We sat down for an interview with Eric Singer at the Shwood Factory, and he answered some questions for us, including where the name came from.
Somehow we managed to pull a twenty-one foot Lance travel trailer behind a full sized Nissan Titan diesel through the streets of Portland – arriving at a nondescript warehouse location. We weren’t sure where to park, and we definitely weren’t sure what to expect. The resulting afternoon opened our eyes not only to unconventional American manufacturing, but also what could be built with a vision and hard work.
A few weeks before embarking on our trip to Oregon, we struck up a conversation with the guys from Shwood Eyewear, who invited us to come and check out their facility. To sweeten the deal, they offered to take us fishing afterwards. This definitely struck two soft spots with us – a look behind the scenes, and a day on the river. We agreed.
Our tour started similarly to any other factory tour that we’ve been on: a look at the completed product, a small diorama of the progression of their glasses since the beginning, followed by a journey onto the factory floor. This is where the similarities between Shwood and our past experiences ended. The factory felt more like an artist’s workshop than an industrial operation. Nooks and crannies filled with woodworking tools, a break room complete with kegerator and ping pong table, and the result of an FJ-40 Landcruiser rebuild project. This wasn’t a factory…this was a clubhouse. Probing the Shwood team on how the space came to be, they answered simply: “We were young and dumb when we took over this space, and we did things our own way.” While the young and dumb part wasn’t apparent – the idea that this was their space and built the way they wanted was immediately recognizable.
We had the opportunity to see machines in action. Cutting, engraving and sanding. We met employees on the factory floor who were obviously passionate about the products that they were producing. Staining wood to the perfect hue, assembling glasses with skilled specificity. To them, these just weren’t sunglasses to wear for an afternoon on the water, or a morning hike – this was art.
I don’t want to go into the specific features of each pair of glasses. Honestly, they’re great, and live up to all the perceptions that I had for them. I do want to broadcast the idea of something special that’s happening in Portland. Shwood Eyewear is taking American manufacturing to the next level, by returning to the roots of craftsmanship. They’re employing people who are passionate about quality, and have created a culture that’s rarely seen.