A Super Sustainable Material
We thought it was about time to take a deeper dive into our material design here at Tymber Shades. And while our About Us page does cover a bit of why we decided to go with the manufacturing material we did--bamboo--we thought we could explain it a bit better in an epic two post series on the blog.
So whether you’re into all things green or eco-friendly, or just curious about what most sunglasses are made from, we thought we’d explain our thoughts and reasons behind selecting all natural and sustainable bamboo as our main construction material for all of our sunglasses and shades.
Plastic. Plastic, Everywhere.
Let’s start with the most commonly used materials in sunglass manufacturing: plastic. Yeah. That’s the most common stuff. There’s no way to get around it. Chances are incredibly good that even in the last year you’ve bought and / or wore a pair of plastic shades.
We aren’t judging.
We get it. These puppies are cheap, easily available, and they are so affordable they feel disposable.
When we started Tymber, in fact, one of the reasons for looking into wood based materials was so that we would not lose our shades when we were at the pool or out on the lake or at the beach or on the ocean.
It happens all the time.
You’re hanging out, floating in the water, with some friends, just enjoying the summer sun, when some jerk throws a beach ball at you and knocks your shades off.
Chances are good those sunglasses sunk to the bottom of the lake or coastline and…
Unfortunately, they are likely still down there on the bottom of that body of water today.
And they will be.
For a long, long time…
At first, when we started designing our own select and unique pairs of sunglasses we thought it would be convenient and very cool if they floated, so we wouldn’t lose our favorite pair of sunglasses just because they fell off when we jumped into the water or got knocked off our face while playing a friendly game of chicken.
Now though we know better. All those pairs of plastic shades that are lost in the ocean and in various lakes around the globe every summer are still there, in that body of water, and will be for likely hundreds of years.
And the question of sustainability and protecting our environment has never been more real than it is today. With Global Warming and pollution on the rise, we need to take every single step possible to try to make our world a better place and protect our natural habitat.
One of the most shocking things we learned as we got into the industry was just how long it took for a single pair of plastic shades to decompose.
Plastic products, like sunglasses, could take between 400 to even a thousand years to decompose in a landfill.
That’s right. Something as ubiquitous even as a plastic bag--a very thin piece of plastic, right?!--can take up to a 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill under ideal conditions for decomposition.
When we learned that, every possible idea of coming up with a floating plastic sunglass system went right out the window.
Some summers, I alone went through four or five pairs of cheap plastic shades. And if a plastic water bottle can take upwards of 450 years to decompose, then what about my thick plastic sunglasses and their plastic frames?!
There’s gotta be a better way and a more sustainable product material than plastic.
To make matters worse, plastics are petroleum byproducts, as we have discussed previously. This means that they are cheap and affordable as far as materials are concerned, but it also means that on top of the waste materials after we break our plastic shades or lose them, they also carried a high pollution cost up front when they were first made, since they were made from products like oil and other petroleum products.
And all these stats, by the way, are when a landfill is being used properly, not over filled or mismanaged. So imagine what our lost sunglasses are doing at the bottom of the ocean?
This got us thinking about all the products we use all the time that are made out of plastic.
What about Toothbrushes?
Plastic toothbrushes were first developed back in the 1930’s. You’re supposed to replace your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months, so you should be going through 4 of these bad boys every year according to the American Dental Association and Oral B. And hey, maybe you aren’t doing that. You should take that up with your dentist, who might very well be displeased with you.
Don’t worry. We won’t tell them.
Nevertheless, various eco-friendly groups, including Earth Hero and the company Brush with Bamboo, founded and run by the Kumar family, have estimated that the amount of plastic toothbrushes in landfills today exceeds 4.7 billion!
We can’t even imagine. But when you think of all the humans on the planet using toothbrushes today, that means that this number will only continue to grow. This is why companies like Earth Hero and Brush with Bamboo are so very important. They are on the front lines, fighting against destructive plastics that harm our environment and take hundreds of years, if not over a thousand, to decompose. And we here at Tymber Shades are on the front lines with them!
Making the World a Better Place -- One Shade at a Time
This is where we got involved. So we wanted to make a better pair of sunglasses. That’s great. We were looking at materials that would float so we wouldn’t lose them.
After some research like that mentioned above, which is really just the tip of that proverbial iceberg, we realized we could not be a part of the problem. We had to overcome these issues. We had to go above and beyond the norm.
We could not just use plastic materials like everyone else.
We needed an alternative. Something that would be good for the environment and people too.
There are many synthetic and natural materials that are biodegradable. So we went to the drawing board and started some new research.
We want floatable shades, and we want biodegradable shades. These were the first two check boxes we knew we wanted to fill. But we were just getting started.
There were a number of natural options, ranging from hemp and cotton based substances to synthetic biodegradable foam products. But some of the materials just didn’t seem right for a pair of sunglasses. Some were too flimsy. Others just seemed weird. I mean, foam sunglasses?
What are you thinking?
So we began looking into metal frames with some kind of foam like floatation material on the temple ends or arms and the nose pieces.
Think of it like this: you see those boat keys with flotation devices attached to them?
The prototypes were kind of going to be like that.
Big bits of biodegradable foam attached to sleek metal frames.
For starters, to actually get these babies to float, we needed odd amounts of foam in particular areas of the frame or to just wrap most of the frame in foam.
Not only did this look strange, it fit oddly on your face.
We are definitely about being and looking unique, but some of these prototypes didn’t even make it out of the drafting stage.
They just looked--strange and bulky.
We also started thinking more and more about the metal.
It turns out that metals, like tin and aluminum (a great lightweight metal), can take 50 to 250 years to biodegrade in a landfill.
We just can’t win!
And these things don’t even float.
So we went from aluminum encased in foam to a complete overhaul.
Remember those bamboo toothbrushes?
Wood could be the Best Replacement for Plastic.
Let’s start with how anachronistic this would have sounded to say someone living back in the 1950’s.
Back in the 50’s and 60’s, plastic was seen as a super material. It was brand new, and people were talking about it as though it were the construction material of the future.
And in many ways, it was simply amazing.
Here was a moldable material, like all thermoplastics, that could be superheated and forced into a metal mold to be made into any shape you wanted.
To make matters even better, it was pretty strong for its shape and size and very light weight too.
So far, this seems like a win-win.
And finally, the trifecta: plastic was affordable to produce since it was that petroleum byproduct, and hey, we were already using plenty of gasoline and oil. Might as well use the rest of the byproduct.
And yet no one back then was concerned about what would happen to these products once they ended up in the landfill.
Just imagine it. Plastic milk cartons and soda bottles: all of these products used to be packaged mainly in glass bottles and then with soda in aluminum cans too. Now though we have this plastic stuff! It’s so cheap and easy to manufacture. No one thought about the long term effects of this shift into a plastic manufacturing economy.
Of course, those plastic bottles could take upwards of 450 years to decompose, whereas--get this--the old school method of getting your milk in glass bottles was completely recyclable.
You could rinse out and clean the bottles, and milk companies did this professionally. Then they would refill them and deliver them to your house.
It’s odd when you think about it. Sometimes we are just so sure we are moving forward as a people and a society, when in reality, we’ve just gone on a detour that will ultimately lead not just to our destruction, but the destruction of the whole planet.
So plastic was a no go. We had to look back even further, back to something organic like wood.
We decided to take a good long hard look at wooden sunglasses. So we took a look at some of the other people dipping their toes into this market.
And here’s what we found:
- cheap products at higher prices than necessary,
- poor lenses,
- limited options as far as color was concerned,
- and a complete and utter lack of transparency.
Some of those are obvious. Wood framed shades shouldn’t be super expensive. Many frames out there cost double what we sell our shades for. We wanted our products to be affordable and sustainable.
The lack of options and styles was a bust too, but we knew we could build on that and come up with some unique designs and lens colors. So that wasn’t a big deal.
The big issues we found with our potential competitors was a lack of transparency.
Let us explain that.
It is one thing to say that your shades are made from wood.
It is another thing to actually pull that off.
Most of the competitors in this very niche market aren’t actually selling 100% wood frame sunglasses and shades.
Read the fine print.
Or just take a good hard look at the pictures of their products before you buy a pair.
Nearly 80% of the sunglasses we looked at that were on the market when we launched claiming to be wood frame shades were only partially made from wood.
Oftentimes this was blatantly obvious. They’d have wood arms or temples, but the main part of the sunglasses would be made out of plastic or metal.
Heck, some of the folks out there making sunglasses just carry one pair of partially wooden frame shades just so that they can claim their sunglasses are made of wood
--yeah, one pair we make.
We wanted to be open and honest about this decision.
We decided to go with wooden frames because we did the research,
we did the MATH,
and figured out that plastic, metal, and all the other materials we considered just did not pass the test. None of those other options are sustainable. None of those other materials will biodegrade fast enough to keep up with sunglass demand.
If everyone goes through two or three pairs a year, just imagine the amount of plastic sunglass waste in our landfills. It has to be at least as much if not more than the amount of plastic toothbrushes.
And remember, that number is nearly 5 billion!
No, we had to do better than everyone who was on the market years ago when we got into the sunglasses business. We had to produce something sustainable, affordable, unique, and--darn it!--something that would float on the water!
Now that we had eliminated a bunch of material options that we knew just wouldn’t work, we had to find that perfect material that would check all the boxes.
And we had added a new box to check:
Our shades needed to float.
They had to be biodegradable.
And wouldn’t it be great if they were sustainably manufactured?
And so many of our competitors just have the word “wood” in part of their product name. They don’t tell you what kind of wood or where it comes from or how it is harvested and produced.
Well, tune in next week, as we continue our post series with Uber Bamboo, Part 2, where we get into the deepest explanations of why we had to find a great wood material that was above all good for the environment.