regular manufacturers require orders about a year in advance. I think our in-house metalworking contributes to our speed.

アトリエで一本一本手作りでフレームを製造する様子

Above: The process of producing eyewear frames one by one at the workshop


Other than that, are there differences in design or manufacturing methods when utilizing jewelry techniques for eyewear frame production, compared to methods like using press machines to produce frames?


Yukiko: Yes. kikiki optique frames have a unique 'handcraftedness' that comes from being handmade. Since they are hand-polished, no two products are exactly the same. We hope wearers can feel and enjoy this characteristic as part of the overall aesthetic experience.

秋の新作モデルKOP-012 Mozu Balcony。繊細な花びらも表現されたアネモネのめしべにはジルコニアが装飾されている。

Above: New model from the Fall collection model KOP-012 Mozu Balcony. Decorated with zirconia on the stamen of the anemone, expressing delicate petals.

 

Yasuhisa: In factories, pressing requires parts to be versatile due to the need for mass production. However, for us, we can attach differently designed parts for each model. For us, it is not only about designing shapes of the frames; it is like creating a "story" for each model.


In model KOP-012 Mozu Balcony, wearers can choose their preferred stones for the anemone stamens, such as zirconia, diamonds, or gemstones. kikiki optique frames feel more like crafted products more than industrial products.


Yukiko: It might be closer to folk crafts(laughs).


Does it mean that is like a bear curved in wood, a known folk craft in Hokkaido prefecture?(laughs)


Yukiko: While people may want to keep crafted products or art works to see or display, for kikiki optique frames, we want them to be used in everyday life, like folk crafts.


Yasuhisa: It's a bit challenging to articulate, but we see it as a 'hybrid', combining industrial products from Sabae city with handmade jewelry from the Okachimachi area.


The concept of the brand is 'Seeking and shaping the charms hidden in everyday life.'. Where do you draw inspiration for your designs?


Yasuhisa: The way I spend my time changed after having a child, and I often get ideas from there. It could be from children's toys or picture books.


Yukiko: I love looking at Gachapon(capsule toys). They always turn into miniatures. I see them every time I visit commercial buildings.


Yasuhisa: I also enjoy going to flea markets. Antique items are intricately made. I look at antique spoons and wonder if we could make something like that for the ornament.


What is the most challenging aspect of running the brand? And when do you feel the most joy?


Yasuhisa: I felt happy when I saw a person wearing kikiki optique frame while walking on the street the other day.


Yukiko: There's our favorite cafe called SHOZO CAFE in Nasu town in Tochigi prefecture. It's a cafe renovated from Japanese folk house, truly pioneering the cafe culture.


Yasuhisa: The other day, when we were on a trip and shopping at the cafe, a person who came down from the second floor was wearing kikiki optique frame. It made me realize that there is a chain reaction to what you love. That moment brought me joy.

The most challenging thing is maintaining quality.


Yukiko: The challenging aspect is that our production methods are unique, so many tasks cannot be outsourced. This could be related to factories in Sabae city and also other manufacturing industries. In a world where securing talent is difficult, that is tough.

kikiki optiqueのフレーム製造の様子。鋳造時の湯口の処理を行なっている。

Above: The process of frame manufacturing. One by one, handling the sprue during casting.


In the Fall collection, you have collaborated with the jewelry artist "atelier mozu", focusing on motifs from nature. You've had various collaborations in the past, do you plan to continue collaborations in the future?


Yasuhisa: Yes, we're always on the lookout for collaborations. For the spring collection, we're probably going to release something with an arrangement in collaboration with atelier mozu. Their designs and cool style, which are different from ours, have been very well received.

atelir mozuとコラボレーションをしたモデルKOP-013 Mozu Garden Col. Moss Green

Above: The model KOP-013 Mozu Garden Col. Moss Green, a collaboration model with atelier mozu

 

Do you have any future challenges or designs you would like to pursue?


Yukiko: I want to focus on hinges. Each manufacturer develops spring-loaded hinges and other mechanisms for the comfort of the frames. New developments require corporate efforts! We also want to ensure that our frames provide even more comfort and satisfaction.


Yasuhisa: We also want to work on full metal frames. It is challenging to find where we can infuse the unique kikiki optique taste into them.


From the origin of the kikiki optique brand to exciting future plans, thank you very much for your invaluable time.


In the next article, we will introduce the frame manufacturing process of kikiki optique frames in their workshop in Okachimachi area, Tokyo.

 

kikiki optique


"Realizing Everyday Allure"

Seeking and shaping the charms hidden in everyday life.


Beautiful flowers found on a walk

A cafe standing on a street corner

Enjoying camping with favorite tools


Turning treasures found in daily life into wearable forms

Inserting playfulness into everyday life


Carefully shaping and balancing things that once seemed contradictory into designs

Crafting with heart to be loved for a long time


These are the frames kikiki optique creates


Official website: http://atelier-kikiki.net

X(Twitter): @atelier_kikiki

 

EYEWEAR CULTURE Staff afterwords:

Thank you very much for your cooperation in the interview and for allowing us to visit your workshop. From coming up with ideas to creating prototypes, and finally manufacturing each pair of frames, everything is done at the workshop in Okachimachi area. Visiting the workshop was a truly valuable experience for us, and we felt how each pair of frames are made with heart. The workshop was filled with creative energy, and we could sense that it is a place where inspiration is born every day. Thank you very much.


For the interview in Japanese please CLICK HERE.

インタビューの日本語版はこちらをクリック

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