Author - Alli Rossi
Growing up in an Optical family, I have so many great memories of running around my Dads' Eyeglass shops. We would spend hours posing in his storefront, acting like mannequins. From what I remember we made some awesome playscapes in those front window displays. Porsche Carreras, tennis rackets, and sweatbands were big themes back then.
But when my daughter was crawling all over my showcases, for some reason it wasn't as fun...for me. Anyways, I guess I forgot that my Mom took me home, and left my Dad to run the shops. So even though slangin Eyeglasses was my middle name, I found the Mama/Optician juggling act hard. I needed to be 100% focused at work. Time for preschool, play-based of course.
One day I remember my daughter's teacher sending me a text. It was a pic of my daughter doing a wheelie on the tricycle. Just like her Dad, already ripping it up, I thought. But that night I began to think more, and more and deeper, as us Moms do. About my day and all of the things that went down began to haunt me. I wanted to be there watching Maya do her wheelies, not getting a text picture of it! I was missing key moments in life. And that was it. Soon enough we had decided it was time to leave the US and go move to the jungle/beach life of tropical San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. I felt like it was time for a change, and luckily so did my family. So after over 25 years in the Optical Industry selling Eyewear, I decided to close my shop and go be a Mom, so we could be closer as a family and to nature.
But they didn't have any High Fashion Eyewear shops selling any of the brands and styles I wanted to see on people's faces. No, Anne Et Valentin, Blake Kuwahara, no Tiptons or even the good Vintage Raybans, you know the ones...The ones that were made when Raybans still were made well, the ones made in Italy. Nope, none, not one.
I felt lost, but at least I was lost in Paradise. Then I stumbled upon Bambuddha, designing bamboo polarized sunglass. Proof Eyewear also caught my eye. Yay, this finally gives me hope, new Sustainable Eyewear brands that have my heart thumping again.
Optical styling is an Art for sure, it's a way of creating a look, an impression, a feeling. Besides the unmeasurable benefit of clear sight, of course. Seeing well adds to your feeling of safety, and sense of ease, ultimately improving your quality of comfort in life. Both seeing well and looking great matter to us all. In fact, from my experience in Optics, I learned quality does make a difference.
There is a matter of necessity, but you can always find the right frame for the right face if you are a good optician. For me, I'm all about fashion. Growing up, it was so nerdy having a Dad owning Eyeglass shops. No one wanted to wear glasses. Then in the late 80's something began to change. Suddenly Eyewear became cool. People were lining up asking us to make their fake Rx non-prescription glasses. I was so happy, finally, mainstream society had accepted glasses as cool. Brands like Christian Dior and Giorgio Armani were leading the pack, then Emmanuel Khan and Cazals rocked the scene. I was hooked.
So naturally, my love for the Eyewear business, meshed with the influence of my hippie, guru following, vegetarian mother, sparked the next natural progression, I began to question...and question, everything.
What is it that I am devoting my life to? What was I really doing there selling Eyeglasses all those years? The time and space that the Pandemic has given me, so graciously allowed me to bust out my magnifying glass on everything in my life. And everyone else's as well. And when I broke it down, past helping my clients to look, see and feel better, even past their often gained Superhero Personas. Selling a piece of plastic or some kind of metal/plastic combination was not good for our planet's health. Oh the moral dilemma!
Plastic Eyeglass frames, typically petroleum-based, contain many toxic chemicals including BPA, Nickel, DMF, Lead ( Pb), Cadmium(Cd), Phthalates, and the list goes on. Exposure to these chemicals can lead to so many horrible illnesses including brain/neurological problems, prostate issues, asthma, and even breast and other forms of cancer.
This isn't even scratching the surface of my issue with metals used in Eyewear fabrication being Non-Conflict Free. Top bling and fashion designers pride themselves on using Gold and Diamonds on Eyewear too. Sad to say these are not gained humanely and often include health and human rights violations.
One great optical memory I have of my Italian Jewish Mafioso Optician Dad Doug, was when he gave me a big cardboard box full of old ratty Eyeglasses. They were all broken and knotted together like a Chinese thumb trap. The more I pulled, the harder it got to separate them. He told me to work on breaking each pair. At the time, I loved it, it was so much fun destructing those glasses. Even though I didn't fully understand the reason for this until years later. But learning how to adjust Eyeglass frames that way, the way that the frames held tension, and getting that feel for when they were about to break, would become one of my greatest assets as an Optician.
This led me to appreciate quality, and high fashion Eyewear, like LaEyeworks. Which makes Gai Gherardi one of my biggest influences and heroes. Besides, along with her team designing the most unique and influential Eyewear in Optics since the 1980s, she wears a uniform. Every single day Gai wears the same pattern of outfit, 3/4 sleeve top, 3/4 length pants, just different material patterns. And always paired with amazingly colorful and candy-like buttons and unbelievably perfectly matching shoes. It is beyond legendary, her fashion sense. I believe if you have a chance in your lifetime to be near your idol, you have to go for it. Those were the salad days, working at LaEyeworks.
Besides their iconic style, endless popstar and Artist LGBT/Other support, and world-famous engaging window campaigns, LaEyworks uses materials like the prized high-quality Mazzucchelli acetate. Made in Castiglione Olona Italy, it's a cellulose Acetate that is plant-based up to 68%. Made mostly from cotton. Such companies and designers continue to keep the Eyewear business growing at an expansive rate.
What are Some Eye Glasses Made Of?
Nonetheless, we need to march on! What about the rest of the material that Eyeglasses are made of? Yes, you got it. The other roughly 40% is still made from toxic chemicals and binders. So not good for us at all. This is what brings me to why I am fascinated with a new trend that I am seeing gaining momentum in the Eyewear Industry. Companies fueled by Health Conscious, Environmentally stable intentions, are finally making waves in such a long-time flat sea of optical plastic pollution. I am so happy to see Eyewear frames being fabricated from materials like bamboo, wood, and even salvaged surgical-grade stainless steel.
Recycling and Upcycling are also Sustainable Eyewear concepts on the move. And yes, I do 100% love and support these ideas. Ultimately, I personally still don’t want plastic of any kind on my face. Even if it's recycled from the plastic pollution. Or even a deadstock vintage frame -which kills me to say. I feel this is a cause dear to my heart.
These days I live in the jungle in Nicaragua, and I pride myself on limiting my plastic use and my global footprint. I have learned that we need to do our best to keep toxic materials away from our bodies, and I am so happy to be here riding this wave of hope. It is possible to create devices that we rely on for help, that aren't harming us in the process. Especially during this particularly hard time, Pandemic life, it helps me to slow down and proceed with intention. This has bled into so many aspects of my life. And getting to support Safe, and Sustainable Eyewear is a great pleasure of mine, and I hope to make it contagious.Check out this Blog about other Sustainable Fashion and Companies!