SCOTS sunglasses firm Hemp Eyewear has its sights on the luxury market as it moves into high-end spectacles for the first time.
The innovative start-up began trading from its Edinburgh base in 2014 after a kickstarter campaign attracted 150 per cent of required funding.
Founded by designer Sam Whitten, the firm takes raw hemp from Germany and subjects it to around 100 processes to create sustainable, super light sunglasses that are stronger than carbon fibre and feature high quality Carl Zeiss lenses. At just 22g, each handcrafted, recyclable and unisex pair is less than half the weight of a standard wayfarer model.
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Since then, most sales have been to major markets in Brazil and America.
Now the five-person firm is to move into the premium spectacles sector and aims to carve out a share of the market through boutique opticians in the UK and Europe.
The new direction comes as the team prepares to expand its production capacity with new machinery which can slash the time taken to make each bespoke, customisable pair from 12 weeks to just one day.
Whitten told The National: “Now we’re predominately online but we hope to be stocked in high-end eyewear boutiques. London is a huge market, Germany is a huge market.
“Our goal is to create innovative forward-thinking eyewear, with high performance characteristics, at the same time doing everything we can to reduce the impact of plastic pollution and fossil fuel use. We want to ease the burden of plastics on the environment.”
A new £11,000 kickstarter has secured more than half of the funds with a fortnight to go and Whitten says the expansion will see the internationally-focussed brand show more of its roots.
He said: “From the get-go, it felt like an international brand. Promoting as a Scottish business is what we are going to do, with ‘made in Scotland’ on the frames.
“Scotland, historically, has been a forward-thinking country – we pass laws in this country before anyone else, we lead the way in some respects and that is how it has been for 300 years since the Scottish Enlightenment. We are going to play around with that – here is another really innovative product from Scotland that can lead the way.”
However, Whitten says the expansion may be complicated by the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. He said: “Brexit is a farce – why risk the water when you can stay in the boat?
“As a start-up, there are so many challenges. The political landscape changing makes things more difficult. There will be opportunities as well – because of the pound decreasing in value, our export sales increased because folk were getting better value for money.
“But there will also be implications for sales in countries like Germany, where our costs could go up.”
Once combined with an eco-friendly resin, the hemp fibres are treated with a waterproof coating to increase their durability.
There are currently five styles to choose from, though Whitten hopes that the new infrastructure will allow him to step back from the intensive production process and return to his drawing board.
The Glasgow Caledonian University graduate, from Broughton in the Scottish Borders, originally came up with the concept while recovering from a broken leg and says the reality of running a business has prevented him from creating products.
He said: “With the new set-up, I want to be doing more product development and design again. That is the whole reason I started this, to be creative and make new innovative products.”
Any new developments will be created along the same environmentally conscious principles of the core range. The company’s green principles are so strong that every part of its offering, including packaging, is made from the renewable material, which can be grown without pesticides, further reducing the ecological impact.
Crowdfunder backers can order specially produced phone cases and rucksacks, while customers receive their sunglasses in handmade hemp canvases boxes, and even the comp slips sent out to buyers are sent on paper made from the plant.
Whitten said: “Fossil fuel use and climate change is one of the biggest issues in the world right now. We are so dependent on fossil fuel-based products and we need to stop that, because we can.
“We can use materials like ours.”