Woodzee founder Luke Winter was a geography major in college, and also studied environmentalism. But instead of going into the modern world of cartography, he instead opened a clothing store in Chico, California. After 11 years of selling clothing, he decided to combine his love of style with an ethical ethos and began designing sunglasses with wooden frames.
“I sold all kinds of things and I have a closet like you wouldn’t believe. But I always loved sunglasses,” Winter told TreeHugger. “You have to really interact with the consumer, because everyone’s face is different. You really have to deliver actual service.”
The company now offers dozens of different styles, from wayfarers to cat eye, which range from $75 to $125. Some of the styles are made from interesting re-purposed materials, like whiskey barrels and skateboards.
In addition to offering lifetime repairs, the company also has a smart recycling program. “If it’s a Woodzee product, I’ll take it back 20 years from now,” said Winter. “If you’re tired of it or it broke--whatever the reason.” Woodzee offers a 40 percent discount on the next pair when customers send their old glasses in for recycling, and the company uses the parts to make make repairs. Winter said they also make “frankenstein” frames that they donate to charity or use in fundraisers. “It’s fun, I really enjoy doing it.”
The packaging is thoughtful and unique. The sunglasses are shipped in a triangular box, which is made with 50 percent recycled paper and printed with non-toxic soy ink. The triangle shape not only stands out, but is easier to ship than other sunglasses cases. “It reduces the amount of materials needed, and it increases the strength as well as it’s easier to package and ship,” said Winter.
The frames themselves are lightweight and comfortable, making them great for long days in the sun. However, there are some tradeoffs when working with wood, as isn't as strong as a metal or plastic frame—so you’ll need to wear these frames with a bit of care.
However, they are more more ecofriendly, and Woodzee participates in a tree-planting program. Winter said the goal was to give back more to the environment then they take to make the sunglasses.
Winter designs the frames and has them manufactured in China, but later this year is planning to launch an all-American-made line. The new collection will be made right in Winter’s hometown of Chico with a stronger new design and certified-sustainable wood.
Wooden sunglasses have gained a lot of popularity in the past few years, but to Winter it’s not a fad. “I’m trying to send a message,” he said. “We can make money. But at the same time we can do good things and help others, and make sure our planet is around for a long time to come.”