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How this sustainability entrepreneur is fashioning sea change with ocean plastics

PUBLISHED: 09:55 25 February 2020 | UPDATED: 09:30 26 February 2020

UEA student, George Bailey, 19, of Coral Eyewear, with three of his recycled fishing nets glasses frames. The pale frames are how the frames look before they are coated with a gloss or matt finish. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

UEA student, George Bailey, 19, of Coral Eyewear, with three of his recycled fishing nets glasses frames. The pale frames are how the frames look before they are coated with a gloss or matt finish. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Archant

It takes unique determination to launch a business while studying for a degree. But for Coral Eyewear’s George Bailey, distress over plastic pollution in our oceans was a catalyst for change.

In a bid to end fashion's throwaway culture, UEA student George Bailey, has launched Coral Eyewear, a sustainable range of optical frames and sunglasses that allows customers to recycle their old frames for use in future models. The latest in The Disruptors video series, George - who received a £50k investment from the university's 'Scale It' award last year - explains how he did it.

What was the opportunity you identified that led to the launch of your business?

More than 640,000 tonnes of abandoned commercial fishing gear - including nets, lines, pots and traps - is dumped in the ocean every year. Once discarded, these plastics can continue to harm and kill marine wildlife for years if not decades. These shocking figures marked the beginning of Coral Eyewear.

Coral Eyewear, set up by UEA student George Bailey, repurposes ocean plastics into optical frames and sunglasses      Picture: Coral EyewearCoral Eyewear, set up by UEA student George Bailey, repurposes ocean plastics into optical frames and sunglasses Picture: Coral Eyewear

We produce both spectacles and sunglasses using ECONYL® regenerated nylon, and once our community wishes to dispose of their glasses, the material can be returned to our fantastic partner Aquafil to be regenerated and returned to the production line.

How did you use invention and innovation to disrupt the market?

We know that consumers are looking to purchase sustainably, while still looking for quality and performance. Our frames are made from ECONYLⓇ, a nylon made from global landfill and ocean waste, which utilises polluting materials and reduces the overall environmental impact compared to an industry-standard nylon.

Our designs are timeless, commercial styles with subtle quirks such as a classic keyhole bridge section to avoid our frames becoming the victim of fast fashion - a problem we are trying to address.

What were the challenges you faced along the way and how did you learn from them?

At the beginning of the process, we assumed that finding a suitable sustainable material would be one of the main challenges. However, the main challenge was finding a factory that could adapt to a new method of working.

We were delighted to find a family-run business in Italy that was willing to invest in the research and development needed to make using waste nylon a feasible option.

What's been your proudest moment so far?

At the end of January, we launched the collection at the UK's largest optical trade show. To hear positive feedback and make deals with practices all over the country was a really proud moment. The entire team is really excited by the prospect of seeing our eco-friendly frames in opticians around the UK.

What would you do differently if you were starting again?

I'd find a way to grow the team early on. Running a company while studying for my degree can be challenging, so expanding the team has been a really exciting step for Coral Eyewear.

What advice would you give someone launching a disruptive startup?

Focus on something that you really believe in. When things get tough you can always look to the main driving force behind the company - for us that's sustainability.

What are your plans for the future?

We plan to take Coral Eyewear to opticians all over the UK in the coming year and we've already had distributors approaching us to help facilitate this. Choosing partners who share our ethos and desire to reduce the environmental impact of the optical industry is crucial.

www.coraleyewear.com

The Disruptors is a video series highlighting the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridge businesses shaking up their respective industries. Read more and follow the series here.


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