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From waste to wear: how Icycle is turning plastic pollution into fashionable eyewear



Jonathan Karl, Co-Founder (BASc in Global Sustainable Development with Business Studies 2020)

Mads Hoefer, Co-Founder (BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics 2020)

Paul Tanu, Co-Founder (BEng Mechanical Engineering 2019)

Aaron Baw, Co-Founder (BSc in Computer Science 2019)

Toby Flynn, Web Developer (BSc in Computer Science 2020)


Icycle is a sustainable venture that produces beautiful pieces of eyewear.

Icycle was born because we (four undergraduates at the time) decided to try and help find a solution to plastic pollution in India. But we didn’t want to go down the basic “sell-something-and-collect-1kg-of-plastic-from-a-beach“-route. We sought to go deeper, go a step further and redefine how sustainable a supply chain can be. Our glasses are not sustainable simply because they are made of recycled plastic. Beyond our environmental impact, each pair helps empower a community of women in Pune, a city in India. In partnership with two local organisations called “SWaCH” and the “Social Seva Initiatives”, we help ensure that the women producing the glasses enjoy a formal work contract, fair pay and adequate work equipment...oh and for each pair one of the ladies helping craft the glasses with a need for prescription eyewear gets a pair with custom lenses for free. But we went yet another step to maximise the sustainability of our product. What about the case for the glasses? And what about the packaging? We made sure that every single part of our product is as sustainable as possible, giving back to communities as much as we can.

If you ask us why we started this, each one of us will give you an answer that sounds like “we saw a problem that we thought could help fix, so we did“. Sustainable products are the future, one way or the other. There is simply no other choice. We take pride in proving that it’s possible to make a profit while maximising your impact and look forward to see many ventures dare to do what we did. But let us take you through the journey of how we decided to tackle plastic pollution and poverty in India, launched a Kickstarter campaign and produced over 1000 glasses. 

While one of us was on a trip through India in 2017, the problem of poverty and plastic pollution became drastically clear very quickly. So, he went to Warwick, met all of us during his first years and together we became a team that put their heads together to find a solution to the problem. You can see who we are and what we studied in the picture below.



We started off as competitors in the national round of the HULT-Prize ($1,000,000 for the winning social enterprise). We didn’t win, but we didn’t really care about that. We kept going, kept writing emails, kept thinking about all those things you can read in books about entrepreneurship and got one step closer to the impact we wanted to generate every day. After reaching initial agreements with our partners in India, two of us got on a flight, travelled to India and met the people we work with today, documented our work and impact, came back, edited footage and pictures and together we successfully raised over £15,000 through our Kickstarter campaign. 



Where do we stand today? In the middle of this pandemic, we are in the middle of our first run of production, producing over 1000 glasses (of which more than half will go (with prescription) to the people that make them). In other words, our hearts are filled with excitement to finally hold our finished product in our hands.

 

Where do we want to go in the future? Icycle is only the start, internally “the Pilot”. In the future, the goal is not to make billions of glasses, but to leverage the supply chain we have built to offer our services to produce everything from shampoo bottles, over zippers, to the case of a Wi-Fi router for companies around the globe. As we said, sustainable products are the inevitable future. Well…someone has to make them. We call that project “ReBlocks”, stay tuned. 

 

We were lucky to be part of the Warwick Innovation and Enterprise network during this exciting process. Not only did we get access to a large network of people we could reach to for help and partnerships, but we even received financial support from the student enterprise fund. If you are thinking of starting something, get in touch with them (or with us, we are happy to help 

 

Before we close with a few words of advice, we want to share something with you that fills us with pride, something that we hope will help motivate you to follow our lead and found a sustainable enterprise yourself. We started Icycle to fix a problem. But we soon realized that we could not achieve that alone. Our proudest accomplishment to date, is the fact that our partners in India opened their arms to us, vesting their trust in us to help them make the world a better place. We are as grateful as we are proud of that.



To end this article, we were asked to give some pieces of advice to you, the reader, the aspiring entrepreneur. There is a lot of guidance out there on countless problems you will face as an entrepreneur. How do you build a company, how do you assemble a team, how do you best market your product? All these questions will enter your mind as an entrepreneur. Here is our advice serving as a guiding principle through this process. First the obvious, start a business you are passionate about. It sounds cheesy (and it is a bit we think) but here is why it is integral to your success: building a business is no quicky, it’s a long and meandering process that will be full of failure and hindrances. Do you think you will keep doing something that fails over and over again if you don’t believe in it? Probably not, right? Second and most importantly, if you found something you believe in, don’t dare to give up on it. Period. Third, assemble a team of great people with great ideas...obvious. 

 

Lastly, a word of encouragement. Being an entrepreneur is many things, but we thought some of the cool ones might look good at the end of this article. So here goes. First, you are building something no one has built before (who doesn’t love that). Second, you will get to know a lot of people through this process, people that think like you, people that dare to try, people that make things happen. In simple words, that is incredibly valuable life experience. Last, little cherry on top, entrepreneurs are sexy. 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/icycle.eyewear/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/icycle.eyewear/

Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/icycleeyewear/icycle-people-powered-eyewear/

Website: http://icycle.xyz/