In a continuation of last week’s post on our design decisions and concerns with starting a sunglasses company, today we will be diving into a discussion of what makes wood sunglasses a better alternative to cheap or traditional plastic sunglasses from say a gas station or even expensive alternatives that you might buy from a store or online. And of course, we’re gonna have to talk more about Bamboo--perhaps the most important aspect of our business model and of sustainability moving forward in so many industries both here in America and abroad.
Let’s get to work.
For starters, so much of this decision, as covered last week, involves the decision to go Green. We looked at cheap plastics, we looked at synthetic foam options, honestly, we looked at many different options--too many to cover in one post--but no matter what we considered, we kept running into extreme short comings.
For instance, we didn’t know just how damaging plastic was to our environment. I know we covered this last week, but it bears repeating. Both the way that plastics are made and the way we dispose of them (or don’t) and how long they take to biodegrade is just astronomically dangerous and bad for our environment and our human health as well.
The microplastics in each and every one of us right now should be enough for all major US based companies to seriously consider ending mass plastic use immediately and starting to find alternatives that are affordable and better for the planet.
Add in the damage to the ecosystem: sea turtles dying from our plastic straws, whales eating plastic bags, and all the other terrors we’ve inflicted upon marine life, let alone air pollution and our drinking water…
The list of reasons not to use plastic in manufacturing seems to be growing by the day.
But just shifting to the next big thing wasn’t enough for us either. Remember that plastic was once that newest, greatest manufacturing material ever. So what if the next one, whether we are looking forward or backward to find it, also has loads of unforeseen shortcomings.
Hence in our question for the perfect material for our Tymber Sunglasses, we considered foam, we considered metal, and we took a long hard look at wood. After doing some research on what other sunglass manufacturers were using, we found that most were still keeping up with the business as usual model. They were using plastics and metal almost exclusively.
But we found a few outliers who were at least claiming to be trying wood out for a change.
No one though was willing to take the full on dive into wood frame sunglasses like us, it seemed.
While others on the market released so-called wood shades, they often only had wooden arms or temples that supported plastic or metal frames embedded inside them. This feels like a dreadful half measure. The waste is still there. And the high pollution manufacturing cost too.
We wanted to move beyond fossil fuels. And to do it, we had to go all in.
But not all wood is created equal. It was time to do some research.
And again, let us note that most of the other “so-called” wood frame shades out there don’t even list what kind of wood they are made from. It really makes us wonder who is just jumping on the bandwagon now, and who actually cares about the future of this planet as well as providing a cool pair of affordable shades to those looking to catch some rays.
Selecting the Right Wood
Alright, so we’ve figured out that if we want to be more eco friendly and lower our carbon footprint as a company right out of the gate, before we even have one product or a company name or even a website, we had to select the right material.
Once we looked closer at wood options, it became clear that these checked two of our boxes right away: they were better for the environment than plastics or metals, and these materials would float on water.
But as we had gone deeper into our investigation and research on product development, we realized that this was only looking at one end of the life cycle of a pair of shades, really. We were looking at the biodegradable aspect. And certainly, wooden shades are going to decompose much more readily than a pair of plastic sunglasses.
But what about the supply chain? What about the manufacturing cost? And of course, what kind of wood could we use?
After all, there’s tons of different kinds of trees out there. And not all trees are created equal. Some just aren’t easy to work with manufacturing wise. Others take so long to grow that it becomes really hard to produce an affordable product that is also sustainable.
We’ll return to that second part in a minute.
Slowing Global Warming One Shade at a Time
So the timber market. It was time to check that out. And you can only imagine how diverse it is. Needless to say, we were immediately overwhelmed. Should we look into pine because it is an evergreen? Would birch be cool? And finally, what’s the most affordable option out there?
Now it doesn’t take an environmental science degree to note that there are still issues with using wood and helping slow down climate change.
The most obvious one is that trees--wait for it--suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and make more oxygen.
That should have been obvious. So now here’s the issue. We’re talking about cutting down trees to make our product.
Now no judgement here. With some products out there, this is just the best if not only option. You want to build a deck, chances are good you’re gonna need lumber from trees. You want paper to write on? Trees. We get it. We’re not judging here.
But we were trying to make these kinds of difficult decisions before we got into the supply chain. And we needed to make sure we were selecting the best option on the table, not to mention considering all the options.
So it was time to get to know some trees.
Here’s what we were initially thinking about:
How long does it take the tree to grow?
And how expensive was this selection going to make our sunglasses?
Remember: we do want to make eco-friendly shades, but if they are $300 or something ridiculous like that, then no one is going to wear them anyway, right?
So let’s take a look at a few options we considered:
Or first thoughts with this papery like wood was that it might be cool to have a white pair of wooden sunglasses. Of course, this became even more unnecessary once we realized we could stain or even paint the wood if we so desired. But it sounded cool on paper, basically.
Birch trees grow readily in most parts of the US, so this didn't seem like a terrible option either.
However, we were struggling to find a good supply chain for this material outside of, say a custom furniture maker.
The reasons for this become ever more obvious once we looked into how long it took a birch tree to grow into usable maturity.
So it turns out that these very beautiful trees take about 20 years to reach maturity at which point they should be 30 to 40 feet high. And if you're just doing math on that, you're growing a foot, maybe a foot and a half a year. It doesn't sound that bad, except the whole waiting 20 years part.
Due to this aspect, birch wood seemed like it might be a bit expensive for our endeavor.
No worries. This was just our first look.
Next we jumped right into the spirit of Christmas and took a look at one of the most familiar and icon trees of all time:
These evergreens grow year around, and seeing as plenty of Christmas tree farms exist, even in our area of the country, these bad boys must be easier to grow and less expensive. We dove into our research yet again.
One of the first things we learned about Pine is that it is resistant to various bugs and creatures, including (allegedly) carpenter bees. I say allegedly because I have a deck in my backyard that is largely made from pine, and while I haven't seen any termites to date, we have had an ongoing battle with those carpenter bees nesting in our painted edge pine boards.
And all of this lead us to again consider how much research we could even really trust. I am sure the estimates on grow times are solid and the prices we are finding for the material are too. But in practice, we might just have to get a pair or two made and try them out.
We learned that some "fast growing" pine trees often used in commercial enterprise, such as the slash pine, could grow upwards of 2 foot per year. And these guys can get up to a hundred foot tall. You can see why commercial investors would farm these.
However, the math is pretty easy here. These trees could take anywhere from 30 to 50 years to reach a mature height worthy of harvest.
Again, it seemed like we had hit a wall. And once we looked at the price of these bad boys, we realized that we wouldn't be getting quite down to our goal of keeping our shades affordable for everyone.
We needed something that was more affordable and honestly more sustainable.
Even if we went with pine, like many other companies clearly do, we would need to find a farming operation that planted more trees than it harvested every year. And that 30 to 50 year cycle is a long and hard one. We just felt like this would be a hard bar to reach. We weren't willing to compromise. There had to be a better option out there.
What plant grows super fast, spreads out via a root system underneath the soil to reproduce, is thus affordable and sustainable?
You guessed it!
I know. Who knew?
Honestly, I knew two things about bamboo before we started researching:
- Pandas eat it.
- Office workers sometimes have these guys on their desk as decorative plants.
Yup. That’s pretty much it.
We stumbled onto Bamboo after a friend of ours used bamboo to replace his flooring in his living room. It looked really unique. This bamboo flooring was clearly wood, but at the same time it was different from most wood flooring we had seen based simply upon the striations and coloring of the wood.
My wife and I are (read: my wife is) always looking for ways to update our house, so we asked him in a roundabout way just how expensive this whole project was. His reply shocked us. Later that night we were back to the grindstone, researching bamboo, a plant that feels exotic, yet many strains grow right here in the States.
Perhaps the most shocking fact we learned was that certain species of bamboo can grow upwards of 3 feet--wait for it--in a day.
3 feet a day!
Just think about that for a second. A pine tree doesn’t even grow that much in a year. This fact blew us away. We were shocked.
But just because it grows fast, doesn’t necessarily mean it is sustainable. Indeed, in doing our research we learned that bamboo must be harvested properly still to be sustainable, but the reason and method were still pretty fantastic.
You see for most wood producing plants, sustainable farming means basically planting enough new plants to replace the old ones you are harvesting.
But this isn’t the case with bamboo.
Since bamboo has a rhizomatic root system, you actually can harvest just a portion of each plant, which could mean huge areas above ground, by the way, and leave a smaller portion above ground intact. The root system underground will continue to grow and sprout back above the ground, and the original plant lives on.
Not to science you too much, but this is largely because bamboo is less of a tree, and more of a grass--granted a really big grass.
Think about how you mow your lawn. You chop off the top part of your grass, but the bottom part just keeps right on growing, so you have to mow it again next week.
That’s bamboo in a nutshell.
Once we learned this vital fact, we knew we had come across the perfect material for our manufacturing. Bamboo was wood, so it would float on water. It was affordable but unique. And finally, it was not just good for the environment and biodegradable but this stuff was about as sustainable of a construction material as you could find. End of story.
And that is why we decided to use bamboo in all of our products at launch. It was the perfect match for Tymber Shades.
If you too want to do your part to help our planet, keep in mind that everything you do, from starting a business to washing your clothes at home can be eco-friendly. There are so many things each and every one of us can do--little things--to help out.
Certainly, we hope you’ll make Tymber Shades your next pair of sunglasses too, but this is about more than sunglasses. It’s about saving our planet for future generations.