Q&A: Chris Gentile of Ahnah Eyewear

Q&A: Chris Gentile of Ahnah Eyewear

Q&A: Chris Gentile of Ahnah Eyewear

"I think it's one of the biggest areas of improvement in the fashion industry: to make things with more integrity, things that can live for many years and endure a lot of use."

"I think it's one of the biggest areas of improvement in the fashion industry: to make things with more integrity, things that can live for many years and endure a lot of use."

Text: James Manso

When Chris Gentile first started working on Ahnah, the eyewear brand he launched last week, the idea came to him out of necessity. Gentile, of Pilgrim Surf + Supply fame, set out to marry modern aesthetics with superior craftsmanship and eco-friendly innovation. His debut collection, 13 frames, is even sported by the likes of Conie Vallese and Josh Olins.

VMAN caught up with the founder and talked all things sustainability, design, and his eighties eyewear inspirations.

VMAN: What kind of customer do you have in mind when you're creating the line?

CG: One of the big inspirations for me growing up is sport-active eyewear that was extremely popular in the early 80s to mid-80s when I was a young man, working in a surf shop. Gucci, Style Eyes, there was a technical aspect to these sunglasses but they were also very stylish and classic and easy to wear. So from that it was really challenging, I was kind of thinking when I was wearing glasses, I just started thinking how to figure out how to make it happen and started thinking about the people around me and the sort of trends in eyewear weren't really being reflected in much that I could find. Basically, it's a combination of something to perform but it's also extremely wearable. That's where the cat-eye came from. The shape is really interesting and dynamic, it works on both men and women. There's an active lifestyle that doesn't necessarily want to look like a pair of technical frames or a wraparound that is very specific to sports.

VMAN: The craftsmanship of making a surfboard, is that something you wanted to bring into your eyewear, like that very craftsmanship heavy approach?

CG: Yeah! I mean, we wanted to make an extremely high-quality frame with materials and also try to minimize products environmentally. We were working with a small factory, using materials that were sourced in the states, not flying things all over the planet to then make something that you then go and ship all over the planet. That's sort of part of the brand's ethos, craftsmanship is number one, make something that's going to last a long long time and give the customer a reliable product that they are not going to have to replace. I think it's one of the biggest areas of improvement in the fashion industry: to make things with more integrity, things that can live for many years and endure a lot of use. At the same time, you don't want to over-design something and put out something for the sake of showing off that craftsmanship. Keeping things simple and clean aesthetically is one thing that we're focused on. As for a business perspective, it's actually a lot of fun. Building a collection, that process is so complex, and there are so many people you know it's not an evergreen product and you have to put things on sale. Spring comes around and styles change. Obviously you have to constantly be evolving. I created a really beautiful design and that can carry over for many many years and that part is really exciting because you can put more into your results and take more time with development which I think with something like eyewear or an accessory- it's a much more physical thing. It's an object that you still wear that becomes part of your face and you have different things with identity that is really interesting with eyewear.

VMAN: I would love to hear a little bit more about your sustainability efforts in terms of production.

CG: We're using a couple of interesting new techniques. Most eyewear that we buy is made out of sheet material, so they cast these sheets in acetate and will essentially cut the shape out of it into the glass shape. It generally is 65/75 percent waste because you're cutting out that giant hole with the lens cap. They have figured out ways to recycle that, but you're still wasting it, collecting it, shipping it so it's better than using acetate normally, but it's still shipped all over the world. The new technique, where it's printed out, is instead of cutting it out, we build these slot molds and the acetate is actually cast into the molds that is shaped around the face and the temples. You don't have to go through all the process and the benefit is there's almost zero waste. It's like, 99% usage, apart from the little screws that connect everything while you're crafting it. Much, much better process.

VMAN: Wow, that's super impressive. I actually had no idea that most of that came from sheets.

CG: Yeah I'm such a nerd about the process. Even the acetate process is really interesting and yeah, when we started figuring this stuff out and finding out that this was an option, it was really incredible.

VMAN: What are you the most excited about with Ahnah?

CG: Well, what am I excited about? I'm excited about what I've been getting pleasure out of for two years. I can't wait to be walking down the street and see somebody in the frames, because there's something about working on years developing something and then be putting it out into the world and letting people decide, like the things you designed become apart of their entity and you see them walk down the street and they don't know that you had anything to do with that and they look great in the frames. That's the greatest reward for me. I think a lot of designers can relate to that, and also just developing some fantastic lenses that will be on our frames. It was a material that was developed also with no carcinogens in it, anything that has poly-carbonate material in it is carcinogenic. I'm excited to see what kind of feedback we get from people and this issue of health that hopefully through our project gives it a little more awareness to make consumers think about what they are using to put on their face or on their bodies.

Click through the gallery below to see imagery of the collection.

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