Helping the nation see that bit clearer, Cubitts design bespoke glasses of all shapes and sizes and most recently, of all materials. Their commitment to minimising their carbon footprint has led to true innovation when it comes to sourcing new sustainable materials. For their REDUX initiative, Cubitts have released ten one-off concept frames that utilise all kinds of waste materials such as potatoes, chopping boards, human hair, mushrooms and even sheep’s wool. When it comes to sustainability, Cubitts prove you can’t pull the wool over their eyes…
We asked the founder, Tom Broughton, what inspired him to take this intuitive step and all about the remarkable process that produced these specialist specs.
TPP: Before we get into the REDUX initiative, could you identify how the spectacle industry directly impacts the environment?
TB: There are two main, related issues. Firstly, that the spectacles industry consumes non-renewable plastic, either through lenses (CR39 or polycarbonate) or materials (cellulose acetate, injection moulded resins). And secondly, that the products have shorter and shorter lives - generally once they break or prescriptions change, they'll be discarded. And to think in the UK alone, there's around 20 million frames thrown away every year.
TPP: What prompted you to kick-start the REDUX initiative?
TB: To do our small bit to extend the life of a pair of spectacles, and reduce our impact on mother earth, because we think it's the right thing to do. It seems mad to me that such a personal and individual product as a pair of spectacles can end up in landfill. The great optical graveyard.
TPP: Is REDUX a one-off project or something that will morph into something bigger for Cubitts?
TB: Absolutely - REDUX is something bigger than a one-off project. For us, it's the formal start of an ongoing philosophy. We already have a range of initiatives we're implementing, such as offering repairs, frame donations, removing single-use packaging, etc. And alongside that, we'll continue to test, learn and refine different materials and production techniques.
TPP: The thing that stands out most is the unusual materials you’ve used to create these spectacles. How did you find out that they could also be used in the first place?
TB: The spectacles industry already has a record of using unusual waste materials - the oldest frame found in London was made of ox shin, and in the early 20th century people made frames derived from milk (via casein). So, for us, it was taking this innovation and bringing it into the 21st century. And the ten frames we have now are a result of months of experimentation.
TPP: How surprised were you when you discovered mushrooms and cornstarch (amongst others) can double as spectacles?
TB: Well, you can make materials out of anything, within reason. The question is whether those materials are effective. What I find particularly fascinating about mushrooms (mycelium) is that they're obviously grown, so there's zero wastage. It's essentially additive manufacturing - nature's very own 3D printing. Go nature.
TPP: Many companies reduce their packaging to be environmentally friendly. What are your solutions to this ongoing problem?
TB: We're implementing a range of initiatives, for example:
Reducing, and ultimately eliminating, all non-functional packaging.
Swapping single-use for multi-use packagings, such as our reusable Home Try-On boxes.
Finding waste or surplus materials from other value chains to feed our packaging.
Reusing offcuts from our production process to create new things (jewellery, pens, sheet materials, watch faces, etc)
Replacing materials with recycled or biodegradable alternatives.
TPP: Another of your initiatives is to send all Cubitts’ recycled frames to the Kwale Eye Centre in Kenya. Why have you chosen to donate to this particular organisation?
TB: They're a fantastic organisation, who ensure the spectacles go to use. The issue with a lot of eye health charities is that they actually sell the frames, so they end up in a lockup or storage facilities. We want our frames on people's faces, fulfilling their purpose of bringing vision to those in need.
TPP: Do you admire a particular company’s approach to environmental issues?
TB: There's a few too many brands who pay lip service to environmental issues, unfortunately - just using recycled plastics in one tiny part of the supply chain does not tick off the 'sustainable' box. I think RAEBURN is pretty great, as they take a modern, thoughtful, progressive, and considered approach.
TPP: It seems you are highly informed when it comes to environmental issues. How do you live sustainably in your everyday life?
TB: Well, for a year I saved my beard and head hair to turn into a pair of spectacles. More practically, I try not to consume very much and particularly try to avoid buying new.
TPP: What does the future hold for sustainable fashion? Is it growing or is there a lot more work to be done?
TB: We're probably 1% of the way there. The good news is that there's a growing public perception of the importance of keeping our blue spinning orb habitable. The challenge is how we do that, and how we communicate progress, as it's a very nuanced and complicated area.
TPP: Do you buy sustainable clothing yourself? If so, what is your favourite piece?
TB: I try to buy things thoughtfully, try to avoid overconsumption, and try to extend the life of the things I own. I don't think I've bought any new clothes for over a year.
TPP: And one last question which isn’t necessarily related to environmental issues but something the readers will be dying to know; what do you look for in a good pair of spectacles?
TB: How it's made (pinned hinges, custom hardware), what it's made from (high-quality acetate or metal that can be adjusted), how it's designed (to be repaired, to fit a human face well) - which often has little to do with the 'designer' brand name stuck on the side. And of course, how it makes you feel when it adorns your magnificent face.