From shoes to backpacks and everywhere in between, the practice of giving recycled materials new life as outdoor-oriented products is thankfully becoming more widespread by the day. It’s easy to see why: When you spend time enjoying nature, finding ways to protect it and keep it clean emerge front of mind. And when you live in a place as spectacular as Patagonia—a vast region of rugged mountains, creeping glaciers, ancient forests, misty fjords, and Shangri-La-esque hidden valleys that straddles the borders of Chile and Argentina in the Southern Cone of South America—that urge becomes all but impossible to ignore.
Founded in 2012 and meaning “to be nature” in the language of the native Mapuche tribe, Karün is a Chilean Patagonia-based brand that recycles old fishing nets, rope, nylon, old metal, reclaimed or fallen wood, and other salvaged waste into stylish and sustainable eyewear and accessories.
Available in a wide variety of styles and earthy colors, Karün’s impressive selection—163 sunglasses styles and 78 general eyeglasses—embraces many different uses, like scratch-resistant, durable sports glasses for outdoor use, or slim, fashion-forward models intended for casual use. Their collection with National Geographic features adventure-ready sunglasses made from ECONYL regenerated nylon and recycled metals. In the case of their Ocean Collection, frames are made from 100% recycled fishing nets—the first of their kind.
But it’s how the plastics and other waste products are collected that really sets Karün apart. The company works directly with local communities around Chilean Patagonia to source and find the trash that goes into making their eyewear frames. Working with a network of over 200 locals, these “Karün Collectors” collect waste from the beaches and natural areas near their homes and then sell it directly to the company. This exchange both empowers and supports these rural communities, providing additional income for small businesses and families, promoting entrepreneurship, and helping keep the local environment clean.
"We believe that the best way to protect natural ecosystems is to work together with the communities that inhabit these places,” says Founder and CEO Thomas Kimber. “Our Karün Conscious Development Model™ is based on building long-term relationships with rural communities in Patagonia and, from a space of trust, start creating solutions together."
The salvaged waste is then transferred to Karün's recycling partners to be converted into raw material for the frames. The fishing nets and other nylon-based plastics, which make up the bulk of the waste, are sorted, cleaned, and broken down into granules that are then sent to an Italy-based factory that makes the frames. All operational emissions are offset, making Karün a carbon-neutral company, as well as a certified B-Corp.
Currently, the only element of their glasses that isn't fully comprised of repurposed plastics, metal, or reclaimed wood are the lenses. However, they are made from polycarbonate, which is recyclable. Embracing a circular model, Karün offers a discount on future purchases to encourage customers to return their sunglasses when they are no longer wearable, so the materials can be recycled preventing the once-salvaged waste from being reintroduced to the environment.