Putting a circular economy lens over the prescription glasses business

By Andy Kenworthy

Dresden's fresh look at optometry is influenced by circular economy principles.

Dresden’s Australian founders are Bruce Jeffreys and Jason McDermott. They’re both spectacle wearers. They couldn’t see why it was necessary for people to pay such high prices and not know how their glasses were made. So they designed Dresden to be more transparent. The company now has two outlets in Auckland.

The global eyewear industry is dominated by two multi-billion dollar European companies – Essilor-Luxxotica and Safilo. Between them they own or produce under license nearly all of the well-known high street brands of prescription and fashion eyewear. Think Ray-Ban, Oakley, Gucci, Dior et al, as well as retail chains like Sunglass Hut, OPSM, FramesDirect and Clearly.

Dresden’s approach is to undercut the big players with an elegantly designed recyclable alternative that can also be made of recycled material.

The company produces its glasses in western Sydney. It has repurposed a space that used to serve the car manufacturing industry. The glasses are made from Grimalid TR-90 durable recyclable nylon, which Dresden is increasingly sourcing from selected recycled materials. This has so far included things like beer keg lids and even waste Australian bank notes. Each material must be strenuously tested for safety before use. It must be able to take even the most extreme impacts without shattering or endangering the wearer.

Dresden’s simplified, standardised frame creates less waste than more elaborate or one off designs. The company also cuts colour pigment waste by letting machines run on as colour runs out. This creates faded or blended frames that are sold as specials.

Dresden designed out metal hinges. These are often glued in place making the frames difficult to recycle. So the entire Dresden frame is recyclable. This also helped keep the spectacles unusually lightweight, and cut the need for additional metal working machinery in the factory.

In line with a commitment to product stewardship, the company backs its frames with a lifetime warranty. It asks customers to return the broken frames to Dresden for replacement and recycling. It sells parts and accessories to repair and customise. It gives customers extra nylon hinge pins on request. All of this helps keep each frame in use longer.

The packaging is also kept simple – a recyclable high recycled content cardboard case with a wool sleeve. No more spare bulky glasses cases knocking around in a bottom draw.

Matt Martel is Dresden NZ’s general manager. He says: “At its core Dresden is all about making glasses accessible and sustainable. We realise the impact we can make on the environment with recycled materials, interchangeable and replaceable parts, affordable glasses with high-quality lenses, and a lifetime warranty. The Dresden glasses system is a sustainable alternative to the cyclical, disposable, eye wear fashion industry.”

James Griffin leads the Sustainable Business Network’s Circular Economy Accelerator. He says: “Great to see company’s like Dresden adopting circular economy principles. Dresden is a clear demonstration of applied circular economy design. It demonstrates that there’s no need to compromise on appealing design and functionality while exploring more circular modes of production and service.”

You can check out Dresden at Vulcan Lane or 132 Ponsonby Road in Auckland or online at dresden.vision

SBN members can get a 10% off for purchases over $100 discount instore or on the phone, plus a free felt glasses case (worth $15) if you spend over $200. A full optometrist appointment is discounted from $75 to $35 until March 31.

Want to know how to incorporate circular economy thinking into your business? Contact james@sustainable.org.nz or go to circulareconomy.org.nz