This Canadian eyewear company is showcasing sustainable fashion as its best.
Taking a waste material and turning it into something useful, while eliminating the need for a new resource, is about as sustainable as it gets. This is precisely what Loch, a new company from southern Ontario, is doing. Loch makes gorgeous wooden sunglasses from reclaimed timber that’s been pulled up from the bottom of the Canadian Great Lakes and their tributaries.
These logs are from trees that began growing about 500 years old or more, the remaining spoils of the logging boom that ravished eastern Canada’s forests throughout the 19th century. At the time, millions of logs were transported along waterways, floated down rivers and over rapids and hauled across lakes by tugboats in giant ‘booms’. They were destined for the shipyards of Europe and sawmills of America. Sometimes these logs sank to the bottom of the lake, where they were preserved in the cold, dark water. Only now, nearly two hundred years later, are they resurfacing.
Loch works with a diving company, licensed by the federal government, to salvage sunken logs. Most come from the Georgian Bay area (part of Lake Huron) and are dated, using dendrochronology, to determine their precise age. The logs are then dried in a microwave kiln and cut into small veneers that are cross-laminated in ten layers for a strong, durable sunglass frame.
When I spoke with Tim Waggoner, co-founder of Loch, he explained why old-growth wood is so desirable. It is unusually strong because, half a millennium ago, these giant trees grew in a more dense, competitive environment, giving them tighter growth rings than modern lumber, which is grown in carefully managed forests with better access to resources. Also, being in a zero-oxygen environment underwater for a prolonged period means that the nanomaterial inside the timber cells has been replaced with water. After drying, the water evaporates, leaving hollowed-out ‘pores’ inside the wood that make it lightweight yet incredibly strong.
The logs themselves are gorgeous, he told me enthusiastically. Loch works with three types of wood – oak, bird’s eye maple, and flame birch. The oak comes in two shades, regular and dark, the latter stained by minerals at the bottom of the lake. He said,
“It’s impossible to find logs of this age now. It’s an incredible material that’s available to us; we’re using what we have, without relying on massive global transportation networks to bring in exotic woods.”
Nor does this method cut down any new trees for a product that, even Waggoner admits, is more about fashion than necessity. When asked about the potential for environmental disruption by hauling these settled logs out of the deep, he points out that the damage would be considerably less than what’s caused by logging today. Having grown up in an Ontario forest, I can attest to the mess created by logging machinery when it moves into an area, and suspect he’s right. A boat with a crane, diver, and air balloons lifting old logs out of the water seem much more gentle.
Loch sunglasses can be ordered online and shipped internationally. The company has just completed a Kickstarter campaign to expand its line to allow for prescriptions that range from -2 to +2. (Loch doesn’t fill prescriptions itself, but the frames are compatible for people to take to their optometrist.)