W.R. Yuma: Turning plastic waste into premium sunglasses
As good ideas go, this is a pretty genius one! The problem of plastic waste has never been as pressing as it is today. Facts such as this, that by 2050 there will be more plastic bottles in the sea than fish can leave us in no doubt as to the urgent need to make a change to the way we produce and consume.
The folks over at W.R. Yuma are making that change by inviting people to take a new look at waste through their 3D printed sunglasses, made from recycled plastic. They believe in a society without waste. Waste is a human concept after all; life was lived for 3.8 billion years on earth without waste until we started creating it.
To Sebastiaan de Neubourg, founder of W.R. Yuma, quality, style and sustainability are the same thing. His story is a truly unique one and the result is a collection that will make us, the consumer, re-think our entire approach to fashion and the products we buy. Zero waste, up-cycling, recycling and all the other elements that make a brand unique and sustainable are combined here to produce a collection that is shaking up the retail industry.
Flor + Cesta interviewed Sebastiaan to get the details behind the brand and its ethos. It’s this week’s long read but it’s well worth it! Sebastiaan’s passion and knowledge is truly inspirational.
What was the inspiration for W.R. Yuma?
W.R.Yuma was founded in the winter of 2015 by me, Sebastiaan de Neubourg. Before starting W.R.Yuma, I worked as a business consultant on circular economy design. Combining my studies in engineering and business I helped start-ups build zero waste business models. During these 5 years, I had the opportunity to work with many motivated entrepreneurs that were experimenting with inspiring new ways of building sustainable businesses. I understood that these pioneers were shaping the future with their ideas as no-one yet quite knows how a circular economy will look like. Fuelled by the energy of these entrepreneurs and motivated by the opportunity to radically rethink and experiment with new sustainable business approaches and innovative technologies that made me quit my job and start my own enterprise in the Autumn of 2015.
We believe that we need to rethink waste and find solutions to this pressing problem. Through the sunglasses we literately invite people to have another look at waste. With sunglasses on your face you can literally not look around them. When I got the idea to 3D print sunglasses I started experimenting. I bought my first printer and from there on we prototyped and tried a lot of different ways to 3D print sunglasses from recycled plastic. We are currently in the final stage of prototyping and ready to launch.
Where will W.R.Yuma look to go in the future and how do you plan to remain ethically conscious as you grow the brand?
We are currently working on a whole host of exciting projects to grow the brand from our Circular & Festival edition to even cooler materials and personalisation.
The Circular & Festival edition will see us take festival cups (a huge source of waste) and turn them into sunglasses. We want to bring the circular economy to the eyewear industry. Very soon you will be able to bring back your W.R.Yuma sunglasses, we will recycle them for you, allowing you to choose a completely new model with exclusive discounts. Keeping waste to a minimum and working towards a closed loop business model.
We want to make the circular economy and the use of plastic waste as tangible and real for people as possible. Sunglasses are a perfect way to do that; in the future, we would want to bring the process of recycling closer to the people. E.g. in 2018 we want to visit several music festivals where we will be collecting used drinking cups to 3D print sunglasses on the spot. Wearing sunglasses made from plastic cups from which you just drank your beer, we think that would be awesome. This way people can really feel what the circular economy is about.
But we also want to go beyond that and experiment with different kind of materials. We are using car dashboards, PET bottles and fridges, but in the future we want to use even cooler materials, such as algae, side products from beer or even recycled fishing nets.
Also, we hope that very soon we will be able to offer the option to personalise your sunglasses by 3D printing your own name into the frame with ink made from recycled fridges. This is already possible but give us a bit more time to fine tune our production process! At a later stage, it might be also possible to design your own sunglass models. Soon we will be able to make this dream a reality. We are offering this opportunity as part of our Kickstarter campaign.
We will also be experimenting with different kinds of business models as we believe that a circular economy is also a local economy. So rather than centralising the production of W.R.Yuma (that happens now in Antwerp) we would like to find a way to use locally available plastic waste to 3D produce sunglasses. We are already in discussion with several partners all over the globe, including Africa, to see how we can bring the circular economy to life.
That is a big advantage of 3D printing; you can share the files of the models very easily and with the right tools and materials you can empower the local people to print their own (sun)glasses.
I think consistently using plastic from recycled sources is awesome- has W.R.Yuma considered the whole product life cycle? What happens to the components if the user discards them? i.e. is the plastic biodegradable?
We not only want to use recycled plastics to print sunglasses but also re-use the materials from W.R.Yuma to 3D print new sunglasses when they meet their end of life. We want to invite the users to bring/send back their old W.R.Yuma sunglasses so we can recycle and reuse the materials again and bring them back to 3D printing ink to make new sunglasses. The consumer can then get a discount on a new pair of sunglasses. That way we get to have our materials back and the consumer gets to wear the latest style of sunglasses. Of course, this is not yet a fully closed cycle, because we can recycle the materials of the frames, but we have not found a way to recycle the sunglass lenses. We’re still working on that; we need time and money to do extra research! We hope that the Kickstarter campaign will help us to do this. We are the very first sunglasses brand in the world to apply this closed loop business model and it is our mission to make a pair of sunglasses that is 100% recyclable.
We are considering the use of bioplastics to produce our sunglasses but it will be very difficult to ensure that the bioplastic will not be thrown away with residual waste and end up in a situation where it can be biodegraded. Many biodegradable plastics are indeed biodegradable in theory, but are often rejected by industrial waste companies since they do not biodegrade fast enough for their processes. This problem could be overcome with proper design of the frames (i.e. thinner) but we don’t believe that this is a suitable and environmentally friendly solution just yet.
What is your take on the fast fashion industry?
I think that the fast fashion industry has been made possible by the availability of cheap labour and the ignorance of proper environmental measures. Most our garments are produced in countries where working conditions are bad and environmental regulations are not being applied, the consumer is not paying the true costs of apparel. It has become very easy to renew our wardrobe constantly and to throw away our old clothes without second thought; disposable fashion has become the new normal. At W.R.Yuma we believe that change is not going to come from the big companies in the industry but rather from small bottom up starters who are not making incremental changes to the current model but really try to rethink and reinvent entirely the way they produce. I think sustainability and ethical working conditions should not be considered as an add-on, but ought to be central to a company’s mission.
If you could say one thing to all the CEO's of fast fashion retail brands what would it be?
What I want to say to the bigger brands is: watch us. There are plenty of other young startups who are currently at the fringes of the industry experimenting with new ways of consuming, sharing, open source, using circular economy models, carrying out localised production and co-creating products. Even though these have certainly not found their way into main stream fashion yet, I am sure that these startups give an insight into the future. Some of these initiatives will grow into something more powerful in every way than the current fashion industry. Watch the fringes, take note of what is happening there and please be inspired.
Thank you so much for talking to Flor + Cesta Sebastiaan. This is such an amazing project and one that is set to make huge waves in the retail industry! Your passion and knowledge is inspirational.
W.R. Yuma is currently fundraising on Kickstarter to support its launch. Check out their kickstarter page to get 20% off your very own pair of W.R. Yuma sunglasses and to support this brand.