22nd October, 2012

Our story

We are proud to have had our story published in the ABDO (Association of British Dispensing Opticians) magazine

Here’s the article in full:

Case Study: How a pilot got his idea off the runway

“Alastair Carrie is a pilot and managing director of new sunglasses company, Bigatmo. He says: “Several years ago, I moved airlines and thought I’d buy myself a nice pair of sunglasses. I headed off to our local optician who had a good range, chose a pair with a good reputation but they didn’t live up to my expectations. I took them back and started looking through all the other brands. There are lots of brands that have a good product but not one that did everything I wanted. The optician, Graham Legg, sat back and said, “Why don’t you design your own?’ and that was the start. Since then he has been incredibly helpful with all kinds of retail, practice and technical advice.”

Alastair used his contacts to find a young designer who took him to the first stage of developing a vision for the perfect sunglasses for pilots. He recalls: “Looking back they were amateurish, but they were a start. A colleague’s stepfather turned out to run an optical company, which supplies products to 11 out of the 13 European optical chains. He was kind enough to introduce us and we had a number of talks on the phone before meeting at Mido, where we spent around 20 hours going through my business plans. This gave me more credibility when we met companies I needed to deal with. At Mido I looked at five of the top lens companies, frame manufacturers and accessories companies to start the process of finding manufacturers and suppliers.

After that, we needed to get our designs drawn up properly. Our young designer had reached the limits of his ability so we moved on to a new designer, Anthony Harrison Griffin. He had been an acquaintance of mine for years, and is now our director of design. We developed our first collection, with titanium frames, and registered the designs. We wanted our brand to reflect our values, so we did a lot of branding work with a specialist company who were astoundingly good. They listened to what we were talking about and the branding remains good now, with an aviation inspired theme running throughout.

The design and manufacture was another issue. We produced 3D CAD designs but the manufacturers couldn’t use that technology and needed 2D images. We initially didn’t understand what the problem was and then when we tried to sort it out there were issues about the component parts – some of which we had to get from a different factory. The manufacturers have a great reputation for frame production in the Far East, but we just weren’t aware of their limitations. Lack of understanding, knowledge, equipment – we educated them, they educated us, but this added around 18 months to the development process and even now they claim that although the design is visually uncomplicated our frames are the most complicated ones they produce.

We spent 18 months developing the lenses. I asked colleagues to test out the lenses and tell me which one they liked to help us shortlist. Eventually we narrowed it down to two types of lenses. We found a good base lens, and tried different filters. We needed light transmission rates adequate to see instruments, but also enough to cut out glare. We added on a number of coatings to take our lenses beyond the norm. The frames are designed to fit very snugly to cope with aerobatics. People are used to spring joints, but the titanium sides are springy and need to be opened up to wear. We also got pilots to give us their views on boxes, cases, cleaning bags, etc. We showed these to pilots all the way through, right down to testing out fonts and straplines. We thought about using a metal sprung case that was squishy enough to fit into a flight bag, but strong enough to cope with being sat on.

We’re going to practices now. We’ve had to do a lot of work quickly, as initially we thought we’d go via a distributor but their fees would put the sunglasses into another price bracket all together. By going directly we can get them in the £169 – £199 price bracket for plano sunglasses. We developed the prescription programme at the same time. This is where Norville comes into the equation. We wanted a very secure fixing in the frame. Very few companies have the equipment to edge as we wanted, but Norville had the right equipment to produce freeform prescriptions and edge them to complete the prescription product as the replica of the plano product.

Recently we were at the biggest aviation expo in Europe, and just as many people were interested in the prescription product as the plano product. Airline pilots used to retire quite early, but times have changed. In Europe it is quite usual for pilots to work to 65 and so there are a lot of presbyopic people flying aeroplanes into their 40s, 50s and 60s, so we can see a growing demand for prescription sunglasses for pilots. Right now we want to find practitioners who want to deal with the prescription side in their practice.

Alastair finishes: “Our sunglasses have obviously been designed for aviation but they really are excellent for driving and all kinds of land and water based activities. In fact, many of our customers aren’t involved in aviation at all and buy Bigatmos because they are just really good sunglasses.”

ABDO – Dispensing Optics Magazine, 2012