“Necessity leads to invention is what I was always told.”
In the case of Dave de Witt, a new pair of sunglasses was all it took. One of South Africa’s best skateboard ramp builders, Dave has taken his love for skateboarding and turned it into a creative and stylish business venture.
Sk8Shades, launched in 2012, combines style with the urban cool of Durban skating culture in a pair of sunglasses that are not only fashionable but have also seen a long history of kickflips and skate parks. Handcrafted out of used skateboards collected from across South Africa, the shades are available in a unique range of styles and colours and can even be fitted with prescription lenses to be completely customised for you.
Bonus? A pair of these will definitely ease your environmental conscience – being completely recycled and built using environmentally-friendly materials.
I caught up with the creative mind behind the shades to find out more.
1.What is the story behind Sk8Shades?
I had been building skateboard ramps and bowls for a few years, after returning from working on Cruise Ships in the Caribbean. Things were good until 2010, there were no more ramps to build and I used what tools I had to make things for my parents around the house and do general handyman work to pay rent. My friend’s wife started giving me work which was always challenging. With her designs always pushing me to do more complex woodworking, I started researching joinery techniques, especially with my favourite tool, the router, which I used to cut curves when building skate parks. I ended up doing the odd handyman job, repairing floors and windows, etc. while constantly researching ways to improve my work. Working in the driveway with one work bench didn’t help, I was always at the mercy of the elements: if it rained, no work; too windy, can’t paint. I kept saying to myself, I need to find something small that I can make, then figure out how to sell it.
When my VZ Fernsteins broke after 5 years of solid abuse, I was waiting for some quotes to be approved, one for Red Bull, building ramps in a pool in Durban central and a backyard ramp for a friend in Pretoria amongst others. I did some research online and found most wooden sunglasses to be made from solid wood or veneers. Having no Walnut or Bamboo lying around, nor jigs to mould curves or a bandsaw to cut veneers, I wondered if I could use a piece of an old skateboard, being that it already had a curve. Some more research and I saw a few people had tried it, and there were some manufacturers out there, but I was determined to make mine different. I made the first pair on June 1st 2012 and from then on I couldn’t think of anything else other than how to make better sunglasses. The Red Bull Ramps got approved as well as the backyard ramp in Pretoria. I bought a scroll saw and any free time I had in between I dedicated to figuring out Sk8shades. I got back from Pretoria in July, paid a few months rent upfront, bought a small bandsaw, some Dremel equipment and started declining quotes for anything other than ramps or Sk8shades.
2.Where do you find all the skateboards you use?
I use my old skateboards (yes, I still skate at 36 years old) and my friends give me theirs when they are finished. That kept me going in the beginning but I now have a small network of skaters across the country collecting boards for me. I trade old boards for new boards and depending how many they have and the condition they are in, I’ll trade them a new board, a pair of shades or something that they need.
3.How long does the whole process of making one pair take? Do you do all the designing and manufacturing alone?
If you gave me a skateboard on Monday, I could have 4 pairs of Sk8shades made from it by Friday (depending on the boards condition.) I have a young assistant who helps with preparation, sanding, and finishing. I do all the design and manufacturing of the frames and jigs while keeping the machines setting up accurately.
4.What would you consider to be your greatest struggle so far?
In the beginning the biggest struggle was how to shape the frames accurately, then figuring out how to cut the groove for the lenses. Nowadays my biggest mission is finding good help! It’s hard to find people dedicated to making things with their hands. A lot of people nowadays want to be paid for doing as little as possible.
5.Where can people buy Sk8Shades?
If you are in Durban people are welcome to come out to my workshop in Pinetown and choose a pair or head out to Gateway and find them at the new Vans shop. They are also available online from my etsy shop.
In Cape Town you can find them at Baseline Skate Shop in Kloof street and IYOS stores.
Internationally, Chum5 in Hong Kong, Paolo Cristante in Italy, and I am working on deals with distributors in Canada and Poland.
6.Do you see yourself opening your own shop in the near future?
I would love to open my own shop in Durban! It would have to be the complete package, a legit skateboarding shop to sell boards and collect boards as well as selling shades, a skateboard ramp or bowl, my workshop and office! It’s going to be a while before I get there but it’s always in my dreams.
7.Sk8Shades have also been successful internationally. Did you ever think it would become such a success?
Someone told me to open an etsy shop and after a post by itswhatiminto it went viral and I had more orders than I knew how to handle! I didn’t expect the international success, I thought I would maybe sell a few pairs locally but couldn’t believe the support I received from overseas! Having made over 600 pairs of sunglasses, over 50% have been exported!
8.What advice do you have for any creative entrepeneurs out there?
Don’t forget what it’s like to be a kid.
Visit Dave’s etsy shop online at: www.etsy.com/shop/sk8shades
or go to: www.mzansishop.co.za