Appearing on stage in 2015 as one of #DI’s Global Graduates, Ackeem Ngwenya’s focus was, and still is, on seeking context-appropriate design solutions to real-world problems. During his #DI presentation, he proposed the notion that Africa’s problems should be seen as opportunities to develop new, innovative solutions, even if they’ve already been addressed in the developed world.
His new project, REFRAMD seeks to do just that – offer a design-led but contextually informed solution for a gap in the market. Inspired by his own personal frustration at not being able to find glasses to fit his face, and avoiding wearing them because of that, he started REFRAMD.
“After some research, it turned out that most off-the-shelf or ready-to-order glasses are designed around ‘Caucasian’ nasal features, i.e. narrow and high nasal bridges. As a result, people with low and wide nose bridges (e.g. many black and East Asian people) wear ill-fitting products,” he explains.
REFRAMD is an eyewear brand that considers Afropolitan and other overlooked communities in its very makeup. Digitally customised around each customer’s unique dimensions (which also reduces waste), it considers the idea of individuality and inclusivity as a prerequisite to design.
This premise is combined with the best of high-tech automation that manufactures and delivers a custom pair of glasses to suit any unique nose profile. REFRAMD makes use of two groundbreaking technologies: a unique software algorithm using parametric design principles (based on a scan of your facial geometry) and high-end nylon 3D printing.
REFRAMD specs are available in four different frame designs, four different colours and three different Zeiss lenses, and come at an accessible price point. Through this new range Ngwenya hopes to challenge the eyewear industry to produce more inclusive product offerings.
While there is much still to achieve across the board, he feels that progress has been made in this area. “It seems as if there has been an awakening over the past two years, thanks mainly due to the Black Lives Matter movement. I have noticed more initiatives aimed at black founders, artists and creatives, from organisations such as Adobe with its splash screen images to Google's Black Founders Fund. I think the fashion industry is leading the way in discussions and product offerings (such as nude underwear in realistic shades and makeup for different skin tones,” he says.
Thus far, the eyewear industry has not catered to a diverse audience in its choices. ‘We’ve had a really good response from consumers. We often get feedback expressing utter disbelief that something so obvious is not part of the mainstream already, to dawning comprehension of why they have trouble finding fitting sunglasses in the first place. And we also get feedback accusing us of reverse racism, not acknowledging why REFRAMD exists in the first place. But, whether it’s positive or negative, we invite the conversation.”
Join REFRAMD's crowdfunding campaign.
Ackeem Ngwenya on design for rural Africa.
Ackeem Ngwenya: Designing transport Infrastructure for rural Africa.