October’s – ‘The Renegade Issue’ – Download Now
Co-Founder & CEO of Akoni, Rosario Toscano discusses creating iconic pieces through incredible attention to detail.
What do the first 30 minutes of your day look like, your morning routine?
My mind remains active even when I’m sleeping, so when I wake up, the first thing I do is exercise, in order to integrate my mind and body. Starting a new day with clarity and positivity is an important part of my daily practice. I’m a firm supporter of breakfast being the most important meal of the day, so my post-exercise routine includes a protein shake with bananas and blueberries—which are high in potassium, vitamins B and C, and antioxidants. Of course, I’m Sicilian, so no morning ritual is complete without an espresso from my traditional Bialetti Moka pot.
What was the catalyst for starting your own brand and how did you align with your Co-Founder, Salma Rachid?
Akoni Group is a progressive Swiss luxury enterprise whose prime goal is to create beautiful, timeless, high-quality products using materials and methodologies that respect humankind and our natural environment. The company was founded in 2019 by me and our Creative Director, Salma Rachid, to advance our shared values, interests, and passions—from social and environmental responsibility to preserving traditional craftsmanship and the heritage of eyewear as a distinct art form. In addition to being friends for more than fifteen years and sharing a similar world view, Salma and I complement one another in ways that make us a perfect team. I’m a business creative who has spent most of my professional life in the eyewear industry, whereas Salma’s creative-business mind stems from a family that have been forerunners in the fashion and personal care industries for generations. Salma adds rich layers of value across the board and there quite simply couldn’t be an Akoni Group without her.
Akoni designs, manufactures and distributes luxury eyewear worldwide with a commitment to craftsmanship, expertise and quality. Are these values that were clear from the outset as the vision of the brand?
Salma and I chose the name Akoni—meaning inestimable, priceless, worthy of admiration—because it represents the standard we set for our product, our brand, and ourselves. From the very start, we were clear that incomparable quality, an abiding respect for people and the environment would constitute our company’s overriding values. Which is to say, we’re every bit as concerned about the why and how of what we do, as we are about what we do. Key factors differentiating luxury products such as ours from other offerings include superior materials, engineering, craftsmanship, level of fit and finish, and unmatched quality control. We manufacture exclusively in Japan, which is the eyewear equivalent of manufacturing wristwatches in Switzerland—recognized globally as best-in-class. The resulting differences in quality are tangible and profound. To borrow a phrase from Latin, “Res ipsa loquitur”—the thing speaks for itself.
What was the first piece you created and how challenging was it to build a precision team?
I’ve worked in the business, as opposed to the design end of the luxury eyewear sector for many years. That said, I’m passionate about design and very much enjoy the creative process and the camaraderie in collaborating with our design team. The first Akoni Group design that I was actively involved with—and my favorite to this day, partly for sentimental reasons—is Wonder Boy, which is part of our Balmain Eyewear collection. Named in honour of Balmain’s brilliant Creative Director, Olivier Rousteing— Wonder Boy is his nickname and also the title of the film documenting his fascinating life—Olivier played an integral role in creating this innovative eyepiece that he originally imagined as a mask for shielding celebrities from the public’s gaze, and it’s one of the most beautiful and technically sophisticated sunglasses I’ve ever seen.
Attention to detail is at the core of Akoni, can you expand on the level of craftsmanship and the values of the brand?
Akoni Group views the act of creation as a multi-faceted, organic process. Philosophically, our design code is rooted in traditional Japanese aesthetic principles emphasising simplicity, proportion and scale. When it comes to production, we utilise the techniques and technologies best suited to achieve the optimal result. Sometimes, traditional ways are best—other times, modern technology yields a better result. But more often than not, harmonising traditional with modern produces a finished product exhibiting the highest degree of beauty, purpose and soul. Crafting eyewear the way we do is challenging, costly, and time-consuming, but we’re passionate about our products and can’t imagine doing it any other way. Fortunately for us, our customers find genuine value in what we do and equally understand why we do it.
Tell us about the latest FW21 collection and which key pieces are unique?
Hot on the heels of our wildly successful Akoni X Balmain launch, we’re excited to introduce our FW21 collections. I’m particularly excited about the introduction of Akoni’s Pathfinder sunglass—a curved navigator shape featuring mini side-shields and an adjustable temple system that ensures a perfect fit and unequivocally demonstrates Akoni Group’s ongoing commitment to technical innovation. On the Balmain Eyewear front, Fixie is a radically beautiful rimless sunglass reminiscent of the film Blade Runner that’s a tribute to Olivier Rousteing in honor of his tenth anniversary as Balmain’s Creative Director and will be featured in Balmain’s runway show in Paris.
In the luxury market- what is key to success?
The simple answer is quality and exclusivity. Akoni Group’s products are for people who understand and appreciate a concept that we refer to as honest luxury—which is to say is a genuine correlation between quality and price. I’m not saying that all expensive products are necessarily of good quality—in fact, in the fashion eyewear category, there’s little or no relationship between quality and price. Akoni Group products are different—our designs, materials, craftsmanship, and customer service are first-class. Our eyewear is designed to provide years of use and enjoyment while making you look and feel great. We’re socially and environmentally conscious, not because it’s good for marketing, but because it’s good for our planet. We’re incredibly proud of what our team has accomplished, and firmly believe that once a customer experiences our products they’ll be a customer for life.
How do you approach scaling the brand whilst retaining quality?
It’s a question of values. One must ask themself: Do I want to be the biggest or the best? Our distribution model is highly selective and mirrors the standard of excellence to which we hold ourselves in every aspect of our business. Which is to say, we’re interested in the quality of doors, not the total number. Our goal is to work only with customers who share our social responsibility values as well as our passion for unmatched design, craftsmanship and ‘Made in Japan’ quality. Fortunately, we’re not alone in this vision—Akoni Group products are available in premium doors throughout more than fifty countries worldwide.
Could you expand on where Akoni’s motto – ‘Welcome to the Evolution’ came from?
Eyewear has existed for almost a thousand years and despite frequent claims by one or another company that their products are revolutionary, in the end they all have the same basic form and components. Sure, some add cameras, speakers and other headline-grabbing elements, but to date these products are little more than novelties. Akoni’s goal isn’t to reinvent eyewear—but rather, to help eyewear evolve in ways that people find desirable and satisfying in their daily lives. Whether it’s designs, materials, finishes, or functionality, we’ll continue pushing the envelope in order to bring our customers the very best.
Do you see any differing buying patterns globally and if so, which?
COVID-19 presented the world with enormous challenges, both personal and professional, and our hearts go out to everyone who suffered a loss due to this terrible pandemic. That said, I’m an eternal optimist and believe that the flipside of challenge is opportunity. With so many of us working and socializing via video chat these days, our eyewear is the first thing others notice about us. Now that eyewear is the primary fashion accessory communicating our personality and sense of style, consumers have a renewed interest in unique, high-quality products that will set them apart while making them look and feel their best. Likewise, consumers across all age groups have become increasingly comfortable with online shopping for everything from groceries to, well, eyewear. With respect to our wholesale business, that lumbering dinosaur known as the “tradeshow” is in decline, being replaced by remote showrooms, 3D renderings and digital presentations, and video meetings. In addition to being more efficient and cost-effective, the net reduction in mass face-to-face gatherings, air travel, and general consumption is better for our collective health and the environment.
This is ‘The Renegade Issue’ – who to you in the industry is a renegade or when have you approached life in this way?
My choice for an industry renegade is Balmain’s Creative Director, Olivier Rousteing. Olivier is a true visionary whose creativity, business acumen, and sheer courage transcend fashion. Fashion brands have long used eyewear as a gateway category for introducing consumers to their brands at an accessible price point. But eyewear— unlike other key product categories like handbags—is typically licensed to third parties, so the net result is poorly designed, low quality, environmentally unsound products whose entire value proposition is a recognizable logo emblazoned on the side. This production dynamic is extremely harmful to long-term brand integrity because consumers are misled into believing that the quality of their favourite brand’s eyewear will match its house-made product and when it doesn’t, disappointed consumers go looking for a new favourite brand. Olivier was savvy enough to recognize that the house’s eyewear wasn’t comparable in quality to offerings in its other product categories and that it was time for a change. We couldn’t be prouder of the Balmain Eyewear collection and believe that it’s the highest quality fashion eyewear brand ever brought to market.
October’s – ‘The Renegade Issue’ – Download Now
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