For more than 20 years since their foundation, JINS Holdings continues to support society with quality eyeglass products.
Over the past 30 years, Japan has seen the rise of regional manufacturers who replicated the Japanese monozukuri process with cheaper labor costs, pushing Japan out of mass industrial markets. However, Japanese firms are still leaders in niche fields. How have Japanese firms maintained their leadership despite the stiff price competition?
Japanese consumers have more strict requirements for the quality of products than consumers in other countries. As a result of responding to such demands, Japanese manufacturers have pursued more detail-oriented qualities and been more thorough in their production. Even the world's top companies cannot stay on top in Japan, and this kind of example exists a lot. This is where Japanese companies may have an advantage.
Japan's demographic is shrinking and rapidly aging at the same time, causing a shrinking domestic market and furthermore, as the population ages, conditions such as presbyopia are more likely to occur. What are some of the challenges and opportunities Japan's demographic shift has presented to JINS?
If we look at the eyewear market in a traditional sense, we will only continue to shrink. However, if we consider all the opportunities presented to us through scientific and technological collaborations, we will continue to create new innovations in the field and expand the value of our products. People who don’t wear glasses and who normally have one pair of glasses can have more to increase their quality of life. This is what we are trying to do.
In 2011, we released our first blue light-cut glasses. The glasses were developed through industry-academia collaboration and can reduce blue light by 60% maximum. (EN standard, a unified European standard.) At the time, the science and characteristics of blue light were not widely known, yet through our product, we also raised awareness about them. Now, such awareness has moved other global smartphone device companies to incorporate features regarding blue lights into their products. We were pioneers in the field.
Another recent example is that we have initiated research on violet light, which is thought to be effective in inhibiting the progression of myopia, and the development of medical devices. Our company is always pursuing innovation and we want others to do the same. We want to be a company that is ahead of others in adopting scientific advancements.
You have developed the JINS VIOLET＋ lens which lets in violet light, which is needed for eyes. Can you tell us how it came about?
Research has drawn attention to the fact that the biggest factor contributing to the myopia epidemic is a lack of exposure to violet light. Normal glasses lenses are UV cut and even when we are inside buildings such as schools, the windows are shielded with UV400 filters which filter UV rays and make violet light of 360–400 nm difficult to reach indoors. Cars and regular spectacles have UV400 shields.
To address this issue, we created JINS VIOLET＋(JINS Violet Plus), a lens that selectively transmits the violet light wavelength region while blocking ultraviolet rays and blue light. We conducted a study that tracked and compared a group of children wearing regular glasses and another group wearing JINS VIOLET＋. It was a clinical test with positive results, and it has been published as a thesis already.
Nowadays, we see fewer children playing outdoors. That means the opportunity to take in violet light is also decreasing. In order to address the situation, we have started developing eyeglass-type medical devices that make it possible to have exposure to violet light even indoors. This is a new challenge to expand the role of eyeglasses into a solution to control myopia progression.
When do you plan to release this device?
Not sure yet. In the medical world, there are different levels of certifications and approvals we have to get before releasing anything to the market. We continue to work on them with the understanding that it is going to be a long process.
It is estimated that by 2050, myopia will affect half of the globe's population, with excessive use of screens being a contributing factor. When it comes to screens, technologies such as computers, smartphones, and tablets play a crucial part in our lives and it is difficult for people to avoid screens. In your opinion, how can we strike the balance between screen use and reducing the chances of myopia?
To suppress myopia progression, going outdoors is recommended. Glasses can help us in many ways and improve our quality of life. JINS' policy is to provide evidence-based research and development and create new opportunities for our clients through scientific breakthroughs.
It is rare in the eyewear industry to have a built-in R&D like ours. Beyond the old eyewear concept, JINS MEME is a product that supports healthcare by just being worn. It is a wearable device in the form of glasses with the concept of a self-care device for the mind and body. It collects a state of the mind and body as data and utilizes it to improve one’s daily life by visualizing it. This is because our proprietary algorithms can visualize posture, concentration, and vitality by sensing body movements and eye movements, such as the number of times you blink.
Further, we are working on practical applications for a feature to maneuver computers and devices using JINS MEME. There are many people who have difficulty using their limbs for various reasons. It would be helpful for them if they can use or control a computer using the eyewear that senses their head movements. This can also be applied in various settings and situations. Even when you are multitasking and unable to use your hands, you can use your head movements to maneuver things.
Nowadays, smart devices are everywhere such as the Apple watch that can monitor the user's glucose levels. Are glasses becoming such an important wearable device that can help even people without eye defects?
Absolutely. Research in these areas is what we are continuously looking to pursue. Our mission as a company, instead of pursuing mass production of glasses for regular use at affordable cost, is that we want to enrich people’s lives through our vision, “Magnify Life”.
When we interviewed the president of Nikon Essilor, Mr. Mathieu, he was proud of their optical design engine which allows for bespoke lens design to suit the customer's exact needs. To do so, they have incorporated a century AI, an in-store diagnostic system that can measure the tilts of the head and body posture. This was in combination with other AI-based technologies. What digital technologies are you implementing to create an in-store experience for your customers?
One of the things that have become possible through the rapid advances in digital technology is that we are now able to cater to individual needs on a level like never before. This is our key approach to growing as a company. We have also been using digital technologies to offer a better customer experience. We were the first in the eyewear retail industry to introduce digital technology that can propose to the customers what kind of glasses suit them best via AI technology, for example. Data-driven consumer experiences are our expertise. I believe that as we see a more data-driven world, the best approach is tailored or customer-specific. However, with this comes many challenges, but we are ready to tackle them.
One of your products in stores is Airframe, a lightweight pair of glasses that is also strong and flexible through the use of the TR-90 resin. How do you plan on growing your airframe products going forward?
Airframe was the introduction of lightweight eyewear in the industry as a whole. We have overturned the common belief that glasses are unavoidably heavy and created the market for lightweight glasses, establishing the industry standard for lightweight eyewear. The category did not exist before. We pioneered it and other companies followed suit. The Airframe is a great product. It is lightweight and comfortable to wear. We would like to continue doing R&D to improve our products.
Which Airframe glasses do you like the most?
My favorite Airframe glasses are those that were designed by Jasper Morrison, a UK-based designer. This design, created in collaboration with him, was based on the concept of “New Normal” and he has created other unique designs.
In 2010, you opened your first store overseas, in China. Since then, you have opened many more stores in the US, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Philippines. Moving forward, are there any countries or regions that you are targeting for further expansion?
We are looking to expand in Southeast Asia which has big growth potential. We should have expanded there much earlier, but it is not too late for us to expand there. In China, we have about 170 stores. It is quite rare to have such kind of penetration for a retail store even in comparison to global companies that are in China. We were able to expand in the US market as well, but the market there is quite different than in Asia. We have steadily grown our presence in the US market in the past seven years and we have been expanding our online and physical stores. We are entering an exciting phase in the US as well. Taiwan is doing well. The key to JINS moving forward would be expanding and succeeding overseas.
If we come back in five years on your 40th anniversary, do you have a personal goal or ambition as president that you would like to have achieved by then?
If we think about what the world will be like in five years, it will be different from what we know now. Digital technologies are expanding at an exponential rate, so we are now entering a phase where our current business model can no longer sustain our company. We cannot simply aim for horizontal growth. We have to figure out how to diversify our products and services and introduce new experiences to our customers. We want to continue to be a trailblazing company that inspires.
Interview conducted by Karune Walker & Paul Mannion