Hard to believe a family dinner conversation about plastic waste would lead to the development of a carbon negative eyewear range, but that’s the origin story of Australia’s Good Citizens Eyewear. mivision spoke with founder Nik Robinson.
We all strive to be the best examples for our children that we can, so when Harry (then eight) and Archie (six) got upset about plastic waste over a discussion at dinner, Mum and Dad – Jocelyne Simpson and Nik Robinson – stepped up.
As Nik tells it, with zero experience in the optical industry, it took 752 days and more than 2,500 failed attempts but in April 2020, Good Citizens Eyewear was born. The aim, he said, was never to develop an eyewear range, but to help ‘untrash the planet’ and, in the process, fulfil the handshake deal the couple had made with their children.
REMOVING PLASTIC TRASH
Australian pioneers in recycled eyewear, Good Citizens makes repairable, recycled, and recyclable eyewear frames out of discarded single-use plastic bottles.
The super lightweight modular frames are made from only 100% recycled bottles (one bottle makes one frame) and are manufactured on the northern beaches of Sydney. The frames are paired with high quality lenses made by Carl Zeiss Vision with 100% UV protection.
The proprietary plastic clip hinge design creates a quick release system that allows the frame and the arms to clip together easily. This means the parts are interchangeable and repairable, increasing the longevity and lifespan of the glasses. Good Citizens takes back any broken parts, replaces them, and
then recycles them.
The glasses are carbon negative and each sale funds the removal of plastic trash from the ocean. All packaging is made from recycled materials – from the cardboard box to the glasses case, also made from recycled bottles.
“We went into this with zero experience of the eyewear industry or industrial design. We are marketers essentially so building a brand was about the only part of building this business we knew,” Nik told mivision.
While Nik’s previous experience in graphic design helped create the style, “learning to design and manufacture with recycled materials was like starting from scratch”.
“Because we were committed to using only 100% recycled plastic for our frames, it took a lot longer than we originally anticipated. We could have added another material to the rPET (recycled polyethylene terephthalate) to fix some of the issues we were facing, but we were determined not to use any virgin materials for the frame.
“It was a very steep learning curve. This whole journey has been one travelled well outside our comfort zone.”
He said Good Citizens wanted to tackle waste not just by using discarded bottles to make them, but also by keeping the frames themselves out of landfill.
“We were determined to make recycled frames that are made for life. It was obvious to us that the weak point on any pair of glasses is the hinge. The slightest mishap, the hinge breaks and the whole frame ends up in the bin.
“We’ve reengineered the hinge so the glasses can be easily repaired by the wearer at home. The design is modular. Every part clicks together, making the frames customisable and repairable in seconds.
“Style-wise, we’ve put our spin on classic shapes that have stood the test of time. Our three styles come in various colours such as Cola, Lemonade, Bottle Green and Aqua – a nod to their origins.”
He said styles are carefully chosen “timeless classics so we don’t bring out new styles each season like most brands do”.
“We want people to have their glasses for years.”
LOWS AND HIGHS
Nik said the couple “put all our family savings into this”, leading to periods of high stress during the attempts to get production right.
“There were many tears and sleepless nights. There were times we thought we’d have to give up. It was during those times that we had to shield the kids from the stress of it all,” he said.
Throughout the startup phase, they partnered with an experienced injection moulding manufacturer in Warriewood in Sydney’s north to make the frames.
“They have stuck with us through the many, many production issues and together we have learnt a lot about using recycled materials to
make products. Although in truth, we’re still learning. Every production run is different; it could be down to a change in the weather, trying to make a new colour or making a new style for the first time. Nothing is straightforward with recycled plastic.
“Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of just how far we have come and how much we’ve achieved. We’ve had some amazing highs, like getting a window display next to Prada in Selfridges in London for three months and talking at the United Nations about transparent supply chains.”
Then there are the awards. Good Citizens has collected the Marie Claire UK ‘Best Accessory’ award in 2022; the prestigious 2020 Good Design Awards ‘Best in Class for Product Design Housewares and Objects and Gold for Fashion Impact’; and The Design Files ‘Sustainable Idea’ of 2020.
EXPANDING THE RANGE’S REACH
While Good Citizens primarily sells its eyewear range direct to consumers through its website, there are plans to expand its reach in stores.
“Our sunnies and readers are now stocked in a few likeminded stores and optometrists around Australia. Increasing the number of stores we wholesale to is something we will focus on this year,” Nik told mivision.
“Obviously, we’re planning to make more styles and colours. We’re even looking at other products.”
Truly, Harry and Archie should be proud.