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Tuesday / May 21.
HomemifashionBorn from Waste Sea2See

Born from Waste Sea2See

When record-breaking English sailor Dame Ellen MacArthur warned the world that there would be more plastic in the oceans than fish by 2050, François van den Abeele heard the clarion call. Today, his optical brand Sea2See is responsible for removing, recycling, and repurposing about 250 tonnes of marine plastic from the oceans every year.

You would think that with “loads of awards” under his belt, the Sea2See eyewear collection would be François van den Abeele’s main priority.

And, yes, the Sea2See Founder and Chief Executive Officer sounds justifiably proud when he lists off the accolades that have rolled in since the company was established in 2015. 2020 Jury’s Favourite – Responsible Purchasing Initiative from France; 2020 Frame of the Year in the United Kingdom; 2020 Best Ecologic Invention, Spain.

The 2020 haul followed on from awards from France, Belgium and Spain in 2019.

But the accolades don’t drive him. Neither does the next collection. It is all secondary to the impact that his brand can have on the world’s oceans.

“Sea2See is born out of waste,” Mr van den Abeele declared in an interview with mivision recently.

“Sea2See was not existing before. The name speaks for itself. It is not a new capsule collection that was created because we had to, because suddenly people were talking more about sustainability.

“It is a brand that is born out of the purpose, born out of the cause, which is that there is too much plastic in the ocean. We need to raise awareness about this issue. And that is what makes this brand special.”

Crowdfunded Beginnings

So impacted was he by Dame Ellen’s passionate call to create a circular economy for plastic, that Mr van den Abeele decided he would collect marine plastic to make surf shorts.

“But the thing is, I didn’t have the means to do the surf shorts. Obviously, there is the one thing which is the waste collection but then there is the separation, the recycling, the yarn making, the weaving and, from there, finalising the product. I couldn’t afford that.

“By coincidence, I had bought my first pair of glasses from a pharmacy and obviously realized they were made of plastic. That’s how it started. So, it started out of a big alarm that was thrown by Ellen MacArthur saying there would be more plastic than fish in the ocean in 2050.”

Mr van den Abeele started contacting manufacturers in Italy. Only one was interested.

“I did a crowdfunding, because I was broke, to finance the first collection. We raised €40,000 that allowed us to produce the first small collection and I started visiting opticians one by one with 18 SKUS (stock keeping units), three frames and six colours, telling them about the fact that sustainability was non-existent in the optical industry, that virgin plastic was the main raw material used, and we had to do something to change this. And, also, obviously raising awareness about the issue of ocean plastic.

“So that’s how it all started. We got a lot of visibility when I did my first Silmo with 36 frames in the collection. We got a lot of press… the collection started growing and today we have more than 4,000 points of sale and 350 or 360 SKUS in the collection.”

Frame Design

The optical and sun frames, which are 100% recycled marine plastic, are designed by Mr van den Abeele in collaboration with designers from the company’s Italian manufacturing partner.

“We work hand in hand two or three times a year in order to bring more products,” he said.

He also studies trends in the market to produce frames that people will like, taking joy in creating “fashionable, sexy” frames that are light, easy to wear, and durable.

“You see the frames in the store, and you don’t see the difference with high end products.

“Do we have a typical customer? I don’t think so. Our typical customers are people that care about the planet, people that care about the ocean, people that are worried and as consumers they want to feel part of something.

“Consumers are changing. They do care what they eat, they do care how they move, they do care how they dress, they do care about proximity in agriculture, they do care about plastic. All of these things make us – obviously – a great product for them.

“But we have no one iconic style. We stand out for our raw materials,” he said.

A Larger Impact

Sea2See was the “first sustainable (optical) brand in the market” and the first to use marine plastic as a raw material. But as revolutionary as the concept was, Mr van den Abeele said the raw material is “just a small part” of the brand’s impact now.

“Why? Using sustainable raw material today in terms of positive impact is really small for the simple fact that we can do 35,000 frames with only 1,000 kilos of recycled material.

“One thousand kilos is a tonne and a tonne is a cubic metre. It is a metre on a metre on a metre of recycled material. So, if you think about the impact that you have, if you only collect what you need to manufacture frames, it is absolutely insignificant.

“We use six to seven tonnes a year to produce our frames. Six to seven tonnes is six to seven cubic metres. It is really nothing.”

He explained that the impact comes from the 25 tonnes per month collected by coastal communities in Europe and Africa.

“That’s about 250 tonnes per year. That’s the real impact that we have today. That’s why I say… for me, in this industry, the material has become secondary.

“It is much more important to think about your impact as a brand. The impact we have is both ecological and social… with the Sea2Sea Foundation we work with thousands of fishermen who, thanks to us, do value waste and plastic. And we finance the collection (of that waste) by the kilo. When you finance by the kilo it means that the plastic, the waste that you collect, becomes a new source of income.”

The Future for Sea2See

Fans of Sea2See can expect to see new products coming through. Earlier this year, as reported in mivision, Sea2See launched a ‘seastainable’ clip-on collection. It consists of clips for seven prescription models that quickly and easily attach to the main frame with magnets for a secure and stable fit. The clips’ colour schemes are beautifully in tune with the main frames.

Mr van den Abeele said the company has expanded its range of “sporty frames”, junior and kids’ frames, and will produce some “really fashionable” products.

He said the Sea2See brand is also concentrating on expanding its reach. Initially popular in Europe, the brand is now enjoying success in Canada and North America and moving into markets that traditionally have not focussed on sustainability as a priority.

But really, he’d rather we just focus on the message: Marine plastic kills and contaminates and we need to act; we need to remove it from our oceans.

“It is important to talk more about our mission rather than just the products. Because, as I said, the raw material is important, but the mission is more important.”

To find out more about See2Sea and its purpose visit: Sea2see.org.

For more on the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s mission to develop a “circular economy” that will “eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials, and regenerate nature, creating an economy that benefits people, business and the natural world” visit: ellenmacarthurfoundation.org.