“I’ve seen companies using everything from plastic derived from the oil from castor plants and castor beans; to bio-based and eco-friendly resin; to bio-plastic made from renewable vegetable raw materials; to Plantate, which is an all-natural plant polysaccharide material; to material produced from 100 percent U.S.A.-grown cotton,” said Mitch Barkley, The Vision Council’s vice president of trade shows and meetings.
Barkley was quick to note that these eyewear specialists tend to have a more complicated manufacturing process than companies that are not using eco-friendly materials, demanding — for example — a detailed process to ensure that they are indeed sourcing sustainable materials.
Here are six brands leading the charge in various ways:
Based in: Daytona Beach, Fla.
Backstory: Founded in 1983 by a group of avid fishermen.
Price range: $199 to $799.
Materials: Frames in The Untangled Collection are made from 100 percent recycled fishing nets, each featuring mineral glass polarized lenses, recycled aluminum logos, and PLUSfoam recyclable temple and nose pads. Cases are made from recycled apparel and the product packaging is also recycled.
Sourcing protocols: Costa’s product development team identifies and vets product materials and sourcing. Fishing nets are sourced in partnership with Bureo, who developed the Net Positiva recycling program in Chile to prevent fishing net pollution by partnering directly with fishermen to collect discarded nets at their end of lifespan and providing funds to local communities for every pound of fishing net collected. The Untangled Collection is part of the brand’s commitment to protecting our oceans and waterways and ties directly to the brand’s Kick Plastic initiative to raise awareness of plastic pollution.
Based in: Boulder, Colo.
Backstory: Founded by athletes Wink and Michael Jackson in 1995. Zeal Optics was then purchased by Maui Jim Sunglasses in 2011.
Price range: $99 to $219
Materials: Ellume Polarized lenses are made with a plant-based polymer as the bonding agent to deliver a high-purity lens for cleaner, crisper vision. Z-Resin frames are derived from the castor plant and replace the use of traditional plastics in Zeal Optics’ sunglass frames and Ellume Polarized lenses. The use of Z-Resin significantly reduces the amount of carbon dioxide produced during manufacturing. All Zeal Optics packaging uses FSC-certified recycled paper and soy-based inks.
Production mission: Use less, give back and explore more.
Challenges in maintaining a sustainable product: According to the company, “the challenge is to keep innovating and sourcing new materials that work with our production process as well as uphold our quality standards. The more brands that demand a sustainable product, the easier it will be to source new materials with our manufacturers. We work diligently to product test to ensure any new sustainable materials follow our standards for quality and durability prior to launch.”
Based in: New York City
Backstory: Founded by Alessandro Lanaro in 2010
Price range: $180 for optical frames, $75 for polarized clips, $160 for sunglasses
Materials: The brand uses 95 percent pre-consumer recycled acetate, 95 percent post-consumer recycled steel metals and 53 percent bio-based material from castor seed oil.
Third-party assurances: UL Environment audits the recycled content, the USDA certifies the bio-based products as BioPreferred and Modo buys its raw materials from suppliers that have passed its certifications.
Challenges: Research and development efforts are where the heavy lifting is. Testing quality with the materials over time is also important. Another challenge is continuous logistic implementation — making sure that all phases of production are using the approved and validated materials.
Based in: Amsterdam
Backstory: Founded in 2014 by Tim Holland and Robbert Wefers Bettink
Price range: $187 to $250
Materials: Uses bio-acetate in the colored acetate frames, which is a new plastic made from renewable resources without oil from wood. The rest is recycled from at least 97 percent post-production waste. The remaining 3 percent is ink to turn the acetate black. Recycled metal is used, again from post-production eyewear waste, recycled leather packaging made from production waste and our cleaning cloth is made form 97 percent recycled Polyethylene Terephthalate bottle. By finely milling leather scraps, and adding natural fat and latex as a binder, you reuse and upcycle the waste.
Production assurances: When looking for new sustainable materials, Dick Moby requests certificates for trusted third-parties to ensure the truth. The materials used always have a lesser impact in production and resources compared to the industry standard.
Challenges: Finding new materials as a replacement for the current resources used and persuading the company’s suppliers to keep innovating, without a direct return of investment.
Based in: Chico, Calif.
Backstory: Founded by Luke Winter in 2013
Price range: $70 to $120
Materials: Wood, bamboo and cellulose acetate
Production processes: For any producers, step number one of “Are we even going to talk to you?” is making sure that their supply chain is certified by a third party. It wouldn’t do us any good to be creating products from wood if it turned out that wood was illegally harvested, or contributing to habitat destruction. Even with certified producers, we still pay attention to what we’re using and thinking about things like, “Oh, this wood comes from a food-producing tree — that means there’s cultivated sources for this wood.” For something like rosewood, even if it’s certified, someone has to go out into the middle of the Amazon to cut that tree down even if they’re doing it legally. There’s no reason to, say, go out in the middle of the Amazon to cut down a pear tree.
Challenges: “Working around the physical properties of sustainable materials,” the company said. “Materials like hardwoods and bamboo aren’t necessarily a natural fit for eyewear. They can be brittle, inflexible, inconsistent — and they can mold if mistreated. There are a lot of contingencies that wouldn’t be there with a pair of plastic sunglasses that are going to be exactly the same in 1,000 years no matter what you do. It really takes active thinking and looking at all of your options to put together a finished product that is convenient and attractive enough to convince someone to move away from the standard. Cellulose acetate has been a big help in overcoming this hurdle. Being plant-based and biodegradable, it offers us a lot of figurative and literal flexibility to make products that meet customers’ needs while also maintaining a product that fits the picture of sustainability we want for our products.”
Based in: Portland, Oregon
Backstory: Founded by Ryan Kirkpatrick, Eric Singer, Dan Genco, Taylor Murray and Philip Peterson
Price range: $79 to $350
Stockists: Nordstrom, Saks, REI and various boutiques
Materials: FSC wood, reclaimed wood, stone veneer and acetate cellulose
Production assurances: Works closely with all raw materials producers to ensure that they are hitting or exceeding industry standards. Does frequent visits and audits to ensure proper materials are being used and produced in an eco-friendly manner.
Challenges: The number-one challenge is making sure that all materials suppliers hold to guidelines. It’s easy to cut corners to save time and money, but Shwood said it has made it a priority in its organization to stick to those guidelines.