Bird | Our journey to sustainable sunglasses and ethical eyewear
The team philosophy behind Bird sunglasses is all about enjoying life - exploring the great outdoors, spending time with people, building connections, and doing good. In less then two years we've been nominated for Frame of the Year in the Optician Awards, to being a Santander Entrepreneurship Winner. Our ethical eyewear and wooden sunglasses are now stocked in retailers like the Eden Project, and we're named one of Exeter’s six most exciting businesses. But here’s how it started…
It was after a month’s road trip across the US with wife Sarah that spelled the end for multiple pairs of tacky, plastic sunglasses. Ed did what so many successful entrepreneurs do: he scratched his own itch. He wanted longer-lasting, and more sustainable sunglasses.
Ed spent a year researching and contacting manufacturers, and brought his family in to help with branding. With help from the FabLab Devon, he set about turning the idea for wooden sunglasses into a reality. The first prototypes took nearly another year to get right.
Ed had been searching for an idea which would allow him to combine a few of his different drives. Purposeful business, creativity, and social impact. Bird is that idea.
Ed credits his thoughtful family for his passion to do good in the world. As a social entrepreneur, he brings that passion to the ethical eyewear world. This was recognised when Bird Sunglasses came second in the 2017 Santander National Entreprenership Awards.
Social purpose is very much at the centre, and not a token addition to help customers tick that feel-good box. Bird is a business creating beautiful ethical eyewear products and encouraging thoughtful, ‘quality over quantity’ consumerism.
It takes time and dedication to create an ethical eyewear company which supports the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. For example,
- We use sustainable materials, such as certified woods, repurposed aluminium, and recycled packaging.
- Bamboo sunglasses - like the Jay - have 100% biodegradable frames, when the lenses and hinges are removed.
- The recycle programme rewards people for returning old or broken pairs of Birds.
- All of the factories used have been extensively researched, with accredited work forces, and are audited by Bureau Veritas for health, safety and environmental practice.
- Products are bulk shipped on aeroplanes, which is less polluting, though more expensive, than ocean freighting on fuel-heavy boats.
- We partner to offset our carbon footprint.
Share Your Sun
The team knew that SolarAid, who provide light to remote communities, already partnered with other companies. So, soon after came the partnership - to date, we’re the only ethical eyewear brand to partner with a solar charity.
One pair of sustainable sunglasses from Bird pays for a solar light to be distributed. But why the need for solar?
Hundreds of millions of people have no electricity access. When the sun sets, this means no light. Without light, it’s more difficult to earn, learn, and - quite simply - feel safe.
To combat this, many families use homemade kerosene lamps. Not only are these a poor source of light, but they emit toxic smoke; are expensive to run (around 15% of a family’s income); and can cause horrific burns.
Sunglasses are a feel-good product.
Put simply: SolarAid channels that same feel-good power to change lives.
As Jeremy Leggett, founder of SolarAid, told us:
“At SolarAid, we see first hand the incredible power of a single solar light to transform lives. Money saved, food added to the table, seeds for the fields, on and on. People wearing Bird’s amazing wooden sunglasses will now know that they are adding fuel to this transformation in a big way. Keeping sunlight out of their eyes while adding it to the African night, via our award-winning light.”
Coming back to the Sustainable Development Goals. Solar lights directly help the drive for a whole host of them: No Poverty, Good Health and Well-Being, Sustainable Communities, and Climate Action, for example.
SolarAid isn’t merely an aid organisation. They have a well-established sustainable development model: support from Bird sunglasses pays for light distribution, then SolarAid set up micro social enterprises which educate communities.
Since Bird Sunglasses launched, lights distributed from sales have reached nearly 2000 people, saved 454 tonnes of CO2, and saved families a total of £68,170. Many tell us that solar lights are often used by children to do their homework. So by buying a pair of our eco sunglasses, you help young people around the world continue their education.
The designer aspect
Every single product is the outcome of a vigorous design process. Styles are often a combination of popular sunglasses shapes. But with subtle variations - and, of course, sustainable materials. All product names are taken, of course, from Bird species.
As well as being meticulously designed and having a positive impact on the world, Bird’s eco sunglasses are first and foremost designed to protect your vision. 100% UVA and UVB protection (UV400) comes as standard in all of our sunglasses. Reducing glare and sharpening details and colour through our polarised lenses.
Adding to the luxurious feel are our accessories: each pair of Birds comes with a PU strap, a soft eco cork or handmade leather case, plus a microsuede cloth.
Ed’s favourite : The Wren.
It’s a new take on the classic wayfarer form. With a distinctive finish thanks to the layers of bamboo, beech, sandalwood and aluminium.
The Wren is part of Bird’s Strata range. Strata features the Blackcap model, which incorporates sustainable ash wood to mimic the bird’s feathering in the wild. This frame has been shortlisted for the Optician Award - Frame of the Year, as well as being a permanent exhibit in the London Museum of Optometry. Both are a huge achievement for us.
“Winning an Optician award is the pinnacle of many optical careers.”
For Bird to be listed alongside established brands like Specsavers and L.A. Eyeworks is an achievement in itself.
A range which you’re sure to see more and more of is Clarity. Wooden temples display our new Bird motif, and the cotton-based acetate eco frames mean Bird Sunglasses is entering a new market: that of prescription glasses.
In the UK, over two thirds of people wear eyeglasses. As much as we love the sun, we are, increasingly, serving customers with prescription eyewear and prescription sunglasses. While we can take prescription orders directly, Bird is also actively building relationships with opticians and stockists around the world.
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