François Van den Abeele uses plastic waste from the ocean to make trendy glasses. He tells us his fascinating story.
François Van den Abeele, a Belgian entrepreneur living in Barcelona
His company Sea2See produces eyewear made from plastic waste from the ocean
If we don’t act, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050.
I am an active person who loves to live close to nature: the mountains, but especially the oceans. I have been living in Barcelona for fourteen years and I like to live near the sea. Because I sail a lot, I have been able to see the magnitude of the plastic waste problem in the oceans with my own eyes. An introduction to The Ocean Cleanup - an initiative that wants to collect plastic debris floating in oceans - and a conference on plastic waste organised in Brussels two years ago set me thinking. By 2050, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish. That "plastic soup" will be our death!
Fashion as a starting point
But what can we do about it? In any case, we must not blame the consumer, who can only adapt his consumption habits if an alternative is available. And that alternative is often lacking. Fashion seemed like an interesting starting point for me, since everyone buys clothes. Moreover, it is the third most polluting industry in the world, after petroleum and gas. Through fashion, we can reach consumers fairly easily. That's why I came up with the idea of sunglasses and optical glasses made from plastic waste from the oceans. Social media focus strongly on the ego nowadays: people want as many 'likes' as possible. With my glasses, I try to respond to the focus on the ego in a positive way: 'I am proud to wear trendy and environmentally friendly glasses'. And what could be more visible than a product you are wearing in the middle of your face?
I try to respond to the focus on the ego in a positive way: 'I am proud to wear trendy and environmentally friendly glasses'.
I already had some experience with (social) entrepreneurship, but not at all with fashion. Nevertheless, I presented my idea and some designs at an optics trade fair in Milan. There I met a producer for the big brands who was interested in my project. A little later, I got on the plane with 20 kg of plastic waste and after two months we had the first prototype. Through crowdfunding, I was able to raise some money to work out a first collection. A distributor of eyewear for opticians in Belgium and the Netherlands loved the story and the product and included it in his assortment. That's what set the ball rolling. Sea2See was born!
Today we have 75 designs - both sunglasses and optical glasses - for men and women in various colours. The Sea2See glasses are sold in 350 stores in Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Greece and Germany, mainly by opticians but also online. The price is between 85 and 115 euros. I hope to sell 25,000 pieces this year. Eyewear for children is also being developed.
Plastic from fishermen
I collect the plastic in about thirty Spanish harbours by working together with the only company that has permission to manage the waste. In the harbours, there are containers where fishermen can dump their plastic waste: both the things they have caught and their own waste, such as nets, cords and bottles. The company sorts the waste, which is then brought to the Italian factory by truck. We collect about 750 to 1000 kg of waste per day, 90 percent of which is usable.
In the harbours, there are containers where fishermen can dump their plastic waste: both the things they have caught and their own waste, such as nets, cords and bottles.
Every year, more than 8 billion kilos of plastic end up in the oceans. Our impact is thus very limited, but we do raise awareness among fishermen who leave a lot of plastic behind in the seas. No less than 27% of the plastic waste on Europe's beaches comes from fishing! Sea2See also offers a perfect example of a truly circular economy. And above all: thanks to our glasses, consumers become ambassadors for the environment!
The list of points of sale is expanding regularly. We will soon be present in the Scandinavian countries and the United States. Besides, we sell glasses on cruise ships and in luxury hotels such as Raffles. More and more of the major brands that share our values - Vionnet, Hunstman and La Mer - want to work with us. For example, La Mer has distributed specifically designed spectacles to thousands of people for free.
But above all, I want to open my own eyewear stores, starting with Belgium and Spain, that must be able to offer an 'experience', a popular concept nowadays. We hope we will be able to open the first Sea2See stores in December.
At the moment I only get my plastic from Spain, but the intention is to extend this to France. In Senegal and Kenya, too, I would like to collect plastic waste and give the coastal communities a boost. I want to pay them for the waste, but I also want to offer them free medical eye care and glasses. And finally, I want to set up a real factory to recycle plastic, first in Spain, later elsewhere. There is an enormous need for this.
Today we have 75 designs - both sunglasses and optical glasses - for men and women in various colours. The Sea2See glasses are sold in 350 stores in Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Greece and Germany...
In 2017, Sea2See won a social entrepreneurship award in Spain, Chivas Venture, which captured the interest of celebrities such as Antonio Banderas and Javier Bardem, among others. All extra encouragements are welcome.
Finally, I am also grateful to Foreign Affairs Minister Reynders. I gave him a pair of glasses at the UN Conference on Oceans in New York in 2017. In his closing speech, he put those glasses on and mentioned Sea2See as an example of how we can tackle the pollution of the oceans!