British entrepreneur Tom Davies celebrates 15 years at the vanguard of eyewear design this month. Over the past two years he has boosted his profile considerably, not just by creating glasses for high-profile personalities such as Ed Sheeran, but also by increasing his presence in the capital with the launch of five mono-brand opticians in central London destinations including Knightsbridge and Covent Garden. Continually innovating with new collections and materials, such as buffalo horn, titanium and silver, this year’s sales of his ready-to-wear and bespoke frames are projected to reach £8m.
Davies chose to celebrate these achievements by throwing a spectacular party that included trapeze artists, opera singer Stephen Bowman, and up and coming bands The Souls and Veronica Fusaro from Switzerland. However, this extravaganza wasn’t hosted in a smart London venue. Instead, the 43-year-old designer chose this moment to unveil his newly completed £800,000 eyewear factory by staging the party there, on a Brentford industrial estate. Because – in an extraordinary reversal of typical business expansion trends – as Davies raises his game he has decided to move production of his eyewear from China to the UK.
Production by his 37-strong team at the new Brentford facility has already started, with experts flying in from China to train up 10 new local school leavers and graduate apprentices. As Davies scales down operations at his Shenzhen factory, by the end of the year, 30 per cent of his frames will be made in Britain, next year 50 per cent and increasing to 70 per cent over the next three years. Ultimately, the new facility has the capacity to produce 10,000 frames per month.
While manufacturing moves here, he will retain the Shenzhen facility as a resource and sales office for his increased distribution across Asia. In the wake of Brexit, this is a canny move, but his plans preceded the 2016 vote.
Ever the pioneer, Davies recognised the potential of the “Made in Britain” manufacturing model back in 2014. It seemed the logical next step for his business not just economically, with rising freight and wages costs in China, but for personal reasons too. “I have a young family and travelling to China nine times a year was really taking its toll. I want to focus here and it’s more efficient to develop and design product at home rather than abroad,” he says, adding that in the near future he sees Chinese and British costs of production reaching parity.
Davies’ career began in China 20 years ago when he moved to Hong Kong in 1997 after graduating in Art and Design from the University of East Anglia. He spent three years working as chief designer for an eyewear startup, creating frames for a number of international brands before returning home in 2002 to establish Tom Davies. Five years later, his business was booming enough for him to open his own dedicated Shenzhen production facility.
“China has been fantastic for the business and the brand, but as we’re expanding I really wanted to do it in the UK,” says Davies. “I’m really looking forward to training a new generation of craftspeople, in our unique production methodology which combines traditional handcrafted skills with state-of-the-art technology.”