Cool shades [Bangkok Post, Thailand :: ]
(Bangkok Post (Thailand) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 04--Through a series of coincidences, three friends went from Western party organisers to designers of Thai-made sunglasses and prescription lenses.
Playn was launched in 2013, but the idea for the brand came earlier in Munich, where the trio started a non-profit orgnisation to arrange hip-hop parties for the We Do charity.
"Since we didn't have money to pay everybody, we got sponsors from a sunglasses company to give to the people who helped," says 35-year-old Jonas Koblin, co-founder of Playn Eyewear.
He recalls that the first year was a failure because no donations were made to offset the money lost in the process. Soon obligations got in the way and We Do was handed over to another friend to continue.
It was during this period that they went travelling, and Thailand was one of the stops. They fell in love with the country and decided to study here. Jonas Jacquet, 35, another co-founder of Playn, discovered a marketing programme at Bangkok University.
"When we arrived here we tried to sell sunglasses, but nobody wanted them because despite the cool designs, they had no brand name," Mr Koblin says. "So we did what we did best ? events."
It was in 2003 that they began organising hip-hop parties again under the banner of We Do Asia; and, like in Munich, they began distributing Funk sunglasses.
Playn co-founders, from left, Jonas Jacquet, Jonas Koblin and Denis Beyer show off their pride and joy.
"We thought that we could sell more, but the shops didn't want them because they didn't trust young Germans who didn't speak Thai," Mr Koblin says.
So they started Niche Nation from their living room as part of We Do Asia. Niche Nation opened its first store in December 2004 in Thong Lor and is still there. Another shop recently opened at Central Embassy.
The shift towards eyewear design came about eight years ago when the group was asked to design sunglasses for Jaspal. Mr Koblin called Denis Beyer, designer and the third co-founder of Playn, who at the time was a product designer in German, to come to Thailand and help design the collection.
"Looking back now, it's unbelievable that Jaspal didn't fire us because we designed some crazy collection. They didn't fit anybody in Asia because some of them were just too big or too curvy."
Before long they landed a temporary design contract with a company based in Spain. "This was when we first realised that designing for others can be difficult because the better we are, the more likely they are to cut us out," Mr Koblin says.
Through a chance encounter, the friends met Pit Marx, a German lens enthusiast and optometrist, who set up a lab called X-ram in Thailand. They realised that the combination of Mr Marx's knowledge and their passion for design might create a product that that would be difficult to make anywhere else.
"It was difficult to start a product line in Thailand before because of the difficulty in finding an identity. But with cooperation we can be true to ourselves."
Before Playn was chosen, the name Simple was suggested because Mr Beyer wanted to design no-frills glasses. They initially thought Plain might sound better, "but after seeing the product design, we thought that it was so simple that nobody would realise that it was special", Mr Koblin says.
They compromised and combined Plain with Play and got Playn: 20% simple and 80% playful.
The goal was to design a collection that lets customers buy one pair and get the same model again three years later.
"We assure customers who buy two pairs that we will definitely not discontinue the model," Mr Jacquet says.
The brand was built on the principle of sustainability. A tree is planted for every pair purchased.
A single design takes five to six months from first draft to final product. But it usually takes longer because "every shape needs to have a meaningful position in the collection", says Mr Beyer, 36.
In July 2013, Playn was launched in London on the suggestion of schoolfriends who wanted to sell sustainable products.
"At first we thought we would launch it in Thailand, but then this amazing opportunity came up," Mr Koblin says. It was also why they didn't do much in Thailand: they were busy fulfilling orders and making new designs.
Playn's Bangkok showroom is on the top floor of SeenSpace Thonglor 13. Playn Eyewear is also available online.
The dealer has resellers in London, Moscow, Germany and Thailand and ships to over 20 countries.
"People who walk in here often didn't realise we are a local brand because we are so hidden," Mr Koblin says.
Customers consist equally of locals and foreigners, many of whom learn about the brand through social media.
Mr Koblin says Playn started with an investment of 10 million baht to cover salaries, product development and shop space.
Playn's goal for 2014 is to sell an average of 200 pairs of glasses a month. It sells about 140 pairs of glasses a month right now and hopes to break even by the end of the year. So far it is on target.
The group is also considering a store in Chiang Mai and a greater marketing push in Thailand, as well as finding more resellers overseas.
However, Mr Koblin says they don't want to make the brand so big that would make it difficult for them to take care of it.
"It is our baby, so we have to feed it and nurture it ourselves, and get involved in its ownership," he says.
Playn sunglasses that are on display at the SeenSpace Thonglor 13 store.
(c)2014 the Bangkok Post (Bangkok, Thailand)
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