Coral Eyewear – glasses with clear eco-vision

Eyewear is easy to miss, as one of those few items you take with you everywhere, yet it sits right under (or over, in this case) your nose.

The typical pair of shades are often made of plastics and it’s easy to see why, given the lightness of the plastic, the cheapness in using plastic over metals or other materials, as well as the array of colours that can be added. Such a production line is hardly very sustainable, but what if there was a way to make eyewear more sustainably at long last?

Coral Eyewear has just the solution, and if you kept your eyes peeled at Extreme E’s Ocean X Prix, you may have even spotted some of their eyewear on display!

Seeing clearly

To get a better sense of perspective on this subject, we spoke to George Bailey, co-founder of Coral Eyewear. “I founded Coral with my dad”, George explains. It all began just over two years ago, when George was studying his undergraduate degree, a large part of which handled the topic of sustainable business. George’s father, in the meantime, was involved in consultancy work with a group of opticians. Social responsibility was one of the most relevant issues at hand.

The mindset change is the biggest one for me that gives me some hope… actually we can do something, that’s the thing that gives me hope at the moment.

– George Bailey, co-founder of Coral Eyewear

“They did things like bring in the contact lens recycling scheme…then after that, it was a case of seeing that the most sold products are the glasses themselves, but there’s so much plastic on the shelves”, George revealed.

Plastic has a close relationship with eyewear of all shapes and sizes. Millions of Brits wear contact lenses per day, each pair made of a water-friendly plastic, which is sadly non-biodegradable. Glasses, shades and other eyewear suffer from being sourced from non-sustainable means too. Our need to protect our eyes has come into conflict with protecting the planet, it would seem.

A gap was spotted in the market, specifically when it came to sustainably sourced eyewear, leading George and his father to fill that gap with Coral. An initial conversation snowballed into a father-and-son business. “We originally looked into raw fishing nets as the primary material”, George reveals. However, the ability for such recycled plastics to retain colour proved to be an issue. The material also had an oily texture.

Aquafil helps fill the gap

Eyewear consumers can be very particular about small things like colouring and the feel of their glasses, so Coral Eyewear began to explore other businesses operating in the sector. Before long, Coral Eyewear came across Aquafil, an Italian-based company specialised in producing a form of yarn spun from recycled plastic, recovering substances such as Nylon 6. Plastic isn’t just a block-like material anymore, but it can be transformed into substances which can be woven like any other fabric and knitted to form strong yet light materials.

“They’ve done a lot of work with swimwear and sportswear brands on nylon yarn”, George says, adding “We approached them and effectively worked together to solidify this material so it could be injection-moulded.”
The end result was lightweight pairs of shades with single-coloured frames and lenses with blueish or golden filters, or even polarised mirror ones. They’re certainly a stylish addition to your travel bag, and come from an intriguing source, so you can wear them, knowing they aren’t just part of that same old cycle of disposability, but more of a closed loop.

Both Coral and Aquafil proceeded to partner up and took raw fishing nets, carpet offcuts from factories and landfill plus waste nylon, de-polymerised it using a special process and transformed it into nylon sticks, the building blocks of their new glasses. These nylon sticks could then be spun into a yarn or turned into pellets for injection moulding. Colour is determined early in the manufacturing process, and Coral has opted to avoid more elaborate colour designs for its products for the time being.

The manufacture of the glasses isn’t all that’s green: the products are shipped in recyclable packaging, so the item can reach its wearer without a scratch, while also sparing yards of plastic being used to do so. As a review on the official Coral Eyewear website says, “Saving the world has never looked so good.”

“The goal is definitely to raise awareness with this product people wear everyday”, George adds. “The mindset change is the biggest one for me that gives me some hope. When you’ve got that mindset, of lots of different organisations, entrepreneurs, even governments, to have the ambition and power of mind to say, actually we can do something, that’s the thing that gives me hope at the moment.”

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