Rumour has it that two minds are better than one, and Sydney eyewear label Colab has based their entire ethos around this very simple but true principle. Colab’s creative directors Carl, Pete and Jono have essentially used their label as a “blank slate” so that creative contributors from all fields and locations can realise their visions through the medium of sunglasses design.
“There is an incredible array of creative people doing amazing work on this planet. We don’t understand labels that rehash the same style season after season,” says Carl. “There are no restraints, no target markets to appease or monks with pointy sticks. We leave the design to the artists and let them drop their deepest eyewear desires on us.” This underlying theory of complete creative freedom and reciprocal relationships is refreshing in a world where the term ‘collaboration’ has been sullied by the endless number of celebrities who will put their name on basically anything, often with very little design input or integrity.
“We have set up Colab to be a blank slate for our genius collaborators. The idea is to give artists an opportunity to apply their talents to a new medium, without the burden of fitting their designs to preconceived notions about what designer eyewear should be,” the directororial team tell us. Using Colab’s refined Science of Production, the participating artist’s concepts and designs are translated into “unique, very tangible, handmade, limited edition eyewear.” Only 1000 pairs of each style are produced globally, which is indicative of Colab’s primary interest in artistic expression, not commerciality.
This disregard for commercial success can also be seen in how the collaborators are selected. “We don’t spend any time thinking about whether an artist is going to appeal to Generation Y or be too ‘real’ for the baby boomers. We just pick people who we like the work of and want to work with.” Having collaborated with big names such as The Presets, Kill Pixie, Deanne Cheuk, Perks and Mini, and Brett Chan (to name a few) the directors add, “we guess it’s just luck that these artists are loved by many!” While commercial success is not at the heart of Colab, it is not to say they have not experienced it. Their eyewear is stocked in a huge cross-section of boutiques, from Colette in Paris to street shops in Vancouver. “Different markets are attracted to different pieces and our wide range of stockists reflects this,” Jono says.
When asked about how Colab was born, the directors quote a collaborator of their current collection, LA graphic artist Goeff McFetridge: “It’s weird in here.” They describe the history of the label as “the delinquent love child of two veterans of the optical / sunglass industry who prefer to stay in the background of this project and reflect all of the glory onto the collaborating artists.” In 2007 these veterans, Pete and Jono, went on a mission to set in motion their Colab dream, discovering a backwater of artistic innovation from all over the world excited to engage with a new medium they had not previously worked with. With a background in apparel, Carl also feels he has found his place at Colab, saying, “it represents everything I feel a brand should be: it’s tapped into creativity, honest in its integrity, and at the end of the day we have a great time doing it.”
By nature of its central collaborative aspect, Colab is a brand constantly in flux. “Every collaborator brings a fresh vision to our work and this allows us to be perpetually evolving. I love throwing ideas around with people, unrestricted by the limiting reality of fabrication. This allows us to take leaps forward that other design houses can’t even imagine,” they tell us, adding “From here we can do anything.” It seems even dreams to work with the Pope and Banksy (because “they’re both pretty influential”) aren’t too farfetched. Well, maybe a collaboration with the Pope isn’t too realistic, but by the same token we wouldn’t be entirely surprised. “The beauty of collaboration is the constant injection of new potential,” they explain, leaving us on an inspirational note.
words: Ingrid Kesa