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Q&A: Christian Polman of Eone

Christian Polman edit

Fledgling watch brand Eone has made a name for itself with its striking and innovative design, which doesn’t require the user to be able to see to tell the time. Its general manager in Europe, Christian Polman, took some time to talk to WatchPro about the past, present and future of the brand.

WP: What’s the philosophy and inspiration behind Eone?

CP: Eone was inspired by the recognition that products can be designed to be inclusive, not exclusive, and that we had an opportunity to turn traditional thinking on its head to design products that are fully accessible to a broad range of consumer groups.

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The true moment of inspiration was sparked when founder Hyungsoo Kim, while studying for his Masters in Business Administration in Boston, USA, had a visually impaired classmate who lamented the fact that most watches available for the blind were unattractive, lacked durability, and carried social stigma. Hyungsoo saw a market opportunity to apply inclusive design principles to the problem, and teamed up with Nick Gu, another student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and now Eone co-founder, to tackle the problem. After many prototypes and iterations and a successful crowdfunding campaign, they created a beautiful timepiece that has gone on to win major design awards including Red Dot, iF Design Award, German Design Award, and was nominated for the Design Museum’s Design of the Year award.

WP: What are you most proud of so far?

CP: We’re obviously incredibly proud of our first product – The Bradley – but we also passionately believe that business can be used as a force for good and have teamed up with The Seeing Eye and the Kilimanjaro Blind Trust to ensure that a high proportion of our profits are reinvested into supporting the blind community around the world. We’re very proud of the impact we’re having from a design perspective, but are also very proud that we can have an impact on people’s daily basic needs.

WP: Where does the name Eone come from?

CP: Our name Eone is short for ‘everyone’ (pronounced e and one), and reflects our desire to create beautifully designed fashionwear with broad appeal, and in the process, tackling stigmas head-on that are often associated with products that are designed for a specific group.

WP: Why did you call your first watch line ‘The Bradley’?

CP: ‘The Bradley’ is named after former Navy Officer and Paralympic Gold Medalist, Brad Snyder, who lost his vision completely from an IED explosion in Afghanistan in 2011, but inspired us by winning two gold medals and one silver at the London Paralympics exactly one year after losing his sight. He’s an incredible person, with an incredible story to tell about overcoming obstacles and persevering.

WP: How does the watch work?

CP: The face of our timepiece features a triangular hour marker for twelve, and elongated markers for three, six and nine in order to increase tactile and visual legibility. We’ve then used a magnet-tracking ball bearing on the inside of the markers to indicate the minutes – since that’s what we check most frequently – and the ball bearing running along the outer edge of the watch face indicates the hour. We’ve found that checking the time discretely – such as in meetings – can be hugely beneficial for anyone, not just the visually impaired, and our sighted customers – who make up about 95% of our customers – love having the option to feel the time.

WP: How are you growing the brand?

CP: The Bradley debuted via crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter in 2013, and received $595k in preorders from 4,500 supporters in 65 countries. The initial funding was enough to bring the concept to reality. Since then, we have been self-sustainable from our global sales. We have recently started seeking outside investment to grow our global business and develop new models. Securing outside fundraising will allow us to leverage our momentum to release new models, expand our footprint, and reach new customers.

WP: What are your fundraising goals?

CP: We’re still small, but we’re hungry to grow and we’re now looking to raise about $1M USD over the course of this coming summer. We’re lucky to have consistent revenue growth and a warm reception among fashion-forward communities, so it’s time to leverage the momentum to expand our presence and product range. We’re very excited about what’s to come, especially in Europe, and we hope to take more people along on our journey!

WP: What have been the biggest challenges so far?

CP: As a small company, it’s a constant struggle to attract attention and gain momentum against the largest players in our industry. With a few dominant watch brands, it’s difficult to crack into new retailers, strike deals with wholesalers, and generally create availability for our product across markets. We’ve focused heavily on building our brand online – with very young and active Instagram and Facebook communities. We’re lucky that our customers love our mission and product, so we’ve had enormous exposure from fans posting photos and sharing our watch with their friends.

WP: Where do you ultimately see the watches being sold?

CP: We hope to work with design-oriented watch retailers and fashion-forward concept stores, and any shops looking to bring in a younger socially-engaged audience. We get very excited when we are approached by retailers who put the greatest effort on selecting unique brands and caring about each brand’s characteristic, even if carrying volumes aren’t large. We’ve unfortunately had to turn down some retailers who aren’t designer or brand focused enough, but we know there is huge opportunity to continue finding the right retail partners.

WP: What’s the next step for the brand?

CP: We are going to focus on two tasks in the coming year. One is to iterate our product to come up with an even higher-end Bradley featuring a highly scratch resistant ceramic face and some new and innovative design elements. Stay tuned. Secondly, we’re very keen to grow our presence in Europe, starting from the UK, and are building out a UK team so we can continue to work with great online partners, such as Dezeen Watch Store – one of our key partners in Europe.

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Daniel Malins

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