We sit down with MYKITA cofounder Moritz Krüger to hash over the company’s design philosophies, approach to collaboration, Sex and the City, and more.
Given the scope of the eyewear market in 2015, MYKITA occupies a unique space. The brand’s claim-to-fame is its “handmade in Berlin” mantra, as well as its highly innovative and clever no-screw hinge system. Where competitor names like Ray-Ban or Persol seek to preserve their respective histories, MYKITA would rather place importance on looking ahead. The German label pays less importance to seasonal collections than other fashion brands, rather amending its catalog by introducing and replacing models in sync with changing trends and technologies.
Today the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin is home to MYKITA’s headquarters, where the vertically integrated company oversees design, manufacturing, marketing and everything the company needs to stay on top. We dropped by MYKITA HAUS to speak with one of the original founders Moritz Krüger on what makes MYKITA different.
How has Berlin, as the headquarters for MYKITA, influenced the brand’s philosophy/design process?
Berlin is constantly moving and changing. It is a lot about imperfection and the permanent process of reinvention and transformation, making the best out of limited resources. Being a creative company in Berlin definitely requires a different perspective than in Paris, London or New York where there is already a kind of establishment. It is a bit like virgin territory. Consider the culture of bars and clubs – maybe not now, but 12 years ago when we started – pretty much everything presented an opportunity. There was an empty space and people would bring some furniture or whatever they had and create an atmosphere to have a good time. MYKITA started out in that spirit. Whether we were lacking certain business knowledge or particular tools, we just made the best out of what was available. This limitation forced us to find our own way. We had to industrialize ourselves and to develop all the tools and processes on our own. So, the philosophy to produce everything in-house arose out of necessity.
What we have now, the MYKITA HAUS, with all departments united under one roof – from the in-house workshop to the design and marketing – is a creative melting pot for a variety of talents, a playground based on the culture of learning. It was made possible in a city like Berlin, with its affordable spaces and the employees who came on board over the last 10 years: people from Berlin, but also people who were drawn here from the rest of Germany, Europe or the whole world. We have a diversity of people at MYKITA HAUS – also in terms of the diversity of their expertise – that would be hard to find anywhere else in the world.
How do you choose potential collaborators for the brand?
It’s like inviting a good friend to cook a dinner together. You have the basics in your kitchen and the guest brings some fresh ingredients. In the case of MYKITA, our “kitchen” is full of various materials, technologies and individual expertise. Because we have this kitchen in-house, we are perfectly set up to be a collaboration partner. We just invite people over, open the fridge and try to make something together. We don’t exactly choose our collaborators. Sometimes friends introduce us, sometimes spin doctors. We have also been approached by brands directly, like Moncler for example.
The ultimate condition when we collaborate with a partner is to create something truly different that will open a new world in a way. It’s a nice challenge to give somebody else authority in your creative process. In our work with Bernhard Willhelm, Mr. Galliano at Maison Margiela or Damir Doma it’s all about trying to find a balance, to create a product that reflects the two aesthetic worlds. To find this bridge between the two brands is a good challenge and we learned that sometimes restrictions make you create something new. There are so many collaborations everyday, for the majority I don’t see the necessity of the product. It seems to be more about the marketing. For us it’s genuinely about the process of creating something new.
How does your approach to manufacturing make MYKITA’s products unique?
I think it is quite obvious that we like being modernists when it comes to design. Our perspective as a modern manufactory is open-minded and our roots lie in strong interdisciplinary thinking. We also look at different industries, materials and other technological fields when we work on new constructions or new hinges. This modern approach then meets with traditional, precise classic craftsmanship.
Our process is entirely transparent; the whole MYKITA universe is visible on a daily basis at the HAUS. This means you are not only thinking about creating ideas for new products, you also see exactly how they become a reality. Having all the experience and expertise under one roof, being able to communicate face-to-face on a daily basis has created this holistic system, a circle of permanent improvement and learning. I think the Japanese have a concept for this called “kaizen” where one takes small steps to change for the better. Our great advantage was that we had little to no experience in a lot of the things we did and it put us on the path to learn and make things better and better, eventually arriving at what we now call MYKITA’s modern manufactory.
How important is the expertise of your staff?
Our staff is the substance and foundation of our business. The expertise somebody brings in when they are joining the company is of course important. But for me it is even more important that they develop themselves and that they stay humble to learning. People that are open-minded, want to learn, want to understand and want to move forward, even if they have the feeling that there are certain boundaries. At MYKITA, we go very much our own way – ideas we believe in we put into practice – if this is your approach as a company, then you need also staff who share the same mind-set. That is really important.
What about the timeline with creating prototypes and getting them marketed?
The MYKITA HAUS puts us in a unique position over the majority of the eyewear industry. We have a very short time to market compared to many other companies that are currently working on products that will be released in 1.5 years. We live very much in the zeitgeist when it comes to designing. Our products are timeless. It’s not about that, but it just feels better to know that what you are working on now will also become relevant in the very near future and not in two years. We would probably do things differently if that were the case.
Take collaborations for example: we can really collaborate in an authentic way with a fashion house. They generally work on collections until the release date. We are able to synchronize our creation process with their collections and deliver fast – even to the very last minute.
As different tech becomes available, is MYKITA trying to keep up with/incorporate new technologies? Talk about 3D printing.
All our products are born from an interdisciplinary approach. MYKITA MYLON, our range of selective-laser-sintered (SLS) glasses made of polyamide powder is a perfect example of this. With this technology you can create a three-dimensional product exactly in the shape you want to have it, without additional tooling costs. It gives us the possibility to create a product that from a performance perspective is better than anything out there when it comes to sports eyewear. This technology – and our ability to make use of it – has put us at the forefront of performance.
At the moment 3D printing is very inflationary and many people only use it because of the “wow“ effect that comes with it. But they don’t make use of the functional advantages of the material. When we started, SLS was still mainly used just for prototyping in the automotive industry. We invested several years of research in experimenting and developing a complex, patented process in which the raw surface of the material is prepared and rendered wearable in a series of stages to make it a desirable product. And this is what MYLON is about. We did not invent the material itself, but we invented the process that leads to a beautiful product, which is functional and aesthetic at the same time.
Obviously quality control is something you are acutely aware of at MYKITA. How do you approach that?
For us, it feels quite natural. It’s an obligation in a positive way. For all our product components – the lenses, the polishing and the coloring of our frames – we ensure that we choose the best. Quality is non-negotiable. Because what does quality mean? It means that you are permanently trying to improve your product. Quality doesn’t just happen and then it’s there forever –you have to work on it. It’s a permanent process.
As the glasses have a very modern/cosmopolitan aesthetic that can fit in any city in the world, what inspires your designers?
We have a very strong aesthetic DNA through the materials and the technologies we use in our product development process. This aesthetic foundation is a result of the way we work. If you are walking through the world with open eyes, you start to mix new impressions with what you already have and then you start to experiment. The origin of new ideas – a color, a shape, a new construction is very different. The origin lies mostly in a new concept or an idea of how to combine different materials – that we then drive into new directions. In my double position as CEO & Creative Director I gain a very holistic perspective on the MYKITA cosmos and a very good understanding of what the company needs. It is also a great teamwork process. We have a big design team, but inspiration also comes from the product development and research team. Often new ideas are a mixture of influences from the different talents on the team.
Talk about big endorsements for the brand, starting with Sex and the City.
When Sarah Jessica Parker wore the golden “Franz” from the MYKITA/Bernhard Willhelm collection it was during a time when eyewear was still mostly in the hands of the big fashion companies, with big logos on the product and often not such a great quality. The opticians felt like they could only sell a pair if it had YSL or Gucci or any logo on it. It seemed like a phenomenon when, in the most commercial fashion movie of all time, the most prominent piece did not come from one of the major fashion houses but from a small design manufacturing company from Berlin. It was not about the label, it was about the product. And that maybe helped – not us so much, but maybe our customers, the opticians, to not be afraid of something without a big name on it.
There are so many small brands that are becoming relevant now. The monopolists, which seemed impossible to defeat at the time are now struggling because there are so many fresh, small emerging brands. People want to be more individual these days; they don’t want to wear what everybody else is wearing.
Lastly, how do you decide what to name each style of glasses?
They come from everywhere. When we started, 12 years ago in the kindergarten the former East of Berlin (the name of MYKITA derives from the English word “My” and “Kita”, the abbreviation of the German Kindertagesstätte), we wondered if we should give the models serial numbers. When we looked around the playroom, we thought the glasses should have more personality. Everything at MYKITA is authentic and personal. I think people prefer to wear a frame called “Phoebe” named after a real person instead of XYZ001.