When Tom Davies isn’t desgining bespoke eyewear for individual clients, or films such as The Matrix Resurrections through his TD Tom Davies brand, he works to support blindness prevention charity Orbis. Here, Davies explains his inspiration behind his philanthropy efforts
There are 338 million people in the world who are blind or have moderate to severe visual impairment, and 77 per cent of these cases are avoidable. The number is getting bigger not smaller and it’s Orbis’s mission to change that.
In about 2002, I saw a collection tin for Orbis in an optician’s, and I thought I should have one. When I started out doing TD Tom Davies bespoke glasses people would come into my studio in Pimlico. Mostly the people who came to see me were incredibly rich, paying £5,000 a frame. I would have this little tin from Orbis but it didn’t feel like I was getting enough. I asked them if there was a way I could convince people to do bigger donations. They said they would be happy if I could raise their profile.
I was attracted to Orbis because of their Flying Eye Hospital, primarily. They operate a DC10 — FedEx gave it to them — it’s an actual surgery, doing cataracts mainly, plus a teaching hospital. They fly into somewhere like Zimbabwe; just landing there focuses the attention of local government and politicians. It has a massive effect. By the time the they leave, the local doctors have been trained to give relatively simple [procedures] that save people’s sight.
They’ve also got a project called Cybersight, which launched in 2003. It offers online training and mentorship for eye health professionals. That meant that when Covid hit they were able to pivot into that and carry on. The platform now has more than 46,000 registered eye care professionals across 204 countries and regions. NHS staff are also involved, giving up their time to teach people how to save eyesight.
Before Covid, I was talking to a production company in LA about doing a Netflix series. One of the episodes was going off to Morocco to find meteorites I could turn into glasses. It got cancelled because of Covid and I was thinking what can I do? So I went on Amazon, bought some meteorite and then turned it into glasses. I made two pairs, just in case. One pair was raffled off, the other was auctioned. I wouldn’t say they were the most beautiful glasses I ever made, but the cosmos was definitely in them. They raised close to £4,000 for Orbis.
Orbis came to me about six months ago and said, ‘Would you like to officially be an ambassador?’ I said ‘yes’ immediately. If I can use my position to throw a bit of a spotlight on them, then that’s a good thing. Until I’ve done something really amazing for them or raised some serious cash I won’t be satisfied. It’s an honour to be asked. That’s true of working on the glasses for the Matrix movies, too.
With The Matrix Resurrections I started off with a frame for Neo. Then I did Trinity’s and then it just kept coming. In the end I actually submitted about 300 frames, about 80 to 90 individual designs with 30 different styles appearing in the movie. It was a lifetime’s ambition to do a project as big as that. In my business there’s nothing really bigger. If you look at a film franchise as big as Matrix, it’s globally popular and it’s famous for two things, in terms of clothing and accessories: mobile phones and sunglasses. So to be asked to do the sunglasses – that’s an honour. They could have gone to anybody. It’s major.
With the film it was thousands of emails, sketchpads full of drawings — you need to respect a project like that, to go for it. It’s a big job and took over two and half years because it got extended by Covid. I didn’t leave anything to chance to make sure this was the best work I could do. We are selling them too. I have 200 of each frame individually engraved with official movie merchandise. I’m hoping that they’ll become iconic collectors’ pieces.
As told to Alec Marsh