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Across markets, consumers have demonstrated growing concern over the impact of fashion on the environment and the communities that produce it. While awareness and action on ethics and sustainability in eyewear has typically lagged compared to other fashion categories, rising attention has focused on a range of ecological and ethical issues specific to this accessory. For example, the production of cellulose acetate frames often involve the disposal of as much as 80% of the acetate used, with this waste requiring significant purification before disposal to reduce ecological harm.
This has produced rising demand for ethical and sustainable eyewear as consumers seek to vote for change with their purchases. Indicative of this, 64% of consumers surveyed by Euromonitor in 2019 claimed that they try to have a positive impact on the environment through their everyday actions. To discuss the demand for sustainable eyewear Euromonitor sat down with Mai-Britt Bolvig Seaton, Co-Founder of Monkey Glasses.
Founded in 2009 by Mai-Britt and Morten Seaton, Danish sustainable eyewear pioneer Monkeyglasses has sought to offer concerned shoppers a tangibly greener alternative in eyewear. With its biodegradable materials sourced in Italy and Germany, all spectacle frames, sunglasses and reading glasses are handmade in Hong Kong according to the principles of the UN Global Compact.
What factors are driving the demand for sustainable eyewear?
Mai-Britt: So far, sustainability has a humble fourth place in the main drivers for glasses-buying after appearance, price, and comfort. We do, however, see mere accessibility as the key to winning market share. By letting consumers have easy access to seeing and trying on sustainable glasses, they will have a chance to learn about their existence as well as their ethical qualities.
With social media, both organic reach and paid presence, we can target our work toward users who already follow sustainability issues and meet them in a digital space where they are already searching for inspiration on their journey to more responsible consumption.
What are the major challenges faced by sustainable brands like yours?
Mai-Britt Category confusion and pricing are our two major pain points. Regarding categories, we face two pitfalls: Either consumers don’t realize that we are different from fossil oil-based brands, or they see all sustainable brands as one homogenous mass.
Regarding pricing, doing the right thing is not always directly rewarded monetarily. As much as sustainability is now a given in many categories, the market is not necessarily ready for paying for the true cost. We are competing against both cheap mass production and recycled fossil oil plastic initiatives. None of these have the same cost as growing natural, renewable fibers, especially when we insist on paying fair wages throughout the supply chain.
In addition to the actual frames being made sustainably, we also insist on plastic free packaging for our products. Both transportation bags and our foldable spectacle cases are made of recycled paper, and the extra cost for us may not be rewarded by buying groups, who may prefer to hand out their own plastic cases, for both branding purposes as well as in ease in their daily routine.
How do you balance your sustainable ethos with your commercial agenda?
Mai-Britt: We find satisfaction in doing good and paying living wages, so profit margins come in second for us. That said, we are very hands-on with all business activities, like design, marketing, shop-construction etc., we keep our team small, and our location off the high street.
With internet retailing growing quickly as a channel for eyewear what are the possibilities for sales online?
Mai-Britt: I come from the fashion industry where it is common for any brand to have a web shop, no matter how exclusive or not. In the eyewear industry however, the frame brands most likely don’t have an online shop option, because many opticians won’t represent a brand if it is available online. While this industry has remained conservative so far, the possibilities could be endless, with digital tools for seeing the glasses from all angles or even trying them on virtually.
What are the main things you would like retailers and buying groups to know about sustainable eyewear?
Mai-Britt: Customers are ready! Even if a consumer enters the shop without an awareness of sustainable choices in glasses, they all react positively when presented with the concept. A bonus is that Monkeyglasses creates designs that are equally fun, fashion-forward, and lasting enough to provide value for the wearer for many seasons to come. There is no need to compromise quality for responsibility.
A very tangible action that will help retailers communicate sustainable glasses as a new product category is to create a dedicated area in the shop for these. The consumers will feel more compelled to explore the category when it feels easily accessible as well as abundant.
Monkeyglasses was featured in Euromonitor International’s 2019 World Market for Eyewear strategy briefing. For more insight on the impact of sustainability concerns on the global eyewear market click here.