For the first company profiled for Celebrating Australian Made – @AuManufacturing’s new series sponsored by Australian Made – we look at Dresden Vision. By Brent Balinski.
Henry Ford is supposed to have told a meeting of his salespeople that, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”
The relationship between a limited set of options and affordability – as with the model T Ford – is a key part of how Dresden Vision operates.
The retailer and manufacturer opened its first store in Sydney in 2015, and is driven by a goal to “democratise glasses”, turning them from a luxury item into something as ubiquitous as a toothbrush.
Prescription glasses from Dresden begin at $75 a pair. Only one style of frame is offered, in four sizes, though in a multitude of colours and materials that are either recycled or recyclable.
The modular plastic pins, arms and frames are designed to be mixed and matched by customers.
The company opened its first store on Newtown’s King Street 2015.
Its glasses are produced at Campbelltown, in south-west Sydney, with lenses supplied by Zeiss and others.
Head of Brand Bonnie Hudson joined via the arts industry in 2016 to open Dresden’s first Victorian store.
“So the frames and arms… we make ourselves, with our manufacturing partner,” she tells @AuManufacturing.
“And then the felt cases, which is a core accessory, are also handmade and made in Sydney as well. Hand-sewn.”
Recycled plastic feedstocks have been a feature of Dresden’s glasses from early on. As this website reported in August of 2019 – a landmark year for plastic recycling in Australia – the company was nearing a tonne of material recycled into products at the time.
Upcycled materials have been used for limited edition runs, including from beer kegs, marine netting, and, more recently, bank notes.
“Basically we’re using the offcuts and waste from the RBA, from Australian bank notes,” explains Hudson.
“It’s usually used [when recycled] in industrial situations like plumbing and infrastructure and those sorts of things because of the colour of the material. But it’s super-strong, it’s medical grade, and for us we are able to use it because it’s a lovely colour and it’s a great story and it’s – again we’re using something that otherwise is just going to waste. And we’re absolutely open to other projects in the future.”
Dresden operates stores in seven Australian and four Canadian locations, with the 2020 pandemic – which saw it close three New Zealand locations – forcing it to begin a new focus on e-commerce.
An Australian-based contact centre was developed that year to serve customers during lockdowns.
Dresden also began developing an Online Pupillary Distance Measurement Tool, used to measure for multifocals online. Hudson describes the tool, introduced last year, as “a white whale” for the company.
Current innovation efforts include testing bio-based materials, and expanding colour options for glasses made out of Dresden’s in-house plastic waste.
These have been made to perform as well as the company’s core products, according to Hudson. But like the Model T, they are only available in black.
“And so now what we’re doing is working with our materials and our R&D team to try to produce more desirable colours and then also introduce new biomaterials,” she adds.
Being Australian Made is a benefit in guaranteeing high quality and ethical production, as well as for testing and trialling materials, according to Hudson.
“There’s no hidden nooks and crannies in the production process – we know what’s going into our product,” she says.
“And I think it’s really important, too, because it helps us to stand out against our competitors.
“So it’s really common for other companies to say it’s designed in Australia. But we’re the ones that are actually made right here.”
Pictures: credit Dresden Vision