January 25, 2021
Robin Totterman, CEO, INSPECS
Global eyewear designer and manufacturer INSPECS revealed its first eco-friendly range Botaniq this year, created with natural, recyclable and biodegradable materials. The collection aims to reduce its impact on the planet from beginning to end. We caught up with the company’s CEO, Robin Totterman, to learn more about how Botaniq was conceived.
Q: INSPECS has been designing and producing eyewear for over three decades. What sparked the idea to launch a sustainable eyewear range in 2021?
A: This collection was very much in response to a broad consumer demand for sustainable products. Considering the high proportion of people who require glasses, the eyewear industry as a whole has been slow to come to the table with real solutions for reducing waste. Bringing manufacturing into the INSPECS business in 2017 has improved our capability to push the boundaries of what is possible. It has allowed us to use new innovative, sustainable materials in a completely traceable way from our factories in Vietnam and China. And crucially being able to produce at volume means we can supply the largest retailers - they have the power to make the most difference to our planet through their buying choices. The consumer can only buy what is made available to them.
Q: What is Botaniq doing to reduce the impact of its products on the planet and how does that differ from other eco-friendly eyewear brands?
A: Botaniq is different, because we took a 360-degree approach to finding better ways to do things right through the process. Frames are made from natural, recycled and recyclable, biodegradable materials. Packaging can be recycled. Even demo lenses are made from a material that can be recycled, reducing landfill. We wanted to go further, so for every frame purchased we are working with One Tree Planted to plant a tree. And we are recycling used products with Terracycle. Closing the loop in this way means that Botaniq customers can now make a truly sustainable choice, end to end.
\\ Launch campaign - Botaniq Eyewear
Q: The first collection is launching with 16 styles across 48 models in an interesting variety of tones and finishes. How would you define the design philosophy of the range?
A: We call it Live Boldly. Tread Lightly. Wear Brightly. The range is colourful, fashion-forward and rich with interesting textural elements. But at its heart is a thoughtful philosophy to do better – deal with our waste responsibly and provide a simple, sustainable and traceable solution for our customers. The ethos for the collection has certainly been influenced by my own upbringing in Scandinavia, where a natural appreciation for simple, beautiful, eco-friendly design is part of the culture.
Q: Botaniq’s materials are either recycled or come from natural and sustainable sources. How does your choice of material affect the end product? Is there a noticeable difference in how the plant-based glasses feel?
A: We’ve worked hard to make sure the frames feel fine and lightweight (because we’ve noticed that some other ‘eco-friendly’ eyewear can feel heavy). The way we do that is through the pioneering work of our in-house technical experts, working with ultra-fine patented applications of natural wood, cork and bamboo to the core material, bio-based acetate Natura. We’ve paid the same meticulous attention to on-trend colour and styling as with every INSPECS frame collection. But this project has really been a deep dive into learning about what our industry can do to make a frame more sustainable. We’ve got a whole new INSPECS team working behind the scenes to make sure all of the issues are addressed and verified. The end-user will find frames that look great and give the feel-good factor of knowing their purchase is a smarter one for the planet!
Q: What have been the biggest challenges of making the switch to sustainable production from beginning to end for this collection?
A: The important thing with sustainability is to be able to trace every step of the journey and verify every claim. As a plc with our own manufacturing and specialist compliance teams, we have the infrastructure to support this. This project has brought together the expertise across all the companies in the Group to collaborate on some of the challenges our industry has so far struggled to solve. What happens to demo lenses once they have been removed from the frame? Other than put them in the bin, what can end users do with their complete frames once they have finished with them? Our team found solutions to these problems, which gives our optician customers a ready-made ESG solution.
\\ Botaniq Eyewear features recycled or natural and sustainable materials including bio-acetate, wood, bamboo and cork
Q: Sustainability tends to come at a higher cost. How have you managed to keep the collection affordable? How important was it to you that sustainable eyewear could reach the masses?
A: We really applaud every small step the industry takes, but it was so important to us to bring this project at scale, to make a real difference and help the concept of ‘sustainable’ to gather momentum in the eyewear industry. We know that the consumer and the retail buyer will choose sustainable when products are positioned at a price comparable to non-sustainable. We’ve been able to keep the collection affordable, because we own and control the Botaniq brand and its assets, and because we own and control the supply chain.
Q: Although Botaniq was only born earlier this year, do you see it evolving as a role model – inspiring others to adopt a more sustainable mindset?
A: Absolutely – we hope the brand will start some big conversations around the table for manufacturers and retailers. What can we all do better? Are there ways to work better together so that our collective efforts can make a meaningful difference?
Q: How will you continue to innovate in future? Are there any new environment-friendly materials you would like to explore?
A: Innovating is all about not being afraid to try and test new things. We’ve got the team, the factories and a willingness to invest in this process, because it keeps our offer fresh, and we think this is where the future lies. Our Innovations Director is already developing with futuristic materials and techniques, with a clear goal to make less impact on the planet and reduce waste. I hope that this new Botaniq collection will pave the way. We are aiming to launch a fully biodegradable product by 2022, which will fully decompose quickly within a short period of time without leaving any traces of harmful toxins.
Q: What is the long-term mission of the range as it looks to the next five to ten years?
A: We know this industry’s road to sustainability will be a long one, and 2021 will be an important year for INSPECS in sustainability. We just won the Green Product Award for our design work in eyewear. Next on the agenda is a Botaniq sustainable sunglasses collection that will be available to the trade this autumn and a new collection of O’Neill BLUE eyewear with sustainability at its core to support the O’Neill ocean mission. With our newly extended factory in Vietnam up and running, these projects are a springboard for many other sustainable projects in the coming years for our major retailers and brand partners. It is easy to lose sight of crucially important issues affecting the planet when we are in the midst of the all-consuming pandemic, but it is essential for us to transform products and behaviours that are harmful to the planet. Packaging is a crucial element of all consumer goods, and we are offering retailers better options. We must all do our bit to lessen our carbon footprint – it’s as simple as that!