Francois van den Abeele, the genius that’s turning plastic waste into fashionable glasses
Every minute, one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into the ocean. This is polluting our waters and has critical effects not only for animal but also human health. However, Belgian entrepreneur Francois van den Abeele has found a fashionable solution. Using plastic waste that fishermen around the Spanish ports bring up, Sea2see separates the plastic and recycles it to make glasses. A few months ago, Francois’ friends told him he was crazy and that the idea would never work. Less than a year later, Sea2see eyewear is already being sold in optic stores across Belgium, The Netherlands, Spain and Italy and plans for further expansion are on their way. Here to speak about the eyeglass brand that’s saving our oceans in style, is the founder and CEO himself, Francois van den Abeele.
How did you get the idea of converting plastic waste into sunglasses?
First, it was my passion for the ocean that got me involved. I live in Barcelona and spend a lot of time by the sea. I see what’s happening out there in the water and the amount of raw materials that are being disposed improperly. Secondly, I have been involved with social impact jobs before. I thought, if I could find something that people could wear and that they’re proud of with a strong underlying message, I could bring about change. I believe, that if you want to bring about real change, you need to get the masses involved. One designer who makes an Oscar dress from sustainable fabric barely makes an impact. There is an evident amount of greenwashing in the fashion industry and considering it is the second most contaminating industry, there is very little being done. However, our glasses are 100% made from recycled trash. Sea2see actually makes an impact.
Why did you choose glasses as your final product, not another item?
I wanted to do something simple, something people could easily buy and that wasn’t too tricky to produce. I started Sea2see with almost no money and that’s why we started a Kickstarter campaign, which helped us raise the initial funding. I also wanted to create a product that people could proudly wear and would easily be seen. And what’s more visible than a product that sits right in the centre of your face!
You have a background in filmmaking and then started up this glasses brand. Did you have a background in creating a fashion brand before?
I had absolutely no idea idea about fashion! I had never produced glasses or anything before. I went to a fair in Paris and pitched my product to different producers.They liked it and two weeks later, I went back with 20 kilograms of plastic and decided to give it a shot. So the producers tried, and after two months, we had our first prototype. As we had no funding, we started a kickstarter campaign which allowed us to produce a small first collection. This collection was seen by a distributor in The Netherlands and Belgium and they loved the story and product, and so we started selling in optical stores. Although we only launched last year, we are already selling in Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy and Spain and currently in the process of expanding to the UK.
What has been the most difficult journey of Sea2see so far?
Starting Sea2see was a huge bet. Some people thought I was crazy! They said it was impossible. The toughest part was producing a product in a world where there is so much competition. So here we come, this small company, that’s trying to get noticed and be different. Of course, you also face the challenge of being copied. So we’re trying to move fast and to get our product out there as quickly as we can.
Recently, the deputy prime minister of Belgium wore your glasses! How did this happen?
I was invited to the Oceans Conference in June. To cut the story short, I was at a conference and he was there too. At the end of the conference, I was introduced to him and while I was telling him about Sea2see, he seemed quite disinterested and was rummaging through his papers as I was speaking. He then got out his speech for the next day and showed me the section which discussed startups that help get rid of waste, and it mentioned Sea2see! It was very exciting. Then next day as he was giving his speech he put on the Sea2see glasses. It was very fun as you had all these serious politicians inside this huge conference room, and there was Didier Reynders wearing our sunglasses.
What advice would you give to people who want to start their own brand?
There are over 7 billion people on the planet, and people will have ideas similar to yours. But you have to keep trying, no guts... no glory. Keep on dreaming, believe in your self and work hard.
The press helped us as well. Sustainability within fashion is such an important and hot issue right now, and the fact that we are trying to save this through an innovative means gets us a lot of traction. Plus, our product is appealing to consumers as well as it gives them an easy way participate in the sustainability movement by buying a fashionable product.
Are you looking to expand into other areas of fashion beyond sunglasses?
At the moment we are focusing on glasses, but will definitely be expanding into other accessories as well.