Eyeglasses frame the way we look at the world, and the way people look at us. So why be conventional? This is something that designer Ti Kwa had in mind when he decided to start his eyewear brand, RIGARDS. The Malaysian-born Kwa was sent to a military academy in Pennsylvania, which he left to attend the Fashion Institute of New York. After that he moved to Seattle, where he immersed himself in its grunge scene and earned a business degree. He launched RIGARDS in 2012, channeling his nonconformist bent into frames that are imbued with the stories of samurai swordsmen, Eastern gods, characters from gothic literature, and more. Kwa has a penchant for materials that are naturally derived (his first collection incorporated actual buffalo horns), and each pair of spectacles is meticulously made in Kwa’s Hong Kong atelier. Surface interviewed Kwa about his distinct vision, and learned how, instead of simply copying the classics, he’s creating a whole new standard for eyewear.
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I have always had a fascination with how things are made. I am also interested in eyewear, having worn glasses since the age of 8. From my earliest days, I was fond of making mental sketches of my perfect pair, and thought about how I might go about making this impossible creation. Finally, I thought I’d give it a try. That idea kept me slogging away until I came up with seven designs, which were fortuitously picked up by L’Eclaireur in the summer of 2012. Since then, we’ve grown steadily—RIGARDS is in more than thirty countries now—and have had the good fortune of winning a couple of design awards, too.
What are RIGARDS’s core values, and the driving force behind its work?
Natural materials and traditional craftsmanship are part of RIGARDS’s essence. Our aim is to translate that in a contemporary way. I connect these values with my interest in nonconformist aesthetics to design eyewear that conveys an original worldview.
What does good design mean to you?
Every pair of RIGARDS glasses tells a story. It might be inspired by the heroes and anti-heroes of my favorite boyhood sagas, close encounters with natural wonders like the majestic manta ray, or the rough-but-warm textures of stone. It could be a fond personal memory, or, if I’m designing on commission, a story brought to me by a client. Good design is the expression of these innate connections in exceptional visual forms.
What new products or projects do you currently have in the works?
We recently expanded our collection with a new copper range that’s tremendously beautiful. We’re also working on adding new styles as we gear up for SILMO Paris, [an international trade show for the eyewear industry] in September. Later this year we will present collaborations with exciting partners, which we look forward to sharing soon.