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HomemifashionEco Friendly Eyewear: The Customer Will Decide

Eco Friendly Eyewear: The Customer Will Decide

More and more people are becoming increasingly environmentally aware – using green shopping bags, choosing green power and products in non-toxic packaging and opting for public transport, a hybrid car or even a bicycle. However, when it comes to eyewear, is there enough demand to support sustainable frames? And are there enough stylish sustainable frames to support the demand for face jewellery?

A recent global study conducted by National Geographic confirmed that consumers are increasingly concerned about the environment and prepared to alter their consumption behaviour for the good of their cause. The findings came to light in Greendex 2010: Consumer Choice and the Environment — A Worldwide Tracking Survey.

The 17-country study is a comprehensive measure of consumer consumption patterns in 65 areas that relate to housing, transportation, food and consumer goods.

Similar findings were determined in the recent Global Green Gauge study, which has been conducted by U.S. research group Gfk Roper since 1990. That study indicates that while American consumers maintain their concern for the environment, their purchasing behaviours have been tempered by the current economic conditions. Data collected from more than 2,000 U.S. respondents revealed a trend towards ‘simple and practical steps’, where 63 per cent of consumers are using tap water instead of bottled water (up five points from 2008) and 39 per cent are using reusable shopping bags as opposed to plastic ones (up by 11 points from 2008).

There is a future in sustainable eye wear however, the cost of recycling at the moment may end up being prohibitive

Consumers were also found to be more willing to believe and trust companies’ marketing claims regarding environmental initiatives. While 41 per cent of those surveyed agreed with the statement that ‘first comes economic security, then we can worry about environmental problems’ (up by 13 points from 2007), only 33 per cent said the environment is ‘very serious and should be a priority for everyone’ (down from
46 per cent in 2007).

A growing concern for the world, coupled with rapidly advancing manufacturing technologies will slowly change the face of eyewear. And many eyewear designers are preparing themselves by introducing new ranges made from eco-friendly materials.

In response to demand from a new generation of consumers, this new eyewear will have less impact on the environment both during the manufacturing process and once the owner has finished with them.


Traditionally spectacles and sunglasses are made from metal or plastic and the lenses are made from acrylic plastics. The raw materials must be extracted from the earth, extensively processed then transported around the world to their retailing destination. While most eyewear will be worn for about three years, there comes a time when, unless they are donated for a good cause, they are disposed of, at which point they become landfill.

The Sustainable Trend

Designers from Stella McCartney to Gucci, Oakley to Rolf, and our very own Australian eyewear designers, like Holloway and Vision Ink, have all introduced eyewear that, to varying degrees, boasts sustainable manufacture.

A group of students at the Royal College of Art in the United Kingdom went so far as to turn hair cuttings into sustainable eyewear, less than imaginatively called ‘Hair Glasses’.

The students used a plant-based bio-resin that acts as a binding agent to create their funky series of frames that are 100 per cent biodegradable at the end of their lives. Each of the frames features strands of blonde, black and brown hair as surging wisps or braids that look more like tortoiseshell than the original source material.

While the student’s Hair Glasses may not be a huge hit commercially, another concept for frames made from 100 per cent recycled materials is proving popular with optometrists and customers.

All but two of Holloway Eyewear’s frames are made from timber scavenged and recycled from the company’s local area on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. “We chose to make frames from scavenged timbers because we have a lot of respect for our environment and we want to make as much of a difference as possible,” said Raffaele Persichetti, who co-founded Holloway with business partner Martin Gordon-Brown.

“We’re working in a massive industry that puts tonnes of plastic in our ocean – yet we don’t need to do that.”

Mr. Persichetti said the business is well supported by the local community. “I go to the skate park and show the kids what I’m doing, I ask them if they’ve got any old skateboards they’d like to bring in and offer them a pair of frames made from their own board at a discounted price. They jump at the chance. Some kids will drop off five skateboards and that’s enough to make 40 frames. We’ve also connected with builders, snowboard manufacturers, instrument makers and flooring companies – we’ve got a use for their cut offs that reduces waster and the footprint.”

Holloway produces about 50 frames a week and sells them in Australia. It also exports to Canada, America, Europe and Asia.

Sydney-based Vision Ink is a new eyewear company that’s about to launch its first collection. These are made from melted down aluminium and salvaged wood from a business in Canberra as well as antique Red Cedar from an old church in Bathurst. The company’s founder and designer, Chris Savage said the decision to use recycled materials came to him when he first started practising manufacturing techniques with old and broken frames.

“There were so many frames that we threw away at work or broke down for spares it felt like such a waste. Then, when I went over to China and started researching different forms of manufacturing I saw just how much wastage there is in the manufacturing process. I decided there had to be a better way to source materials to work with so I started researching recycled materials and the idea of melting down old frames was where we began.”

Mr. Savage experimented with aluminium and timber and was impressed with the results. “I found that various forms of aluminium could be melted down with relative ease and I love the look of anodising, the colours are so vibrant. I also loved the look of the ancient red cedar timber I’d salvaged from an old church in Bathurst and thought it would look fantastic as the temples. So we started trying out different combinations of these materials and realised they looked great together.”

He said the feedback he received from friends, family and initial customers was positive. “They loved the story behind the materials, and they enjoyed showing them off to their friends. I have had a positive reaction from retailers too. In the current market there are so many frames that just look the same, with the only difference being which name they have on the side. This kind of product gives them a point of difference. It’s something to talk about with their customers rather than the price.”

While some in the profession criticise wooden frames for being difficult to adjust and fit, Mr. Savage has no such concerns. “I think it’s important to realise that hand-made wooden frames are as much a piece of art as they are a functional spectacle,” he told mivision.

“The aluminium and acetate fronts that we use can be adjusted in the trim area. In combination with the spring hinge it allows a good amount of adjustment for the customer. But the most important thing is picking the right size and a close fit when doing the dispensing. When all else fails we can always make a custom size for those who they don’t fit – that’s one of the advantages of manufacturing parts in Australia.”

Peter Smith, Director of Colab Design, is not convinced. “Wooden frames (they have been around for decades) and Bamboo frames, appear very eco friendly and feel good against the skin, however, both of these materials have drawbacks such as poor adjustment performance that results in an uncomfortable fitting pair of glasses,” he told mivision.

Mr. Smith stressed that designers in pursuit of sustainability need to keep the limitations of materials in mind. “I once met a guy in New York that had cut and fabricated spectacle frames from old vinyl records – they looked fabulous, but unfortunately were highly flammable!”

At Colab Design Mr. Smith said his designers are vigilant when it comes to sourcing and using materials.

“The fact that we have modern, vibrant and eco-aware artists designing our frames, almost determines the direction we take, even if we were thinking that way, anyway,” said Mr. Smith.

“Acetate itself is a synthetic fibre made from wood pulp and is therefore sustainable in the long term. At the moment, acetate is our preferred material and we also try not to use nickel silver in any of our metal models or parts.”

He added that it’s important to encourage raw material suppliers to develop more user friendly and sustainable materials.

Eco-friendly Options

It is not just the boutique Australian designers who are designing sustainable eyewear. Global eyewear giants Marchon and Oakley have also realised the demand and, although they haven’t moved to manufacture frames from 100 per cent recycled product, they’ve released ranges that are eco-friendly.

In August 2011, Gucci and Safilo introduced four models made using an innovative acetate which, compared to traditional acetate used for optical frames, contains a much higher percentage of material from natural origins.

Oakley-sponsored skateboarder Bob Burnquist has long championed environmentally focused initiatives and encouraged the company to develop a special ‘green’ piece of eyewear within its ‘Fuel Cell’ collection. The frame is made from excess materials produced from the manufacture of other Oakley eyewear, and icon accents are crafted from 100 per cent bamboo. The glasses come with a storage bag made from sustainable, 100 per cent certified organic, 100 per cent biodegradable, bamboo. Even the packaging is made from recycled materials and soy-based ink. Wow, that’s a mouthful to market.

A portion of the proceeds from sales of the Mr. Burnquist Fuel Cell go to the Action Sports Environmental Coalition (ASEC), an organisation that takes a proactive approach to educate others about environmental responsibility.

Speaking of the range, Bob Burnquist said, “The way Oakley has bridged the gap between technical innovation and a more ‘green’ route is quite an achievement.”

Stella Collection

High profile fashion designer Stella McCartney released her eco-friendly eyewear range this year.

The bio-plastic injected into her frames contains 54 per cent castor-oil seeds, a renewable resource to limit the use of petroleum, which takes millions of years to regenerate.

Castor-oil plants are totally non-genetically modified organisms that grow in the poor soil of semi-desert areas. They need little water and pesticides and emit a small amount of CO2.

McCartney’s collection also includes an acetate, which is 54 per cent made from natural resources. The formula is a combination of cellulose, the most widespread renewable and biodegradable organic compound, and natural plasticisers that are not derived from diethyl phthalate (DEP) but from citric acid, a natural substance obtained by fermenting sugar.

Speaking of her interest in eco-friendly design, Ms. McCartney said designers of every industry must be aware of the impact their products have on the environment. “Designers are at the top of the pyramid in terms of creating products… it would have less of an impact on the environment if the creative teams were more educated about the impact the products they design have on the world we live in.”

Indeed, European researchers have said that 80 per cent of a product’s environmental impact is determined at the design stage, and there have been growing calls for designers to adopt more sustainable practices to help businesses reduce their carbon footprints.

According to a report by the UK Design Council, there are plenty of designers taking notice. “Almost half of designers say they use resources in an environmentally conscious way. Forty-one per cent say they are minimising their transport requirements, while 29 per cent have been trying to increase the lifespan of the materials they use.”

Accessories Too

At Marchon, new foldable, eco-friendly eyewear cases have been designed to limit carbon dioxide emissions from transport, production and storage operations.

“The design of our new cases will have a significant impact on reducing carbon dioxide emissions,” said President and CEO Claudio Gottardi. “Marchon ships millions of pairs of vision and sun eyewear every year and we predict that the design of this new case will save a considerable amount of energy at the transport stage and thereby directly benefit the environment.”

Occupying about a tenth of the volume of an average case when closed, the foldable case is refined and elegant. This functional, eco-friendly case is part of the Marchon group’s program of continual commitment to protecting the environment and supporting the relevant worldwide campaigns.

The Retail Reality

While designers are getting creative with sustainable resources, it is of course essential to consider just how sustainable sustainable eyewear really is from a retail point of view. Emmanuel Calligeros from Eyecee in Sydney’s inner city suburb of Newtown, where you’d expect a high degree of interest in sustainable eyewear, was dubious about demand. “I don’t think recycled or eco-friendly will be a selling point in eyewear since style is paramount these days and consumers in Australia hang onto their eyewear much longer than in most other regions in the world,” he told mivision.

Others were concerned that pricing would prevent sustainable eyewear from becoming mainstream in the short-term. “I definitely think there is a future in sustainable eyewear, however, the cost of recycling at the moment may end up being prohibitive,” said Colab’s Mr. Smith. “Instead I prefer to see aid programs where “used eyewear” is being recycled for use in disadvantaged communities and third world countries. This is of much more benefit to the planet. Can you imagine how many millions of pairs of perfectly good and usable specs are sitting in peoples drawers around the world, because they are “out of fashion” or an “old script” and never to be worn again? What a waste.”

Others were cautiously optimistic. “I think it’s a great initiative to create a sustainable source of living to reduce depletion of our natural resources,” said Margaret Lam from The Eyecare Company, which has four stores in Sydney.

“In my opinion, it’s a great start to be introducing a few models created with such innovative processes and more sustainable packaging. Then when more models are produced using sustainable methods, it will be better still.”

However she cautioned, “Unfortunately, when there are only one or two key sustainable pieces in a range, you have to find the consumer who feels strongly about eco-sustainability and then that consumer has to fall in love with the style! That is a limiting factor. So while sustainable eyewear won’t be flying off the shelves just because it’s eco-friendly, I have no doubt that we’re taking a step in the right direction.

“As far as opportunities, I think it’s to be encouraged, but the style behind it will always be a consumer’s primary concern. Production means will come first and sustainable production will be, I suspect, always a secondary concern.”

Melbourne based optometrist Laura Downie also believes there is a sustainable future for eco-friendly eyewear. “I definitely think there is increasing consumer awareness with regard to the adoption of eco-friendly products that are manufactured to minimise any potential adverse effects on the environment.

“When given the opportunity, environmentally-aware patients will embrace optical technology that is ecofriendly. Just as many people make a conscious decision to cycle or catch public transport to work instead of driving a car, if there is an option to choose eye care products with lesser environmental impact, I expect that many patients will also do so,” she said.

Lexus Fashion

Eyewear from a recycled Lexus

Late last year, Lexus, the division of Japanese automotive manufacturer Toyota, asked designers to create new fashions using Lexus car parts. Each of the four designers (Moss Lipow, Eddie Borgo, John Patrick and Alejandro Ingelmo) was tasked to fashion pieces out of 2,000 parts taken from its CT hybrid.

Speaking of his piece, eyewear designer Moss Lipow said he chose to work with the timing cover of a Lexus, which comes “from somewhere in the bowls of the engine because was a beautiful shape, dual layered so you could slip lenses in… and in the spirit of recyclability I wanted to keep as many of the pieces as I could formally the same as what I was given because that would more graphically illustrate the concept of recyclability – or reusing one thing as another thing.”

The eyewear, jewellery, clothing and shoes the designers fashioned were featured in a six-page advert in the January issue of Vogue, along with a display at Art Basel Miami Beach. The pieces were then auctioned off, with the proceeds going towards the Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund (CFDA).