Shwood feature image

The unusual founding story of Shwood sunglasses, from a tree branch to a ski lift encounter

Today we meet Eric Singer, Co-founder and Concept Designer of handcrafted sunglasses brand Shwood. Eric, whose father was a woodworker crafted his first pair of sunglasses from a tree in his neighbor’s backyard. He has since helped to grow the business into a full-time job, turning his passion for sustainable, handcrafted workmanship into a unique and successful company. How have he and his team managed this? And how do they stand out in a competitive market? Let’s find out!

Hello! Perhaps you could introduce yourself?

My name is Eric Singer and I am one of the 5 founders of Shwood. I started handcrafting the first wooden sunglasses in my garage over 15 years ago, from nothing more than a tree branch in my neighbors’ back yard. Prior to that, I had no formal woodworking experience, though I did have some tools handed down from my father, who was a woodworker. I’ve always learned a thing by figuring it out through trial and error… classes or workshops never really appealed to me much. 

This is the first business I have had a hand in creating and has been a full-time job for over a decade. Nowadays, I balance focus here with a new love for sailing. My girlfriend and I purchased a sailboat earlier this year the experience has been captivating, to say the least. If I am not in the woodshop, we’re usually out on the water.

Tell us more about your business.

We founded Shwood in 2009, inspired by the first few dozen sunglasses I had been making on my own prior to the idea of an actual business. The first pair from that tree branch dates back to 2005, which was the summer I graduated from high school. 

I met the guys I started the business with through a love of snowboarding. I actually met the first of them on one fateful snowy day at Mt. Bachelor, as I sat down on a chairlift with him at random. Within the 7.5 minutes it took to get up the mountain, we had learned each others’ names, and he had learned I was living out of my 1986 Honda Civic to live the dream of snowboarding every day. He had an extra room in his house and had invited me to come to stay with him for the remainder of the winter. I actually had an A/C power converter hooked up to the battery in my Civic, to run a few small wood tools from so I could still make these wooden sunglasses when not snowboarding, parked in some grocery store parking lot, or wherever. Haha.

That friendship led to meeting a few others within the snowboard community who helped me create a website and the first workings of a production space.  The first product we offered as an official brand was one wood sunglasses shape that I was making in small batches. Nowadays, we focus on natural material experimentation and have brought to market over 20 organic materials used to produce sunglasses from, previously never even thought possible before.

What does your business look like today?

We are just thankful to say that we are still operational, considering we are 9 months into a pandemic that has closed the doors of many small and large businesses alike. Our team is smaller as we navigate all of this, where it once was a team of 25 people, we now are 11.

Retail everywhere is a fraction of what it once was, so we like everyone else are focused on the direct-to-consumer angle, which we have always had, albeit wholesale was the majority of our business. In general, given the new normal that we are in, the day-to-day is still cranking. Sunglasses are still going out to customers every day of the week, and we are focused on continuing to create new products on a bi-seasonal basis.

What are you working on at the moment? What are the future plans?

At the moment I am building an inventory of our in-store display program. We have always built our sunglasses displays in-house, allowing us to control the best selection of materials and design on the fly. We are stocking up on these so that when our retail partners do come back and open their doors, we will be ready in that department.

Future goals are to continue to maintain excellence in design and material experimentation while diversifying our offerings across the board.

Can you share what tools, apps, or other useful things you are using in your business?

We use ShipStation, Shopify, and Salesforce together to manage our in-house fulfillment and sales ops, and Helpscout to manage our email and communication platform.  We’re on Instagram and FB (@shwoodshop) for social, and use Google’s productivity apps like Sheets, Slides, etc… to stay organized.

What is the best business advice you can share with others?

Stay focused, but don’t let that focus turn into tunnel vision. Pay attention to what‘s working and don’t be afraid to unplug something and try a new thing if the performance just isn’t there. Above all else, your heart has to be into what you’re doing. if you’re not 100% in love with your idea, don’t invest 100% of your time into it.

Could you recommend any books, movies, podcasts, learning materials?

Lately, I have been more interested in stories, and how others have grown an idea into a viable business. “How I Made This” is a good podcast for that. Also NPR’s “Planet Money” has had some interesting stories. I’ve also been into films or shows depicting real-life events. Netflix has a 6-part show called “The Spy” telling the story of an Israeli spy who infiltrated the deepest corners of the Syrian government back in the ‘60s – that‘s pretty compelling.

Shwood Eyewear

Year founded
2009
Employees
11
Industry
Eyewear
Social

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Meet the people behind ecommerce businesses. Inspiring interviews, actionable advice, valuable viewpoints.

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