Cubitts, a relatively recent addition to the eyewear scene, combine impressive, old-school designs with carefully considered optics and a pleasing price tag that will surely seal the deal.
With the amount of stylish eyewear brands popping up these days, setting yourself apart is no easy task. This didn’t seem to scare Cubitts founder and designer Tom Broughton though, just a year after launching the webshop, the brand opened the doors of their London Soho retail outlet. A month into trading from their central location, we thought it a perfect time to sit down with Mr.Broughton and discuss the journey so far.
Take us through how it all started. What was the initial goal?
To create a modern British spectacles company, anchored in London, that we were proud of. Until a hundred years ago, London was the optical capital of the world, with the frame-makers tied into the jewellery and watchmaking trades around Hatton Garden. That collapsed, and while there’s still some amazing British spectacles brands, we’re few and far between. I wanted to go a very small way to reviving the spectacles heritage, while taking a progressive approach to technology, design and the customer experience.
From a personal perspective, what was it that made you choose eyewear, rather than clothing for example?
It was pretty simple – I absolutely love spectacles. I’ve worn them all my life and used to own about thirty pairs. It was probably a bit of a bit of addiction. Spectacles are functional. They can be made with traditional skills and engineering details that have endured for centuries, but still dovetail beautifully with modern technology. And they let you see. And I, for one, am a big fan of seeing. The only other thing that comes close for me is footwear (and on that front, we’re currently designing a boot, which we’ll be launching shortly at Broughton.)
Why do you consider your connection to King’s Cross such an important aspect of the brand?
It’s been my home for the last ten years, where we were born, where our office is based (our HQ address is actually in King’s Cross station), and all of our frames are named after streets in the area.
I think it’s a pretty remarkable corner of London. Granted, it’s rough round the edges, and to most people it’s where you go to change tubes. But if you scratch below the surface there’s amazing depth and honesty. For example, we’re named after the Cubitt brothers (Victorian engineers and architects) who lived in King’s Cross. We started the company on Cubitt Street, on the site of their original building yard. Below Cubitt Street still runs the lost River Fleet, which at one point was an open sewer, and in the centuries before was home to Bagnigge Wells, an upmarket spa where the noble of London would bathe. Charles II’s mistress, Nell Gwynn, lived in a pub on the corner, and up the street is where Lenin called home when he was an émigré. I could go on about King’s Cross for hours, but Aidan Dun’s graffiti pretty much sums it up for me.
Can you tell us a bit about the collaboration with Albam – How did it come about?
We knew we wanted to be in a physical shop. So we started with list of the retailers we admired and felt shared our values. Albam were the first we spoke to, we got on really well, and so we stopped there. It’s been great. They genuinely care about the products they offer, and they’re really marvellous people as well.
Focusing on optics is something you clearly take seriously – having an optometrist in-shop, etc. Was that always something that was important to you?
Absolutely. It’s not just about making better frames. It’s about trying to improve at every stage. For example, we want to improve the eye-test, to make it more engaging, more enjoyable, more informative. We want to demystify the world of optics while offering exceptional medical services. And, while we don’t like shouting about it, we want to do that while offering exceptional value.
Having established your webshop, you opened the doors of your Soho retail location just a year later. How was the experience been so far?
Being in Soho is amazing. You see it all. Waifs, strays, grafters, hustlers. Even the odd flaneur. There’s so much history oozing out of every street. It’s even where the first proper pair of spectacles (with arms) was produced in the late 1700s. And while you’ve got pockets of renewal, including some great independent retailers around the Newburgh Quarter and Berwick Street, there’s still much of the old Soho – market traders, cloth makers, unsavouries and speakeasies.
Have you found any new challenges to the brand now that you have a physical shop? Has it changed your focus at all?
Being open seven days a week brings its own challenges, but overall it feels like an incredible opportunity to help nurture our tiny little brand. We can offer the services we’ve always wanted to offer – adjustments, repairs, eyetests, bespoke frames, consultations. We can interact with our customers all day, every day. We can start testing the technology we’ve been developing, and really start investing in research and development (next year we’ll start making frames in the basement, which I’m incredibly excited about). Oh, and it helps get me out of King’s Cross for at least a few days each week.
Can you tell us a bit about the technology you’re using in the shop?
We’ve been developing some custom software with facial recognition experts in Germany. The tool we call the Cubitts Facial Gauge (it needs a snappier name) scans your proportions to estimate the width of your face, your apical radius, the splay of your nose, etc. From this we can make frame recommendations, adjustments and offer bespoke services. And then our augmented reality try-on allows you to try a frame from outside the shop, again using technology which detects your face and applies a 3D render of the spectacles.
What’s next for Cubitts?
We’d want to grow, but slowly and with purpose. We’re about to launch a new range of frames (styles, colour, materials). But we don’t want to expand too quickly and at the expense of what we’re trying to build. We’re in this for the long haul.