From eco-friendly to “smart” sunglasses with pandemic funding in Armenia

From eco-friendly to “smart” sunglasses with pandemic funding in Armenia

In Gyumri, Armenia’s cultural capital, art, learning and science are considered the highest values for locals, and their town — a place to live and create masterpieces. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Gyumri and its small businesses felt the impact very directly. Twinz, an Armenian maker of handcrafted wooden sunglasses, was no exception.

Founded in 2014, the eco-friendly studio encourages tree-planting and greening the Earth but last year, it saw sales suddenly drop significantly. With the EU4Business support, Twinz was not only able to set up a website and start online sales, but the company also developed an augmented reality or AR solution. This has made online testing possible and resulted in “smart” sunglasses equipped with a hearing system!

Great plans collide with pandemic

Amateur enthusiasts and (non-twin!) brothers Babken and Davit Khachatryan founded Twinz, a design atelier producing handmade wooden sunglasses and eyewear in 2014, after years of experiments and prototypes. Babken, 35, the director of the company, is a designer by profession with years of experience at a Swiss watchmaking firm. Davit is the head of production at Twinz.

“We have been taking small steps with investments all on our own!” notes Babken. “Through a series of experiments, we were able to develop our own concept and technology. We owe our success to the dedication and hard work of the Twinz team.”

Each pair of Twinz glasses is individually designed, handcrafted, tested and packed. Twinz uses eco-friendly wood, metal and composite materials that make the frames strong and flexible, and protect them from deformation, moisture and sunburn. As well, Twinz eyeglasses are 100% UV-protected.

The first vintage-styled Twinz workshop and a store were launched simultaneously in Gyumri, Armenia’s second largest city. It was an interesting concept from the start: not only could potential buyers fit and buy Twinz glasses—they were also able to follow the manufacturing process.

“Right before the pandemic, Twinz was beginning to enjoy quite serious success,” the Twinz director recalls. “We invested on the basis of a business loan and were ready to enter the European market.  Our team was preparing to participate in the largest international eyewear show, MIDO.”

But the Khachatryans never made it to Milan: the exposition was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their plans in a ruin, the impact on the brothers’ business was immediate: “The pandemic mixed all the cards, leaving us alone with unfulfilled plans and the burden of a credit line,” says Babken.

Post-Covid recovery through EU grants

When they found out that an EU4Business project called Innovative Tourism and Technology Development for Armenia (ITTD) was providing grants seemed to the brothers like a great opportunity for the development of their business.

“We decided to apply, with the idea of strengthening our presence on online platforms and launching a new website with options for online shopping,” Babken recalls, detailing the idea behind their new effort. “The idea was to give customers an opportunity to try the glasses through AR. Another very ambitious venture we were thinking of was developing ‘smart’ glasses. Thanks to the grant, we were able to make a prototype for that.”

An EU grant of around 5,5 million Armenian drams or around €10,000, was not that much for Twinz’s big plans, but it was enough to give them the time and the means to plant the seeds for their far-reaching intentions. “It helped to take some very important steps into the world of innovation and meet the needs of the 21st century,” Babken says. “Today, we have our new website and new team members who will continue to work with us, even after the grant project is completed.”

EU4Business grant also helped them to develop smart fundraising and this year Twinz applied to Armenia’s “From Idea to Business,” a grant programme initiated by the domestic hi-tech industry. They have submitted a bid to improve the Smart Twinz glasses by equipping them with a hearing system, and to level up the company.

“The first version of the glasses, which could not have been made without the EU grant, was already presented during the ‘From Idea to Business’ TV programme on Armenia’s Public Television,” Babken proudly reports.

The EU4Business “Innovative Tourism and Technology Development for Armenia (ITTD) project is ongoing in Armenia. Its overall objective is to ensure shared, balanced and inclusive growth in tourism and innovative industries. The project is working with innovative tourism ventures in the northern regions of Armenia, providing support to hi-tech and innovative entrepreneurs, organizing international knowledge exchanges for hi-tech researchers, and establishing networks to foster a business culture among students and the general public.

Under the ITTD project, more than 100 ventures have already received support, the provided assistance has helped sustain or generate a total of 400 jobs, and more than 800 individuals have undergone various trainings.

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