by Russ Lowe
Recently put to the test at a German Black Metal show, my Dita frames held up to the frenzy of elbows and foot stomping, returned to me with only a torqued arm that I easily snapped back into place. After wearing them for eight years, I finally realized why they are so coveted outside of their sleek silhouettes.
The episode resulted in a refreshing phone conversation with Dita co-founder John Juniper about good snow, his three-decade friendship with co-founder Jeff Solorio, and his proudest moment since launching the line. Below we discuss their newest arrivals (including the chunky Insider shades, aviator style Condor, and stately Grandmaster-Three) and where the brand is headed in the future.
Dita began out of a childhood friendship?
Yeah, Jeff and I have been friends since kindergarten and kind of ended up in the same place as we got older, with similar interests design-wise, so it was just a natural collaboration. It's been great.
How did your common interests in design end up applied to optics?
Surfing and snowboarding had been a big part of things for us, and we identified a need in the market from it, and ran with it. It started with a few female board sports athletes we knew that were just frustrated with the lack of options out there. [They wanted] sunglasses that performed, but that they could wear anytime.
How did the first few concept frames from the mid-'90s compare to your current collection?
Even then the frames we were interested in making pulled from more classic shapes from the past—an oversized scale, iconic designs from the '50s and some '80s punk rock influences.
How did you leap from progressive action sports optics for women to a more fashion-focused approach?
It kind of just happened because of the sort of stuff Jeff and I were interested in. A lot of our friends in L.A. had good taste, and we listened to the feedback we kept getting.
Actually, we started off producing our initial frame style in 250-unit batches, and celebrities like Jonathan Davis (Korn) and the Olsen twins started wearing them. Boutiques started placing orders, things got pretty hot after that, and we were forced to expand, introduce better designs and find better manufacturing in Japan.
Rad problem. Since Ashley and Mary Kate, how have celebrity endorsements continued to impact your business, and your design perspective?
We've been lucky to have a lot of people fall in love with our product, and just show up in the press wearing them. We haven't had to peddle it too hard. From Brad Pitt to LeBron James (who wears the Grand Master in almost every press conference), it's been pretty cool to see. It's really rewarding.
Years back, I was out hearing some music, and John Lee Hooker came out on stage wearing a pair of High Balls. That was kind of it for me. Like, this little full-circle moment where I sat there and just realized what was going on, and what we'd created. It was pretty cool. Even cooler was that they weren't given to him.
Assuming your drive is to keep making your brand better based on incremental progress, where do you go from here?
Well, it's tougher than ever to stand out today. There's just so much great stuff out there, and kids can pump out a sketch on their laptop and connect with a factory somewhere and all of a sudden it's our competition.
We're interested in continuing to work with top designers around the world, and investigate channels that keep an exclusive edge so Dita continues to be an experience and a culture, as well as just well-made eyewear.
In many ways, we're sticking with what's worked since day one: Minimal to zero logos, refining classic shapes in optics like the circle—just pushing toward pieces that will have as much contrast in the market as possible.