Sebastiaan De Neubourg from w.r.yuma

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I’m feeling pretty damn grateful to have the founder Sebastiaan of W.R.Yuma take some time out of the crazy kickstarter phase to do an interview with me for the Beyond the Brand segment. As always, my aim with these interviews is to help bridge the gap between why the brand exists and the people behind the brand to the people who buy the product.

I’ve been in love with the company since I came across it when I first began my journey in December last year, and I’m beyond excited that they are finally in their kickstarter phase to launch this product. For those that want the full run down of W.r.yuma you can check it out here. For those that want a quick summary, it goes like this: W.r.yuma has launched the world’s first 3D printed sunglasses made from plastic waste and wants to inspire people to take another look at the waste around them.

The quote “waste isn’t waste until you waste it” cannot be truer when you look at w.r.yuma and their use of recycling plastic bottles, car dashboards, and FRIDGES to make sunglasses. I’m honestly bewildered and obsessed.

I could go on for hours about this epic startup, but instead, I’ll cut it here and let you enjoy the interview. It’s absolutely brilliant.

What made you start w.r.yuma?
Before starting w.r.yuma, I worked as a circular economy consultant for SME’s and startups, helping them build zero waste business models. During these five years I had the opportunity to work with so many motivated entrepreneurs who were experimenting with radically new ways of doing business. I understood that these pioneers were actually shaping the future with their ideas.

It’s these entrepreneurs that inspired me to start my own company, I believe that the economy of future is a circular economy where all materials are recycled indefinitely in a closed loop. It’s our mission to make the circular economy the new cool, and sunglasses are a very good way to start this. We hope that our sunglasses will start a conversation and inspire people to rethink waste.

What is behind the name w.r.yuma?
w.r.yuma is named of the sunniest place on earth (Yuma, Arizona, US). w.r.yuma stands for We Are Yuma; our customers are not end consumers but part of a closed loop system where the materials are eventually returned to us for recycling.

Yuma was the original name of the startup until some grumpy lawyers from Puma (the German sportswear manufacturer) blocked the registration of the name because they figured it resembled Puma too much. We think w.r.yuma explains the philosophy behind the project way better than the original name.

What is something others wouldn't know about the sunglasses industry that you think they should?
The sunglasses industry is actually dominated by a few large players who behave like near monopolies. Almost all of the well-known brands (from Ray-Ban to Oakley, Persol to Chanel) are owned by a few large multinationals and are often produced in the same factories. This means that these players can keep on steadily raising their prices. But this also makes this established industry ready for disruption with small players like us.

What has been the most challenging thing you have uncovered since beginning?
We found that is has been way more difficult to 3D print sunglasses that we initially thought it would be. The technology is still young and we faced a lot of technical challenges before we found the right recipe for the production process. Working with recycled materials is also a challenge because each new batch of recycled plastic is slightly different than the last; so we have to continually adjust our 3D printers to handle the material.

Getting enough sleep is also a challenge, but the ongoing support of the community has kept us motivated time and time again.

Within the ethical fashion community, there's a big question that we ask which is 'who made my clothes?'. In the scope of w.r.yuma, who made your glasses? Can you tell us a bit about them?
We believe that a circular economy (where materials are continuously recycled in a closed loop, which we will be doing with our sunglasses as well) is also a local economy. So we teamed up with a social workplace (called Flexpack) just south of Antwerp where people who would otherwise have difficulty entering the job market work on the assembly of the sunglasses. It’s a great opportunity for them to work with new technology like 3D printing while we increase also the social impact of the project while still keeping production as local as possible.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
The best piece of advice: ‘don’t ask for advice, share your problems’. The best insights and advice that we’ve received since the start of the project came from unexpected encounter with people from totally different backgrounds or professions. By continuously sharing the big or small problems that we were facing with pretty much everybody we spoke to, we often got new insights that we probably wouldn’t have got from speaking to ‘experts’.

One tip you'd give to others who are wanting to start their own business?
One thing we found out is that being resourceful and having the drive to come up with creative solutions is one of the most important aspects of starting a business. And there is only one way to keep your resourcefulness and creativity high: getting enough sleep and take enough to work on your business, not in it.

Where do you envision w.r.yuma in the future?
We want to experiment with as many new concepts as possible and see how we can integrate concepts like open source or regenerative design into the project. Rather than becoming a sunglasses brand we want to create other beautiful products that inspire new ways of thinking about waste.

What or who inspires you to do what you do on a daily basis?
One of our most important sources of inspiration is nature. That might sound romantic, but it’s anything but that. Innovation and sustainability are inherently built into the natural world, it’s the original startup. Designs in nature are, though natural evolution, continuously optimised. All materials are also recycled in a closed loop. Until the industrial revolution the concept of waste did not exist for 3.8 billion years of life on earth. So a world without waste already exists, we just have to look closely at nature and learn how it’s done.

Do you have a morning routine? If so, what is it you do to set yourself up for the day ahead?
First coffee, then everything else. A good soy yoghurt with lots of fruit and granola is next. I try to go for an early run at least three times per week but I find it difficult to keep it up lately with the amount of work on my mind, even though the saying ‘when you feel least like it, you probably need it the most’ is certainly applicable here.

One book everyone should read? Why?
‘Biomimicry; innovation inspired by Nature’ by Janine Benyus. The book gives a great insight into a new and very powerful way of designing better products and organisations by applying nature’s ‘best practices’ curated by natural selection.

& lastly, are any other movers and shakers out there in your world that you think people should know about?
Check out! They are on a mission to make the world’s most sustainable jeans in the world. They will soon launch a collection (harvest) for old jeans and will go for a circular economy model with their new collection.

If you love this brand as much as I do, you can go and help fund their kickstarter and grab yourself a pair of sunnies here. Otherwise, you can follow along on their journey via their socials on Instagram, and Facebook.

Jasmine MayheadComment