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Intermestic: A clearer vision of the future for all

Interview - July 11, 2023

The company behind the renowned Zoff brand, Intermestic is a leading Japanese eyewear manufacturer which aims to make its 'Made in Japan'
quality products accessible to everyone from young to old.


Over the last decades, Japan has seen the rise of regional manufacturing competitors from countries like South Korea, China and Taiwan, who have been able to replicate certain Japanese processes at a cheaper labor cost, which has pushed Japan out of certain mass markets. However, we still see many Japanese firms like Hoya and Menicon, in the field of lenses, that are seen as the top manufacturers in the world. How have Japanese firms been able to maintain this leadership despite the stiff regional competition?

One aspect that definitely underpins the Japanese strength is the fact that its corporate philosophy and principles are quite based on the concept of ensuring that all stakeholders benefit. This threefold prosperity concept where the customers, suppliers and society are benefiting is called sanpo yoshi. It is quite a popular and well-known business principle that began in the Meiji period, and it continues to run in the backbone of Japanese industries. It originated from Omi Shonin which was a group of merchants that started in Shiga, a prefecture in the middle of Japan. This kind of philosophy is something that the majority of Japanese companies have succeeded in and has been a part of their corporate legacy throughout history. It is a different approach to business compared to the West. Western companies continue to pursue price increases and excel at branding, they value something different from what is at the foundation of these Japanese firms.

In a sense, raising prices is not our strong suit. Rather than seeking to raise the prices of products, we are looking to see what we can ensure and how we can maintain recognition within society. Oftentimes, foreigners visiting are surprised at how cost-effective everything is in Japan. They all have a high-cost performance. We want to keep providing products at a reasonable price that the masses can afford.


Japan has an aging and shrinking population.  We are seeing a smaller pool of talented graduates coming through for companies to replace their older workforce. Moreover, with the shrinking population comes a shrinking domestic market, so there is a lesser number of people to sell products to. What are some of the challenges, but conversely, some of the opportunities this demographic shift has presented to your company?

The shortage of labor is affecting all businesses, including ours. Alongside this shortage is the long lifespan of Japanese people, which we call the 100-year lifespan. The challenge is how we can enable people to continue to have a sense of meaning and lead the most brilliant lives as they keep aging.

Our products require technical expertise because they require lens technology and a high degree of skills in medical-related and science-related fields. Because the perpetual accumulation of technology is important in glasses, and the more years pass, the more mature they become, there is a high demand for experienced employees. 

We also see the aging population as an opportunity because as people age, more and more people require glasses. The second-generation baby boomers represent about 8% of the entire population, and they are reaching the point of needing glasses. Previously, 70% of the business was catered to those in their 20s and 30s, but now each age group from teens to 50s accounts for just under 20%, balancing the business expansion. We can cater to all different age ranges and generations in Japan.


It is estimated that by 2050, myopia will affect half of the global population. Over 80% of teenagers in Southeast Asia are estimated to be myopic. Why are we seeing a dramatic increase in myopia? What are some of the actions that could be taken in order to help curb this epidemic?

I think the largest contributor is increased digitalization. During the COVID-19 pandemic, when there were restrictions on being outdoors, children's screen time automatically increased. It is common knowledge that being outside in nature to look at things far away and gaze at landscapes improves one's eyesight. 

Although corrective lenses for myopia are in trend or increasingly utilized overseas, they have not yet been allowed in Japan. I believe that that will change within the next five to 10 years, so we are watching the market to see how we can introduce corrective lenses for myopia here in Japan in the near future. We are definitely looking to see how we can strengthen our support to the teenage population and how we can provide a supportive environment for families with children who have growing eyewear needs. One of the services we provide is called U18, which targets children who frequently need to increase and change their prescriptions due to their worsening conditions. When one purchases our glasses, we provide free services like changing the lenses. We are making access to glasses more affordable for families. We are looking to contribute to that kind of environment in Japan. In the field of public relations and advertising, we create printed materials such as pamphlets and brochures to introduce support and services available for myopia, which are distributed to ophthalmologists and elementary schools nationwide. In addition, we also conduct classes for elementary school students to promote healthy lifestyle habits for good eye health.


With this technological revolution, smartphones, tablets and computers have become a part of people’s everyday lives. It is very difficult for people to avoid using screens entirely because it is a crucial part of our lives. In your opinion, how do we find the perfect balance between screen time and reducing the chances of myopia?   

I believe that we need to find a way to lead our lives in the best way that is true to ourselves and best suits us. We have to discover what that might even be. With the increase in screen time brought about by the pandemic, the horizons of children were narrowed down, affecting their understanding of what is out there. The way in which they may be able to lead their lives has become more contained and restrained through no fault of their own. It is just the environment we are living in. Moving forward, I think children in Japan and everywhere else need to find ways to expand their horizons and take responsibility. We have to promote possible methods for them to do so, help them make discoveries in the outside world and show them how to lead lives that are more open-minded. Even when my children are outside, they are always looking at their phones and screens, which makes it difficult for them to engage in the world differently. Hence, we must continue to promote expanding their horizons and look for ways to break out of that. 

Zoff is Intermestic’s main brand that launched in the early 2000s and has become a mainstay within Japan. Customers could find suitable, fun and new glasses that can be enjoyed casually, with new frames being released monthly. How do you plan on further growing the Zoff brand in the future?     

The eyewear market is on the decline, from a JPY 600 billion market to JPY 400 billion. The challenge is how to make it beyond a necessity. We are trying to make it move toward fashion, but the usual reason why people buy new eyewear is that they lost them, or they are already blurry for them. It is still out of necessity. 

We are looking to grow our brand and make eyewear to be a want instead of a need, shifting it from a necessity-based to a desire-based type of product. That is the reason that drives our growth in terms of promoting the SPA model. It is quite difficult to do that in the eyewear industry and differs greatly from the apparel industry. While Zara takes about two weeks to put out something new on the market, it would take seven to eight months to release a new eyewear product on the market. I believe this is not a true SPA model.

Efforts need to be made on the manufacturing side. Furthermore, any company can cut down costs, but we are looking for ways to provide Japanese quality in a shorter time, where if someone decides to buy our product, we can make the required adjustments and deliver promptly. We are trying to improve that by optimizing our PDCA cycle. With different ideologies in the world like capitalism or socialism and the diversity in business ideas, it is easy to adopt a business model which relies on cheap labor abroad in order to cut down costs and increase profits. However, as a whole, we are looking to see what we want Japanese brands to stand for, including how we manufacture, our ethics and morals in our market expansion. Those are the elements we are also considering as we see what kind of Japanese brand we want to become and expand abroad.

When it comes to our management strategy and growing our brand, we aim to be an eyewear brand that is more flexible and adaptable to the social conditions of our age and be able to ascertain the social values and what will be needed in response to the changing environmental conditions and current challenges such as climate change,  increasing digitalization, epidemics or pandemics like COVID-19. We are preparing to reflect our R&D strategy and innovations in changing social conditions.

Oftentimes, when one wears masks as protection from the pandemic, glasses fog up. Thus, we created fog-free lenses and put that out on the market. Lens makers often asked us, "How did Zoff commercialize the product?" I candidly responded that we are always just trying to understand the needs of our clients and reflect those on the products.


Zoff Night and Day is a convenient two-way pair of glasses that does not require switching between normal glasses and sunglasses. It utilizes magnets for easy attachment and detachment. How is the ‘Night and Day’ superior to your competitors' products? Can you tell us more about its development?

Its underlying strength is conveniently having the glasses and sunglasses in one piece, with no need for two separate products. This product has very high functionality and can be used indoors and outdoors. While driving, it is very easy to remove the shade function. Also, we are looking at the needs of our customers. The fact is that most people still buy glasses for three reasons; they have broken them, lost them or no longer work in giving a clear vision. They often need a new pair as soon as possible. In that regard, we can provide prescription sunglasses for those who need them on the spot.

Another strength we have is our diverse range of models and lots of variations that can fit a particular lifestyle and need, from active to indoor eyewear.


Please tell us more about other iconic products from Zoff.

“STROBE XX”, which I am wearing now, is a model I designed. Its frame is a little bit thicker. There are so many variations for glasses and eyewear. It is endless how you can customize it, depending on your needs and aesthetic preferences. There are many things that a particular person wants, and it may even be just a millimeter difference in thickness. We have clients who are very particular with their eyewear. I noticed that the edges or contours of a person's face change as a person ages, requiring thicker framed glasses for a more balanced and sharper look.


If there are too many variations, people can have what we call the "freedom paradox" where there are so many choices that they cannot make a single choice. In 2021, you introduced Zoff Virtual Counter, a service that allows customers to try on products using their smartphones. They can even suggest the perfect glasses for those who have difficulty selecting them. What are your expectations for the Zoff Virtual Counter going forward?

Ninety-five percent of our sales still happen at the stores, while 5% represent e-commerce. When we had to close our stores during the pandemic, our business took a huge hit. Looking toward the future, we aim to create a business that is more sustainable in order to ensure that we can maintain continuity no matter what kind of conditions we may face. It is essential for us to keep expanding our e-commerce platform.        

Zoff Virtual Counter allows users to try different eyewear sizes and gives them an idea of how each one looks on one’s face. We often see that people use it for fun or entertainment. They look at how the glasses might look on their dogs. We have seen how this can serve as a way to increase touch points or engagement with those who may not necessarily require glasses, and it serves as a channel that opens a portal into seeing glasses and eyewear on the entertainment side.  

In our efforts to support children, we also work with Kidzania. This is another way we are looking to see how eyewear can also be introduced for entertainment. We are focusing on the data we gather through such servicing or digitalization, in general, to be utilized in driving our R&D and innovation. The Zoff New Standard was manufactured and designed using the data collected from taking the average face size of Japanese users to determine the glasses that best fit them. AI generated an average face by extracting images of men in their 30s from about 2,000 facial pictures. Based on this, the "glasses that suit everyone" were designed and engineered. The series calculates the best balance for glasses that fit the face while incorporating the knowledge and trend-sensitivity of Zoff's employees regarding eyewear. The aim was to create glasses with a good fit and that would suit many people. It has been very well received. We definitely want to try it in other international markets.


Are you considering expanding your business overseas?

We are looking to expand overseas, especially considering the decline in the population and low birth rate in Japan. The ASEAN region presents great growth potential because of its younger demographic and much younger average age.


Imagine we come back in exactly five years to interview you again. What dreams and goals would you like to have achieved for this company by then that you would like to tell us about in that new interview?

I live by the saying of one Japanese politician named Gotō Shinpei. He said a low-caliber person leaves behind money, a mid-caliber person leaves behind a company or an enterprise, and a high-level individual leaves behind capable people. I believe an ordinary individual leaves behind money and ordinary company or an enterprise, a high-level individual leaves behind people of great caliber, and to have left behind a legacy of culture is someone of a supreme caliber. I wish to create and leave behind a new culture through Zoff. I am now 50 years old, and I do not know how many more productive years I still have ahead of me. Leaving behind a new culture through what Zoff can create would be the greatest source of honor and what drives our purpose.