Sunglasses aren’t just for summer – aside from making you look very important and glamorous, they also provide protection from UV rays which are present all-year-round.
When shopping for sunglasses, sustainability is something to think about. Plastic frames take hundreds of years to break down – that’s no secret – while less than 10 per cent of plastic is recycled. Acetate is another popular material for sunglasses which also contains fossil fuel-derived chemicals that can harm the environment.
Our peepers don’t need to forgo proper sun protection though. You’ll find brands out there fitting new lenses into vintage and pre-loved frames, while others tackle plastic pollution by using recycled plastic for theirs, salvaged from landfill or cleared from oceans and beaches.
Bio-acetate is another option which has a high proportion of plant-based materials and can biodegrade quickly without releasing harmful chemicals.
Naturally, eco-friendly packaging is on these brand’s radar – think biodegradable mailer bags or cases weaved from recycled plastic – while some recycle or zhoosh up old frames which means you might not even need a new pair at all.
So, whether you’re after Seventies style shades or cat eye frames à la Breakfast at Tiffany’s, we’ve rounded up the eco-friendly sunglasses brands to have on your radar this summer and beyond.
Ethical and ever so chic, Bird uses bio-acetate, certified woods, renewable cork and recycled aluminium for its sunglasses. And as a B-corp, it ensures care is taken with everything from its environmental impact to workers rights – we also love that each pair is vegan and cruelty-free.
Already carbon neutral, Bird plans to be carbon negative by 2025 and, big on circularity it tries to incorporate parts of old frames into the new designs. In fact, you can send your used sunnies in to be recycled.
Of course, all its packaging is recyclable and biodegradable, right down to the water-soluble mailer bags (pretty cool, no?) and with each pair sold the brand distributes solar light to communities in Malawi and Zambia without access to safe lighting.
Expect classic silhouettes and timeless tortoiseshell along with sunny hues and retro-style aviators, while your lenses can be tailored by prescription and colour, all of which offer 100 per cent UV protection. We love these caramel shades (£99, Findyourbirds.com) – flattering, stylish and right out of the Nineties.
Travelling coastlines around the world, marine scientist and Waterhaul founder Harry Dennis was struck by the sheer amount of lost and abandoned fishing gear along the shoreline. Recycled into a material with 15 per cent the CO2 footprint of plastic, this abandoned fishing gear now makes up its range of sunnies and, to offset its emissions the brand also donates to Eden Reforestation Projects.
From impact resistant wrap-around frames to rounded designs, all offer full UV400 protection and arrive in a cork case and plastic-free packaging. Go for the blue carbon Kynance sunglasses (£75, Waterhaul.co) and the brand will plant five mangrove trees in Indonesia to protect marine habitats and build sustainable employment.
We also really like that Waterhaul holds workshops on how plastic threatens marine life, but that these are ultimately designed to leave us inspired to make change. Feeling inspired? Pick up the brand’s beach litter picking equipment (which is also made from recycled components), including a bag made from upcycled sails.
Giving beautiful vintage and pre-loved frames a new life, mother and daughter duo Tracey and Lucy founded Retro Specced in 2017. To divert perfectly good frames from landfill, the brand has teamed up with Vision Aid Overseas to collect and refurbish pre-worn sunglasses in order to find them a new home.
You’ll find designer frames from the likes of Givenchy and Calvin Klein among unique, genuine vintage gems and, depending on your preferences they can be fitted with bespoke lenses, prescription or without, which all offer full UV400 protection. All lovely, each pair we tested was in incredibly good condition, too.
From using pre-loved cases to re-used bubble wrap, effort is put into making the packaging eco-friendly too, while 20 per cent of profits are donated to Vision Aid Overseas to improve eye care overseas.
Look to Monc for considered, fashion-forward frames. With a store nestled in Marylebone, the London-born brand is all about quality and craftmanship. Its collection spans certified biodegradable bio-acetate and wire frames which are aesthetically inspired by places around the world – take its simple Lokka design that we loved (£230, Monclondon.com) which is an ode to a district in Oslo.
Produced in small runs its shades boast high clarity glass lenses which offer 100 per cent protection against UVA and UVB rays and are built to last, arriving in packaging made from up-cycled coffee cups. Its cleaning cloths are biodegradable too and, as a member of 1% for the Planet it also donates 5 per cent of profits towards projects for environmental good.
A B-corp brand with purpose, Pala handcrafts stylish frames while helping to provide eyecare access to communities in Africa. Teaming up with eyecare charity Vision Aid Overseas it is now a huge force for good, funding eye care projects in Zambia, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Ethiopia, building to access prescription glasses and corrective eye surgery.
Its shades are made with certified biodegradable bio-acetate or 70 per cent recycled acetate, all arriving in 70 per cent recycled PET plastic bags and, as part of an initiative supporting gender equality and sustainable employment, cases weaved by straw basket artisans in Upper East Ghana.
Made in small batches and offering UV400 protection, we also really like that you can send back old frames to be recycled. Style wise, we’re obsessed with the drama of these dark pink tortoiseshell Mzuri shades (£110, Palaeyewear.com).
Founded by father-son duo Calvin and George, Coral Eyewear was something of a trailblazer as the first UK eyewear brand to use econyl – a regenerated nylon made from abandoned fishing nets and other plastic waste – while some of its frames are made with a specific kind of acetate made from cellulose (a natural fibre) and plastic waste.
Making a dent in the 640,000 tonnes of fishing nets currently residing in the ocean, econyl produces less emissions than normal nylon, shrinking its global warming impact by 90 per cent, and is infinitely recyclable.
All lenses are UVA and UVB protected and in terms of style, expect sleek, minimal and flattering frames. We loved these simple recycled plastic and bio-acetate shades which actually arrived with a mini bottle filled with a length of fishing net (£99, Coraleyewear.com), but there’s also an athlete-approved collection if you’re after impact resistance. All arrive with a case and cloth made using using recycled PET too, and shipping is carbon neutral.
After vintage or pre-loved sunnies? Look to eco-concious Peep Eyewear for retro frames fitted with new lenses offering 100 per cent UV protection. You can finetune your new lenses by prescription, colour, gradient and polarisation, or send in old frames for repairs or to have them zhooshed up to their former glory.
Plucked from the brand’s collection inspired by the BBC drama The Serpent, we tried (and loved) these Seventies apricot frames (£66, Peepeyewear.co.uk) which have been fitted with sepia brown tinted lenses. Packaged in FSC certified recycled and recyclable card boxes, Peep will plant a tree for every pair sold and, if your shades don’t quite fit you can send them in for a few extra tweaks.
Rejecting fast fashion, Denmark based James Ay is on a mission to create high quality shades that won’t cost the earth. From tortoiseshell to translucent, its aesthetic feels both fashion-forward and timeless – understated but full of personality – and all its shades offer UV400 protection. We love the glassy haze pair (£135.70, Jamesay.com) that hit the sweet spot between practicality and beautiful design – it’s safe to say we’re obsessed.
All its frames are made from certified biodegradable bio-acetate, and its hinges are even partially made from those that have been reused. Arriving in a box made from recyclable FCS certified paper, you can polish them with a cleaning cloth made from recycled bottles before tucking them into a case made from post-consumer recycled leather. And if you buy a pair, the brand will plant a tree.
Shocked by the amount of plastic washed up on the beach while on holiday in Cape Verde, Idana and Tom decided to start Nomad Eyewear – fun and colourful sunglasses made from recycled ocean plastic.
Salvaged from ocean and beach clean-ups on the islands surrounding Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, plastic waste is then recycled using renewable energy and transformed into the brand’s technicolour frames. We love that the names are just as creative as the frames’ looks too – “flamingoes at lunch” was a personal favourite.
All polarised with 100 per cent UVA and UVB protection, the aptly named “blueberry muffin” pair are the brand’s best seller (£43.95, Nomadeyewear.co.uk), though we were drawn to the slightly sci-fi maya collection (£46.95, Nomadeyewear.co.uk). All packaging is plastic free and recyclable too, and five trees are planted for every pair sold.
Zoë de Pass
You may have heard of Zoë de Pass from her sartorially inspired Instagram account @dresslikeamum, and Zoë de Pass sunglasses are every bit as stylish. Made from bio-acetate they’re certified biodegradable while each pair is fitted with lenses providing UV400 protection.
From oversized cat eye frames to colorful round designs, expect glamour and quirkiness in equal measure. We love the fuschia pink blondie rose (£75, Zoedepass.com) and we’re not the only ones as these are currently sold out. Beautiful in their own right, all cases are made with buttery smooth vegan leather (the resemblance is quite uncanny) and, though the cardboard is recyclable, the striking pastel box your sunnies arrive in is worth holding onto.
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