At Vision Expo, from left, 3DNA co-founders Dennis G Zelazowski and Xiliu Yang, licensing manager Marcello Dini and sales manager Gillian Au.
New to the exhibition hall at this year's International Vision Expo & Conference/New York, which ended its three-day run yesterday at the Javits Center, was 3DNA, an app-based means for optical industry providers to design their own eyewear collections, offer tailor-made eyewear to patients, provide on-shore production and reduce inventory burden. According to co-founder Dennis G Zelazowski, it may well herald the future of the eyewear industry, and has already landed 200 retail accounts for 3DNA since its January launch.
"Normally you pick out frames at the optician from a board with 500 or so frames," said Zelazowski. "It's like looking for a needle in a haystack—a chore that you don't look forward to doing."
Via the 3DNA app, however, indie eyewear dealers can differentiate themselves from the chains and big-box stores.
"It provides a collaborative and creative experience between the optician and patient," continued Zelazowski. "It's also fun, exciting and enjoyable: The patient can say, 'These are mine. I made them.' They're not Calvin Klein or some anonymous designer, so the patients, because of their creativity, are more attached to the product."
Three years in development, 3DNA allows consumers to design and order their frame inside the 3DNA app, which they can access themselves or go to a local optician for advice on styling, proper fitting, and prescription. Frames are then fashioned from traditional plastics, composite carbon fibers, wood, buffalo horn, stone or shell, and incorporate premium quality lenses for both sun and prescription glasses along with high quality steel hinges, rivets, springs and custom fit bridges.
"It's a simple, fun process," said Zelazowski as he demonstrated it on a large touch-screen monitor. "Your finger stretches and distorts the frame as you design it on a three-dimensional face scan. There are over one million possible combinations of shape, size and materials, and then the customer works with the optician."
Pittsburgh native Zelazowski, incidentally, is deeply rooted in the eyewear industry. His grandfather ran an optical lab, and he began working in the family's Spectacles optical stores in 1993, apprenticing with opticians, sales people and laboratory workers.
Touring the U.S. as an optician, he immersed himself in the retail end of the business as well as ophthalmic lens processing, materials, and frame designs from around the world. He returned to Pittsburgh in 2001 and after dealing with the administrative challenges of growth strategy and price competition from HMOs, he devised an automated custom web application and electronic database for the eyewear industry. In 2005 he formed Eyenovate to implement his software and market his inventions, and later partnered with Santinelli + Nidek to develop an app for lens edging equipment.
"All the frames here look the same after awhile," Zelazowski observed at Vision Expo. "All these brands are ubiquitous: Everyone has the same things at every store."
The 3DNA app, then, sets its users apart.
"We think it's the future," said Zelazowski. "It gives people a customized, individualized, tailor-made product, with their creativity embodied in their frames."
He added that production of the glasses—in Hong Kong--after their design in the app takes about 10 days, but that the company hopes to install desktop milling machines in retail stores in the future.