Eyewear designer Blake Kuwahara

He stepped out of dark exam rooms and into the spotlight.

Robert Frost got it right, at least for me. I took the road “less traveled” which has led me on an unexpected but unbelievable journey. And while the path I took was different from the one I started on, it turned out to be more of a detour than a total diversion.

I graduated from UC Berkeley School of Optometry in 1986 and even before our commencement ceremony I was recruited to join Vernon Bridges, OD, and John Funnell, OD, in what would later become Manhattan Beach Vision Group. In a very busy, established, professional practice, I had a full schedule of patients booked to see me as soon as my national board results were due. Fortunately, I passed.

Being young and straight out of school, most of my first patients were from the other optometrists’ overflow. I had to win them over since they were seeing me only because they couldn’t get in to see the other docs. 

But by year two, I began to see returning patients who actually wanted to see me and I built up a nice referral base. 

By year three, I felt I had my optometry groove on and that I actually earned the long white lab coat. (In those days, the longer your lab coat, the more experience you had!)

Each of the three partners ran one area of our practice. Mine was the optical boutique and the seven opticians and one lab technician. 

"I’m not quite sure how the fact that I would be sequestered the majority of my day in a dark exam room escaped me while I was in optometry school, but it did. I’m like a plant; I need light."

I found myself enjoying the front of the house, being involved in frame selections and buying more than being in the back of the house examining patients. I’m not quite sure how the fact that I would be sequestered the majority of my day in a dark exam room escaped me while I was in optometry school, but it did. I’m like a plant; I need light.

By complete serendipity, an LA-based eyewear company, Wilshire Designs, was looking for a “fashion forecaster” to assist primarily with its key licensed brand, Liz Claiborne, who was the pre-eminent women’s wear designer in the U.S. at the time. After many initial rejections even for an interview, I somehow got in front of the owner of the business, Dick Haft. He didn’t offer me the “fashion forecaster” position, but rather the larger role of creative director. 

Gobsmacked but willing to take a chance on a career that was the perfect blend of my interests — fashion and optometry — it seemed like a worthwhile risk. So, with the support of my amazingly understanding parents (who paid my way through both UCLA and optometry school), I began my career in eyewear design. I haven’t looked back since.

Without a doubt, my background as an optometrist influences the way I design frames. I take a pragmatic approach, being sensitive not only to the aesthetics but also to the ergonomics of how frames fit, function and are engineered.

I just recently went down yet another divergent path: starting my eponymous eyewear collection. It seems fitting that life is about making choices — just as we learned in optometry school.

 

Blake Kuwahara, founder of the multidisciplinary design agency, Focus Group West (focusgroupwest.com), is creator and designer of the KATA Eyewear brand and his SILMO D’Or Award-winning namesake brand, Blake Kuwahara (blakekuwahara.com), among others.


This article originally appeared in the April 2017 edition of INVISION.



 
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