Jetsetting Beatnik Designer Tommy O’ Gara of Native Sons Eyewear

source: Tommy O'Gara

Tommy O’ Gara has spent a large amount of his time in the eyewear industry where he eventually became the president and director of Dita Asia. After building the brand to where it was, Tommy left to start a new luxury eyewear company with partner Shinsuke Takizawa, forming Native Sons. The glasses are named after prolific figures from the Beat generation as well as other revered cultural figures. In addition to that, he has apparently hung out with Hunter S. Thompson once as he revealed to JUICE. The jetsetter also spoke to us about how he began in the eyewear industry, his working relationship with Takizawa-san, and his thoughts on the perceived cool factor when one dons a pair of sunglasses.

You studied art and history, and then you creative directed Freshjive — a streetwear brand — before going into the eyewear industry. How did you make that transition?
Actually, I studied design, art, art history, history, and anatomy. I was a freelance creative director in Tokyo and produced the Asanoha project in Urahara for a company called Levante. The work I did with Rick at Freshjive (FJ) initially came through them. But then due to circumstances, we took FJ and Dita with us on the way out the door. I was in a meeting where the Dita guys were being misled by these people. And I called them [out] on it, which eventually led to my new company taking over Dita. From then on, I got into research and network mode in Sabae, Japan. I [learnt] the technical aspects of manufacturing while studying the culture and habits of the people involved in the industry – it is a very close community.

Aside from your mutual love and appreciation for WWII, what drew you to work with Takizawa-san?
We do not really love WWII per se, but respect what came out of the human tragedy. The innovations come from need, but [the lives lost] changed the perspective of the people at that time. I had been designing and producing some NBHD frames for a while, and of course we all know each other. We support and respect one another.

How would you describe the working relationship between yourself and Takizawa-san?
We have a great rapport about vision, design, execution of design, and representation and growth of the brand. Shin, Nau (Shima), and I jam on ideas, then we create vibe sheets. For example, I add music and film and start drawing by hand, dialling things in, putting them in the computer, and we start over again to really bring the designs on point. We work very quickly and are able to prototype quickly due to the fact that my company – TheLIGHT Co. Ltd. – has our own factory and team.

Was it difficult for you to part with Dita since you essentially built the brand?
No, not really. I am not one to look back. The situation changed very quickly into one that – as a person – I could never live with or work in, so there was no question in my mind or soul. I went from launching Thom Browne in December with Earn of Surrender Singapore just before Christmas, to flying to LA right after New Year’s, letter in hand. It was a great learning experience with respect to design, manufacturing marketing, and human behaviour.

Why are you so captivated and inspired by the Beat movement and the culture that occurred as a result of WWII?
The Beats were the first people to say, “Live for now.” [They] were the ‘now’ generation, and they experimented with hallucinogens and primitive culture as well as the core human psyche. This led to hippies, which led to rock, and later on hip hop. Most revolution in culture can be traced back to these people, bar the blues, which was also an influence to them. Human revolution is fuelled by established entities pressuring the people for capitalistic gains since the dawn of time.

We’ve noticed that many of Native Sons’ eyewear are named after notable cultural figures such as Hunter S. Thompson, Buckminster Fuller, and Beat writers such as Burroughs and Kerouac. What significance do they have on you and Native Sons?
They are the heroes who we grew up with… Hunter (S. Thompson) once stole my jacket from a bar and rolled my girlfriend’s head up in his car window at a Colorado vs. Nebraska football game. It was hilarious! Buckminster Fuller was an enigmatic thinking person, designer, architect, philosopher who made a great impact on our society. His ideas are being realised even today. Burroughs and Kerouac are the wind in my sails and keep me moving around the world meeting people and experiencing new cultures and all other aspects of the areas that I find myself in. Their writings, which I started reading in the mid ‘70s, herded my life into a ‘Go Forward’ movement that has never stopped.

You’re based in Japan and Japanese people are known for their impeccable style. Does that affect or influence you when you’re designing the eyewear for Native Sons?
Fashion and style [have always influenced me] every day, but more subconsciously rather than as a conscious effort. I live [in Japan], so I am part of a movement in this general area and I am therefore intrinsically ‘here’ now. The way I design though, is more of a happening [that’s got to do] with vibe, images gathered through music and film. I write and take words to create more of a feeling, then I start to draw and drawing from the inside to the outside, rather than the opposite. And I never ever look at an example of a previously released item in the same genre for inspiration. I [gather inspiration from] motorcycles, cars, airplanes, knives, architecture, etcetera. For inspiration is the way I become inspired.

Sunglasses have always presented an air of mystery and cool to the wearer, is that your personal ethos as a person who wears and designs eyewear?
Sunglasses and frames go on your face and yes, they sometimes have a cool mystery. Sometimes more of a “look at me” vibe, and other times a “soul protection” vibe. The designs you choose to wear should fit your style and fashion or lifestyle, but also, the frames perform a function of enhancement and protection. For example, you need to see well and clearly, and protect your eyes and the skin around your eyes from the harsh effects of the sun’s radiation. I met two pilots in Paris last year wearing the Thompson Aviator, and I thought, “Wow, that is really awesome.” They look great and it is functional. They told me that the size and fit is perfect for flying. The over-sized lenses provided coverage and the adjustable noses with paddle temples were comfortable for long extended usage of “flying with the sun.”

Out of the many pairs of eyewear from Native Sons, which is your favourite?
Wow, that is difficult, but I wear Kowalski as sun and optical, and also Roy too. I love the new just fit metals. They have a very rad poet look to them. The new Fuller is radical and the coming John Q. is innovative – these are my personal favourites.

Native Sons Eyewear is available at Cover by Crossover, Sunway Pyramid.