Maker: Brian Vallario of Lowercase Eyewear
Tell us a bit about yourself — your background — what led you to become the maker you are today?
I started out working in a snowboard factory when I was in high school. It was a really small operation, a lot of the work was still done by hand, but we had a CNC machine that would cut parts of the boards and I was fascinated by the whole process. The reward of actually being able to enjoy something that you had made yourself got me hooked. I went on to study architecture in school, but I was still really focused on craftsmanship and spent most of my time in the model shops. I worked for woodworkers, metal workers and design/build firms during my time in school. Then when I moved to New York I got exposed to more advanced manufacturing and fabrication. That’s pretty much where we are today with Lowercase - exploring the intersection of new technologies and traditional craft.
Describe your brand in 3 words
Modern, Crafted, Intengrity
Can you tell us a little bit about what informs your creative process?
The beauty of making something yourself is that the manufacturing process and design process inform one another. We get the opportunity to really exploit and explore how and why we make things. From the outside, I draw on a lot of different influences for a collection - music, the city, furniture - but they’re all pretty rooted in Americana. I’m really interested in what it means to be an American designer and craftsman in today’s environment.
It starts with creating a story. I’ll immerse myself in books, images and music to try and create an environment to work in. Then we move on to sketches, and almost right away we’ll start prototyping with shapes and materials. Again, being able to make our own products is a huge benefit. If I have an idea I can get it built in a few days to see if it has any merit.
Can you give us an idea of what your 30 step process looks like?
We’ve built out a pretty modern workshop to make the frames. We’ve got everything from Robots and CNC machines to traditional hand files for finishing the details. We’re really dead set on using the best possible processes to make the frames - sometimes that means automation, and sometimes there’s no better way than working with your hands. I’d walk you through step by step but it’s better to watch our video!
Tell us a bit about your sustainability practices and why its important to you.
We’re doing what we can to minimize our impact and it’s been built into our approach since day 1. Sustainable practices aren’t something you can tack on to your business operations, it needs to be ingrained in your philosophy on every level. We’re living in a consumer based society and eventually, we’re going to run out of resources. Once you accept this, it makes it a lot easier to build a business around reducing our impact. You can’t make a product that is truly sustainable - you’re always going to be putting in more energy and resources than you’re giving back - that’s just a fact.
"Sustainable practices aren’t something you can tack on to your business operations, it needs to be ingrained in your philosophy on every level."
We’ve built the company around minimizing what we take and maximizing what we put out. At our core, producing locally and creating a product that is designed and made to last is our driving force. Overproduction and disposable goods - especially when we talk about plastics - are some of the largest issues facing our society and our environment. One of the more interesting approaches we’ve taken is to take dead stock acetates that have been sitting around warehouses for years, and creating limited edition products from it. We produce only what we can sell, we’re working on developing ways to use our scrap materials to create new products, and we focus on distributing as locally as possible. I think most importantly, our glasses are designed to be something you live with for many years. They’re an investment, but one that will pay off, both for our customers and the environment, over their lifetime.
Do you have a favorite pair of frames that you always wear?
I think we all have our own favorites. Gerard always wears the Marlton in one of our limited edition acetates. I tend to go with a black pair of the Irving’s. Ryan’s been wearing the Carr’s in black with green lenses lately.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
I had a professor in undergrad that used to preach “Nothing’s precious.” This idea that you need to be willing to throw away ideas, creations, strategies, etc. that you might have invested a lot of time into but just aren’t working has really resonated with me. Self-criticism is one of the hardest things to do, but also probably one of the most important.
Just For Fun
What are you reading, or listening to, right now?
I just finished the Springsteen biography “Born to Run” and have been listening to a lot of Howlin Wolf and Kevin Morby. Also I pick up Yvon Couinard’s “Let My People go Surfing” at least a couple times a week, I keep it on my desk at work and it’s a constant resource.
Any favorite podcasts?
I’ve been pretty into “Reply All” lately, but I’m not a big podcast guy. A lot of NPR on my morning commute...
What is something you've recently found inspiring?
Good friend of the company and super talented photographer Brian Kelley is in the process of building out a van to live in and heading on a several year journey to document National Champion trees across the country. His dedication to his craft and the methods he uses to bring awareness to issues he cares deeply about is extremely inspiring.
On a Saturday morning, you can find me...
Either going for a run or getting out of the city for the weekend.
What's one thing you want the world to know right now?
Support your local makers, invest in things that you care about.
Tell us some of your favorite makers!
George Nakashima has always been my favorite. BDDW is always putting out beautiful work. Feit and Toogood are two designers heavily on my radar right now. Obviously we’re big fans of Knickerbocker MFG since our co-lab with them!