weird commerce

Weird Commerce: Skelmet, 3-D-Printed Sunglasses

Any shopper who’s ever spent a frustrating hour trying to find just the right pair of sunglasses will appreciate this story. Skelmet, a Cambridge, Mass.–based startup company, is focusing its vision on 3-D-printed custom sunglasses. Skelmet’s founders have always had trouble finding the right fit for sunglasses and wanted to focus on headgear that felt so custom that it became part of the person (hence the company name, which comes from the words skeleton and helmet). Initially the company planned to focus on customized helmets, but its founders’ core focus shifted after they stumbled over a few regulation and operational roadblocks.

“We started exploring ideas around motorcycle helmets, bike helmets, football helmets, but soon realized that it’s really difficult, as a startup, to mass-customize helmets. The safety regulations are not designed for custom products, meaning that we’d have to work with the safety regulation departments to come up with a whole new standard and testing method in order to bring safe customized products to mass consumers,” said Skelmet’s cofounder and COO, Rain Wang. “It’s a time-consuming process, and as an early-stage company, we didn’t have the resources to achieve that. So we decided to tackle eyewear first, use eyewear products to perfect the technology and streamline the process.”

After confirming the company’s direction, the founders of Skelmet decided to focus on custom-tailored sunglasses for the active lifestyle.

“Sport sunglasses usually have a wraparound design so that they can provide the best protection for the face and eyes, and people usually wear their sport sunglasses for a prolonged period of time whether they are cycling, running, driving, motorcycling, walking or hiking outside,“ Wang said. “So both comfort and performance are critical when it comes to selecting a pair of sport sunglasses.”

While many sunglass companies typically make a few styles with traditional plastic and glass materials, Skelmet decided to take a different approach.

“3-D printing technology is still relatively expensive compared to traditional molding, especially when a company is moving a large volume of product. 3-D-printed products historically have not benefited from volume,” said Wang. “But with eyewear, we can keep the costs somewhat similar to traditional manufacturing methods because the amount of material used is small compared with helmets. Also we don’t need a full factory of production lines to support manufacturing, meaning that wherever we are selling the products, we can place a 3-D printer in the area, which will keep the logistical costs much lower.”

In order to be successful, entrepreneurs such as Wang know, products must be made quickly available locally and at various locations. Keeping operational costs down while satisfying consumers’ need for swift, quality products and services is a must for any business, including startups.

Like any other startup, Skelmet has big aspirations for what it hopes to accomplish in the future.

“Our goal for creating the company is to completely eliminate the notion of sizes. There are 7.4 billion unique people globally, and there should be 7.4 billion unique sunglass sizes available,” said Wang. “We cannot achieve this alone, and sports eyewear is just the beginning. We plan to work with other forward-thinking eyewear brands to bring other custom eyewear products, such as regular sunglasses, glasses and sports goggles, to mass consumers. By the end of 2017, we plan to launch our own snow goggles.”

While this all sounds impressive, it’s nothing compared to what the startup has in mind for the long run.

“We are building the world’s largest customization platform with the largest 3-D head scan database,” said Wang. “So other companies can start making custom products on this platform, and our existing customers can shop for other custom products on the platform, as their 3-D data is already stored in the database.”

As of now, Skelmet is launched its very own Indiegogo campaign to help raise funds to keep its momentum going.

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