In recent years there has been a heartening mainstream push back against petroleum-based-plastic use in everything from straws to bottles to bags. But petroleum is hidden in the folds of many other less obvious industries, such as sunglasses. Many garment textiles produced today are made from plastic, and eyewear is at the forefront of plastic use in fashion.
“The eyewear industry is a $120 billion market in which plastic is the main source of raw material and sustainability is almost non-existent” say Circular Design Europe.
The majority of high-end eyewear uses traditional “detractive manufacturing” techniques. Glasses are often made using the wasteful process of cutting frames out of sheets of acetate, which typically produces 65-70% acetate (plastic) waste.
The materials cut away from the frame are then often thrown away or sometimes, if lucky, recycled (and as you know well, recycling still uses more energy). At Wires Glasses, we were inspired to do things differently and turned to 3D printing.
3D printing is “additive manufacturing”. This describes a process that only consumes the precise material it needs to form a product. Gradually, layer by layer, our rims are built up from a powder. The powder that’s not used is then gathered up and re-used in the next print run, meaning that there is zero waste in the production process. We also sourced a bio-nylon derivative from the castor bean for both the 3D printed rims, and all of the sunglasses lenses.
The manufacturer of our bio-nylon lenses source their ecological resin from castor plants in areas like India and Brazil, ensuring that the crops do not compete with food. The production process requires less energy than the production of a classic lens, thus further helping reduce CO2 emissions. This breakthrough offers an exciting opportunity for the eyewear industry to embrace sustainability.
By using bio-nylons, we strive to reduce the demand for petroleum based plastics - which currently account for 4% of all oil usage globally.
The first collection of Wires was handcrafted by a small team of artisans in Harare, Zimbabwe, using the African wire craft tradition. Wires then designed a patented invisible hinge, no screw, to allow the glasses to fold, and they are now handmade by eyewear specialists in Northern Italy.
We are always looking at ways to improve our supply chain: to minimise any negative impacts and increase positive impacts. We believe that in this critical moment in time, companies - and the people who support them - have a critical role to play, at the forefront of driving more sustainable and fair practices within supply chains. We hope to demonstrate that sustainability is not only possible - but that it can be beautiful too.