SAN FRANCISCO — JINS Eyewear’s San Francisco flagship gives U.S. consumers a first look at Kanna robot and previews Meme smart glasses.
Officially opening to the public Friday, the 4,900-square-foot flagship from Japan’s JINS Eyewear offers U.S. customers more to look at than low-cost frames available in 30 minutes.
On display inside the store, the company’s 330th and first U.S. location, JINS Meme smart glasses were on view for media to demo in advance of the frames’ expected fall retail launch. The thick, but lightweight frames mark the retailer’s entry into wearable technology. Along with sensors monitoring speed, activity and collecting biofeedback data similar to many fitness tracking devices, patented sensors in the nose pads monitor eye movements and positioning to capture information about fatigue, brain functioning and state of mind and transmit the data wirelessly via Bluetooth to iOS or Android devices.
“The IoT, Internet of things, is really important for us. We’re trying to implement eyewear and technology together. That is definitely the future for us,” said Hitoshi Tanaka, who founded the company in 2001 and is currently its president and chief executive officer.
At a time when the growth of the U.S. eyewear and contact lens market has remained fairly flat and dominated by a handful of players that accounted for more than 70 percent of revenue industrywide in 2014, according to IBISWorld, JINS’ aim is to follow its U.S. arrival with a technology platform for use with the Meme frames that third parties can adopt, expand upon and extend to new customer groups. To that end, this week JINS launched a software development kit to encourage developers to create applications for the device and is hosting hackathons and idea pitch contests, open to developers and academics based in the U.S. and Japan.
Beyond the experimental Meme smart glasses, basic frames from the company, all designed in Toyko and manufactured in China, are no less high-tech. A robotic system called Kanna picks up each lens piece with arms and places it inside a custom-cutting machine before releasing the finished product. Cased behind glass walls, Kanna connects to fitting stations with a spiral-shaped conveyor belt custom-built for the space.
Located near Union Square, interiors designed by Kwan Henmi architecture house 1,200 frames from the retailer’s six core collections, priced $60 to $120, with prescription aspheric lenses included and specialty lens options available at an additional charge. White brick walls and rectangular table displays topped with terrariums and air plants contrast with exposed ceiling piping overhead.
Friday’s store opening coincides with the launch of U.S. ecommerce from the company, whose share of the Japanese eyewear market is 20 percent and which generated revenues of about 36 billion yen, or $354 million, in 2014. Online sales are a secondary focus while the company positions itself as an alternative to brick-and-mortar competitors such as Lenscrafters or Walmart and observes digital strategies from U.S. brands such as Warby Parker.
According to Hitoshi, “Ecommerce and online shopping is a lot more advanced in the U.S. than Japan, so we really want to learn from that experience as well.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the JINS Meme frames were available for U.S. store visitors to view. The display shown to media during a preview is not a permanent part of the store.