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Eyewear with purpose

In a sector dominated by cheap materials and fast fashion, here’s one eyewear company doing things differently
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Eyewear with purpose

This article first appeared in our Health Revolution issue of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 24 July 2020. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

In April 2020, the UK got its first B Corp eyewear company: Bird Sunglasses. It’s one of only three B Corp eyewear brands in the world.

Achieving B Corp status is no mean feat; a company has to demonstrate that it balances profit with purpose, and that its operations prioritise the environment and society.

‘We designed our brand from the ground up to be a purposeful and more-than-profit business’, explains Ed Bird, founder of Bird Sunglasses. ‘Although there is more awareness now of ethical issues associated with clothing and footwear, the eyewear industry is behind the curve. Not many companies consider all aspects of ethical business, from being ‘more than profit’ to the materials used, team structure and pay.’

Buy what you love

Ed comes from a creative family; he and his brothers had always wanted to start a business together, and Bird Sunglasses was a way for them to combine creativity, business and social purpose.

‘Specifically, the idea came from being fed up with throwing away cheap, plastic sunglasses’, Ed tells us, ‘alongside the desire to do something creative using sustainable materials.’

Most eyewear companies use plastic injection-moulded frames that are produced cheaply and contribute to the throwaway culture of fast fashion. In contrast, Bird customers are actively encouraged to choose well and buy once.

A fantastic virtual try-on feature has just gone live on Bird’s website; you can play around with different styles from the comfort of your own home, and get a real sense of how the various frames and styles will look on your face.

Eco frame materials

Bird’s premium frames use materials such as certified woods, bio-based acetate and repurposed aerospace aluminium.

Do sustainable materials require compromised quality? ‘Absolutely not’, Ed tells us. ‘We’ve always been clear that we’re creating quality, designer sunglasses – the sustainable aspects are a bonus.’

The number of eco materials available for sunglasses is on the rise, but there are some grey areas. Your personal ethical yardstick will determine which material constitutes the most environmentally friendly option for frames.

Bamboo is renewable and biodegradable, but slightly less durable than other alternatives. Aluminium is more energy-intensive to generate, but also more durable and easily recycled.

‘Bio-acetate is greener than plastic but still has some limitations’, Ed tells us. ‘Some brands are trying to jump on the eco bandwagon by stating it’s the most eco option out there, but I would say that’s probably overstating it.’

It’s also important to consider the source of the material and the conditions for workers, which could vary by company. ‘It’s important to care about the environmental credentials of the product’, Ed tells us, ‘but we’d advise people to use their hearts as well as their heads. If you love a particular design or material then you’re more likely to wear and look after it for a long time, which is another important part of sustainability.’

Supporting solar

With each pair of Bird Sunglasses sold, a family in Africa benefits from a solar lamp through Bird’s Share Your Sun partnership with SolarAid.

The solar lamps replace dirty kerosene lamps, so families benefit from better health and mental wellbeing while also missing fewer hours of work and school.

So far this partnership has reached almost 5,000 people and provided more than 930,000 extra hours of study time.

Solar lamps also save families from buying fuel for their kerosene lamps – 40% of families will never have to spend money on lighting ever again. ‘We’ve saved families £147,000 so far’, Ed tells us. ‘And the lamps have stopped over 981 tonnes of CO2 from polluting the atmosphere.’

Bird’s Share Your Sun partnership is more than a token corporate responsibility afterthought. ‘The Share Your Sun partnership harnesses the undeniable cultural associations between sunglasses, sunshine and feeling good’, Ed tells us. ‘We hope it inspires our customers about the power of solar energy to make a difference in poorer communities.’

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