Topology Eyewear: From custom glasses to hiring, it’s all about the perfect fit
At Topology, a custom fit is the name of the game. When it comes to hiring, SFMade has helped them make great matches while supporting their efforts to tear down traditional barriers to employment.
Topology Eyewear creates glasses that are custom fit to the shape of each customer’s face and head. To do this innovative work, they need a workforce with a range of skills, from software development to advanced manufacturing.
When the Mission District-based company makes a new hire, the employee fit, like their custom-made glasses, has to be perfect. They look for candidates with the right mindset and attitude—people who can hit the ground running—plus, they want to build a truly diverse workforce.
“Topology’s commitment to hiring a diverse workforce and providing on-the-job manufacturing training is an inspiration,” says Claire Michaels, SFMade’s Director of Workforce & Hiring. “Our Hiring Made Better program really resonates with them.”
When Topology needed to fill an open position for a line operator, they enlisted SFMade’s help. Michaels shared the job description with a key workforce partner, CEO Works, a nonprofit that provides job training and support to formerly incarcerated individuals. Their timing was perfect as CEO Works had just started helping Jerry Harmon on his resume and job search. They immediately thought of him for the position.
Harmon had seven years of hands-on experience working in a lens lab in prison and had demonstrated an interest in learning new skills and advancing on the job. His years of relevant experience, combined with a great attitude, determination, and willingness to learn, made him an ideal candidate for the Topology position.
Being involved with the justice system presents a significant barrier to employment, but Topology was interested in reducing barriers and opening up opportunities to people like Harmon.
“We look for people who have the right mindset and are a joy to be around—people who like to learn and grow,” said Mike McCormick, Topology’s Director of Mechanical Engineering. “We can take people from different walks of life, because we focus on finding and hiring the right person, and we rarely have issues with people leaving.”
They saw Harmon’s potential and promoted him twice in two years, most recently to a supervisorial position, managing six people.
“From day one you could tell that whatever the job was, Jerry would figure out how to do it,” said McCormick. “Through that tenacity he was able to figure out our whole process from start to finish. He’s come an incredible way from where he started two years ago to where he is now.”
“This job means everything,” said Harmon. “Before being incarcerated I didn’t have a career path or any goals. I have to make up for a lot of time that I wasted. Now my mind is set on work, being able to provide for myself, and being a productive member of society. I’ve been doing it for two years now but it’s still a balancing act. But there’s no looking back.”
Training the Next Generation Manufacturing Workforce
As it grows, Topology also needs to hire workers with “next generation” manufacturing training in design, fabrication, and prototyping skillsets. Next generation, or “advanced” manufacturing is a well-paying sector but one without enough skilled workers. Entry-level jobs pay approximately 25 percent higher than San Francisco’s minimum wage.
To that end, Topology is enthusiastically supporting a training program being spearheaded by SFMade’s non-profit partner Humanmade (humanmade.org), a state-of-the-art makerspace in SFMade’s Manufacturing Foundry building.
As part of Mayor London Breed’s Next Generation Manufacturing Workforce Development Program, SFMade and Humanmade are training low-income Bay Area residents in as little as 12 weeks with the necessary skills and knowledge to gain entry-level careers in the Bay Area’s growing manufacturing industry.
“It’s not your grandparents’ manufacturing training program,” said Michaels. “It’s using a CNC machine to carve something out of metal or plastic. It’s 3D printing and modeling. And we teach contextualized, on-the-job skills, both soft and technical.”
The program is now in its fourth cohort. Topology has committed to hiring program graduates as they need employees.
“They see it as part of their plan for bringing in entry-level folks in the future,” said Michaels.
These next generation skills are crucial to the success of Topology, which relies on automation and software to drive production of its custom eyeglasses and has built an online platform for opticians and retail partners to enable their customers to try on glasses virtually.
“How to source talent and how to grow have been huge issues for us,” said Eric Varady, Topology CEO. “We don’t want to slide on quality. Knowing that SFMade is working on training the next generation of skilled workers is huge. We can’t wait to hire out of that program.”