We are pleased to introduce the eyewear company District Vision via a quick conversation with one of it’s founders, Tom Daly. Daly, along with his partner Max Vallot, have been friends and partners for over 15 years and through multiple endeavours. Beginning in college in England, Daly and Vallot independently moved to New York after their studies in order to explore what they refer to as the intersection of business and creativity. While they had different career paths, they experienced similar facets of the high fashion and marketing industries. As they grew, so too did their approach, and in 2014 they created District Projects, a creative consulting firm that has since worked with Acne, Nike Gyakusou, and Balenciaga. One year later they created District Vision.
District Vision can be described as an eyewear company operating in the intersection between an ever evolving use of technology and the creation of a wellness oriented community. In order to accomplish the first part, District Vision has created a proprietary frame system that utilizes a nylon-titanium blend, resulting in frames that are extremely lightweight yet sturdy. The lenses are also specifically created for various light levels, and all feature both olio and hydrophobic coatings so that they dry quickly and clearly in a variety of climates and situations. Lastly, the frames feature a hinge near the ends of each arm so that they can be applicable as either casual or sports oriented frames.
Such functionality ties into the second focus of District Vision, as Daly and Vallot are striving to create communities and services that legitimately benefit the lives of their consumers. This is accomplished using multiple channels, ranging from collaborations with other manufacturers to involvement in specific outdoors related endeavours to the creation and ongoing sponsorship of wellness oriented communities. For Daly, this means involvement in a number of running clubs in New York and around the world, the most notable of which being the Black Roses collective. As for Vallot, the focus is more on meditation, and he has become a licensed yoga practitioner so as to properly represent the ethos of District Vision.
Adam Danyluk: So, Tom, please indulge me a little bit as to how District Vision came about for you. What do you believe led you and Max to choose this company and this approach? Tom Daly: Max and I met when we were studying, and we were very different people back then (laughs). Since then, we have been on a similar journey, albeit different paths, and originally we wanted to see the extent to which we could blend a business and creative lifestyle in New York. After some time and a number of life changing events, we shifted our focus into the intersection of sports and wellbeing, which is where we sit right now with District Vision. We enjoy having the ability to have a very technical product, one that is used and developed with athletes, but also one that is applicable and functional in everyday life.
AD: District Vision exists in a market that is very health lifestyle focused. Do you think that society’s understanding of what it means to live healthily has changed over time? If so, in what ways? TD: I think it is safe to say that everyone has a different understanding of what it means to live a healthy lifestyle. At the same time, it is true that there seems to be changing values in younger demographics towards health lifestyle activities, like nutrition, or sport, meditation, so on. As these two factors interact with one another, I think a potential result is a more comprehensive understanding of the possibilities available for people who would like to lead health and wellness oriented lifestyles, regardless of how they choose to lead them. This is reinforced by the shifts in multiple industries towards health and wellness, and without getting too broad, what it really is is a move towards preventative health care behaviour during the life course. Things like the Apple Watch or the health apps available in smartphones reinforce products like our own, as they are born of a desire to provide consumers with technology that provides a marked improvement on their daily life and their ability to live healthily. Hopefully, these sectors can function in unison with a goal of providing technology, products and services that allow for a conscious and healthy society that is constantly improving.
AD: It’s funny that you mention that, as a lot of research is being done currently on what it means to live healthily and how a health and wellness oriented lifestyle can be attained. Furthermore, there does seem to be differences amongst demographics and even generations in regards to how they approach health lifestyles… TD: Yes, personally I feel as though we are just scratching the surface in terms of what this means for product development in a variety of sectors. I think it is fair to say that we sell a fairly specialized technical product, and the relative percentage of people who see value in that product today is higher than it was twenty years ago in a lot of our demographics, especially when placed in the context of how it is marketed and sold. I think you’re right, this industry is kind of shaping before our eyes and it represents a totally new customer as well as a new way of thinking.
AD: So how does District Vision fit into this emerging market? What gives you the confidence that the product you’re providing will work well in what seems to be an ever changing society?TD: We essentially grow a design using our relationships with our engineers in Japan, our athletes, and our running teams in New York, as these are our main tools for proper product development. We’ve taken teams outside of New York and seen how the lenses perform on a more global level, and are continually investing in new testing procedures to ensure quality and functionality. Because of this rather involved approach, it takes roughly 18 months for an idea to become a finished product, and this is accounting for our existing technology that can be used.
AD: How about corporate philosophy? District Vision does not seem to have a traditional approach to product development and community interaction. Frankly, from an outsider’s perspective it seems as though most of the energy is put towards Research and Development and customer interaction, with much less on marketing, sales, and other more traditional business expenses…TD: The way that we see the company, and particularly research and development, is through a concept known in Japanese as kaizen. Basically kaizen is an ethos that has a focus on constant and continual improvement in all aspects of both business and personal endeavours. So within that we currently have the eyewear program as well as the running and meditation program. Weirdly enough, we don’t actually market our products per se. Instead, we make these products and create these services and then we simply document them. We understand marketing to be the introduction of an unnecessary layer that makes a product more desirable than in reality. For District Vision, it is easier and better to just document these things and let that speak for itself.
AD: Continuing on from there, do you feel as though District Vision may expand on its network of interaction? Potentially through new running initiatives or more collaborations with other parties?TD: The beautiful thing is that it is a very collaborative scene right now and that makes things particularly interesting across a variety of sectors. In New York, there are nutritionists, yoga instructors, apparel companies, running crews, and so on who are very open to collaboration and so the result is an explosion not only in product and service availability but also in the amount of information available to the consumer. So in that sense it is a good time to be a company focused on this, but for us, we really would like to focus on the two areas we have identified since the beginning and ensure that we create products and services that are of the highest available quality. This means constantly challenging ourselves in regards to our products and our approach, and this restricts our ability to broaden our product and service range. In summation, we would like to be the best at one or two things than second best at five (laughs). Max and myself are able to enjoy a friendship that has lasted for 15 years, through some tumultuous periods, and so we can hold each other to what can be seen as a very strict approach to running a brand without anyone taking it too personally (laughs).
It was at this point that Tom needed to end the conversation in order to prepare for an upcoming flight. We at Roden Gray are grateful for the opportunity to speak with him and pick his brain a little bit. We are confident that District Vision will live up to the standard they have set for themselves, and look forward to having our customers experience the comfort and quality of the frames in store.
Text by Adam Danyluk
Photography by Jomar Victoria
Styled by Jacky Huang.