MONC Eyewear's New Shop Is Made Out of Sunshine

They haven't built a store, they have grown it.

MONC store exterior


Opening a store is tough these days. It can also be expensive and wasteful. When MONC Eyewear—Treehugger's best luxury sustainable sunglass brand—opened its first store, they designed it in such a way that if it was to be relocated, it would leave no trace behind, promising that "everything inside the MONC store can be reused at its next location, will fit in a home environment, can be disassembled for recycling or returned to the ground as nourishment."

Interior of store


I have used the term "built out of sunshine" to describe those materials that are grown out of carbon, water, and sunlight; the most common being wood. But MONC's owner and creative director Freddie Elborne, along with designer Nina Woodcroft—the designer behind SILO, London's first zero-waste restaurant, and founder of London-based design studio Nina+Co—go way beyond that, using materials I haven't heard of or ever seen used in this way.

Glasses sitting on sheet of bio acetate


Solid surfaces are made of bio acetate—the same material they use for their frames. Cellulose acetate is one of the oldest bio-plastics, invented in 1865. It was combined with plasticizers such as diethyl and dimethyl phthalate to make the plastic materials used for high-quality glasses, but as we have noted before, "phthalates have been found to have serious impacts on our environment as well as a wide range of concerns linked to their effects on our health."

Bio acetate, made by Mazzucchelli in Italy, replaces the phthalate plasticizer with a "proprietary plasticizing solution of vegetable origin." It apparently is biodegradable in 115 days under ISO 14855, dissolving into carbon dioxide, water, and mineral salts. This concerned me, as my eyeglasses are made of the stuff and I am out in the sun and the rain all the time with them. But apparently, you need to bury them to let soil microbes do the work.

Cornstarch foam in display
MONC uses cornstarch foam in the displays.


Cornstarch foam is used in the displays and on the dramatic ceiling. MONC says, "The functional material was originally used as packaging, but now for the first time being incorporated into the store due to its beauty and ethereal nature. It is compostable, recyclable, and will dissolve in water."

Cornstarch foam in ceiling
MONC also used cornstarch foam in the dramatic ceiling.


It is interesting stuff that we developed as a renewable alternative to polystyrene foam. While MONC says it is recyclable, an American manufacturer noted that it is "NOT a recyclable material." It added: "Rather than taking up valuable space in your home, garage, or recyclable containers, we suggest simply rinsing it down the drain, composting it, or using it as a fire starter for grills, fireplaces, or firepits."

The flammability of that ceiling actually worries me. This is not usually used as an architectural product, but according to PakFactory, "cornstarch packaging has low flammability."

Corrugated Hemp
Corrugated Hemp.


Hemp is used in a number of ways, including as a fabric in curtains and also as a solid corrugated panel, which I have not seen before. MONC learned about it from Margent Farm, where it is used in a remarkable building by Practice Architecture.

According to vendor Margent Farm, this is "a hemp fibre based corrugated sheet that can be used for both exterior and interior wall cladding. The sheet is bound with a sugar based resin made entirely from agricultural waste. Our hemp sheets are a natural alternative to corrugated steel, PVC, bitumen and cement. The sheets can be used externally to form a rain screen or internally as ceiling or wall linings or other acoustic treatments. The product is natural and like timber exposed to UV the colour will lighten over time."

It looks fabulous, but it's not cheap. Margent Farm worked with composite developer Cecence—yet another interesting company worth looking into—to produce the panels.

In the MONC store, "The corrugated hemp panel adds playfulness, tactility and contrast to our scheme which is mirrored in the 100% hemp fabric curtain hanging below the main island. When sourcing a doormat we opted for 100% hemp too."

MONC created podia for their frames out of mycelium and hemp.


Finally, we have mycelium—the magical mushroom material. MONC wrote:

"Mycelium is one of the most sustainable and renewable resource you can find in the natural kingdom. By working with mycelium, we are able to create objects of natural beauty that help the environment, rather than harm it. When grown and formed into a solid shape, it becomes the perfect alternative to petroleum based products, especially for non-biodegradable packaging and building materials. People are just beginning to tap into the potential of mycelium in a variety of applications beyond their natural environment, and we can’t wait to see the future of fungi."

MONC worked with Ashley of Natura Design to create podia for their frames out of mycelium and hemp. It noted: "When gently dried, the mycelium becomes inert and we are left with stunning pieces of furniture that look a lot like natural stone. The mycelium hyphae network weaves through the hemp and slowly consumes it which helps bind everything together into a solid form."

Looking through window
A view through the front window.


Strictly speaking, I shouldn't be including mycelium in my "built out of sunshine" category as fungi are not plants, do not have chlorophyll, and do not need sunlight. But as Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy who considered them plants, said, "Plants grow and live; animals grow, live and feel." And as editorial director Melissa Breyer has noted many times, trees and plants grow, live, and feel, so these old definitions are breaking down. Plus, Linnaeus was wrong about lots of things so consider it a writer's license.

Freddie Elborne and Nina Woodcroft
MONC owner Freddie Elborne and designer Nina Woodcroft have grown a store.


Elborne and Woodcroft have done something truly remarkable here: They have not built a store, they have grown it. But they didn't put down permanent roots; they designed it for deconstruction. They have used marvelous materials in innovative and unusual ways. This is not just a store—it is a textbook of sustainable design.

View Article Sources
  1. "Eyewear Brand MONC Is Reinventing the Store Experience." MONC Eyewear (Re)Considered. Press release.

  2. "Mycelium." MONC Eyewear.