Summer is my favourite time of year, and one thing I’ll never leave the house without is a pair of sunglasses. I have two pairs of sustainable sunglasses that I switch between – a brown-rimmed, retro style pair, and a black-framed, dark lens pair. While I don’t need eyewear for daily use (20:20 vision baby!), sunglasses are an essential to protect my eyes and keep me looking a little cooler than I probably am…
When it comes to sustainable sunglasses, there’s a few things to look out for, and weigh up to make sure you get the best balance of style, sustainability, and functionality too. I’m going to cover these elements in today’s guide, as well as highlight the best ethical sunglasses and eyewear brands in the UK.
What To Look For In Sustainable Sunglasses & Eyewear
Ok, just like I do with all my sustainable shopping guides, I want to preface this by asking: do you really need a new pair of sunglasses? The most sustainable items are the ones we already own, and by refusing to over-consume you’re helping to keep demand down.
My sister is an optometrist and I’ll be honest, owning dozens of pairs of glasses comes with the territory. She looks gorgeous in all of her specs and sunnies, and working with glasses all day means she’s going to want the best pairs to show off as part of the job. But personally, I can’t justify having more than two pairs – my two go with all my outfits, and the circular style is kind of trend-proof too.
If you have a great pair of sunglasses that need fixing, see if you can take them back to the retailer. Many will have a warranty, and if it’s out of warranty, you could look at taking out glasses repairs instead.
If you still need a new pair of sunglasses, here are the credentials to help you find the best pair for you and the planet…
1. Always Choose UV Protection
Did you know you can sunburn your eyes? UV light from the sun affects our eyes, just like our skin. Over time, too much sun exposure can cause eye problems like cataracts and macular degeneration, so wearing sunglasses is a health issue as much as it is a style choice.
When looking for sunglasses, it’s best to go for ones that come with new lenses to ensure full UV protection. The tint or colour of the glasses doesn’t make a difference – it’s about the coating. Look for credentials such as “blocks 100% of UV rays”, “optical grade 100% UVA/UVB lenses” or “UV400”, which mean the same thing.
For fans of bug-eyed sunglasses and wraparounds, you may also be pleased to hear that the bigger the sunglasses, the better the protection!
2. Get Prescription Lenses From Your Optician
For those of you who need prescription sunglasses, I have to echo the advice my sister would give – get these from your optician. While you can walk out of your opticians with a prescription and order glasses online, you miss out on an important step: fitting. And where your glasses sit on your face changes how effective your prescription is.
3. Find Out Who Makes Your Eyewear & Sustainable Sunglasses
Next, try looking for social sustainability. After all, shouldn’t we expect supply chain transparency with eyewear?!
Whether you’re looking for UK-made glasses – Peep is a family-run business upcycling frames here in the UK – or Italian craftsmanship – like PALA* and Wires employs – it’s good to know who makes your glasses, and how they are treated.
For the bigger brands touting sustainable principles, like Cubitts and Jimmy Fairly, I’ve had to do a bit more digging. Currently I’m waiting for more information about the people who make their frames and lenses, and will add their responses when I hear back.
4. Look For These Four Sustainable Materials
When it comes to glasses, it’s easy to assume that there’s just plastic, metal, and glass involved. But things are changing!
Since the 1940s, quality glasses frames have been made from cellulose acetate. Acetate has many benefits: it’s lightweight, relatively flexible, and hard wearing. The material is made from wood pulp and/or cotton and petroleum-based plastic.
While acetate is partially plant-based, it is an industry standard material. When researching, I found some brands to be greenwashing by saying they use “biodegradable materials like cotton fibers” or “cotton-based acetate”. This is the conventional material, not a sustainable alternative.
A genuinely sustainable alternative to cellulose acetate is bio-acetate. Bio-acetate replaces the petroleum oil element with plant oils. Brands like Eco Eyewear and PALA use castor seed oil in their bio-acetate designs, and it’s great to see a natural alternative to petroleum making it into the mainstream.
(I have to add here that while bio-acetate is made with plant-based oil, it is still a plastic. It is considered biodegradable but requires industrial composting to do so. Brands like MONC offer take-back schemes to responsibly dispose of bio-acetate frames at the end of their life.)
For cheaper frames, plastic can be used instead of acetate. For these, recycled plastic is becoming popular. CHPO uses 100% recycled plastic in its frames, taken from PET bottles, while Eco-Eyewear uses ocean plastic. And for every item made with recycled plastic, the demand for new virgin plastic goes down!
Plus, if recycling is your jam, make sure to check out Peep – they upcycle vintage frames, which is circularity at its finest! My black sunnies were gifted from Peep and I adore them.
Cubitts gets a special mention for plastic alternatives. Across its REDUX Collection of concept frames, they trialled 10 material alternatives, from potato skins through to human hair suspended in resin. While many of these also required plastic or a plastic-like materials, it shows that there is more innovations to come!
Alongside solutions to plastic, there’s also sustainable alternatives to virgin metals. Places like Eco-Eyewear touts 95% recycled metals in their metal frames!
5. Choose A Case, Cover, And Cloth
Caring for your clothes is an important practice in making fashion more sustainable. The same can be said for glasses and sunglasses!
When you get a new pair of eyewear, make sure to choose a case or cover. This will help you to prevent breaks and accidents. And get a cloth too. Cleaning your lenses with a proper glasses cloth helps reduce scratches. Together, they will help extend the life of your glasses.
6. Make A Note Of Repairs & Recycling Services
Finally, look out for places that offer repairs and recycling. Accidents still will happen! Most of the brands listed below do offer repairs, and innovators like Hemp Eyewear also use modular designs to make repairs even easier. That is true circular fashion right there!
16 Of The Best Sustainable Sunglasses Brands In The UK
Here are my recommendations when it comes to eyewear brands for 2023! As with all my shopping guides, I like to update this regularly and share the best UK brands for you to check out. All of these are operating in a more sustainable way than mainstream brands, and hopefully you’ll find one that’s right for you!
Avantguard: Premium eyewear with a sustainable approach.
Bear Essentials*: Wooden framed sunglasses for men and women, handmade in the UK.
Bird: The UK’s first B Corp certified eyewear brand, hailing from sunny Devon.
CHPO: 100% recycled plastic sunglasses with recycled pouches too.
Cubitts: Contemporary spectacle and sunglass design brand with excellent service.
Eco Eyewear: High style sunglasses made with a range of eco materials.
Dick Moby: Recycled and oil-free eyewear with UV400 lenses and styles inspired by the sea.
Hemp Eyewear: Iconic hemp acetate frames with modular design for easier repairs and recycling.
Karün at Vision Express*: Sustainable sunglasses are finally on the high street! Plus get 20% off online orders: VEAFF20
MONC: Spectacles and sunglasses made with bio-acetate and a focus on longevity.
PALA*: B-Corp bio-acetate eyewear brand giving back with every pair of frames sold.
Jimmy Fairly: French eyewear brand with a bio-acetate range – they gifted my brown pair of sunnies!
Retrospecced: Retro and vintage frames, upcycled with new lenses for glasses or sunnies.
Sea 2 See: Sunglasses made in Italy from recycled marine plastic recovered by fishermen.
Wires: Zero waste, bio-wear glasses made with distinctive one-piece wire frames.