Acetate vs Plastic in Sunglasses & Eyewear Production

Acetate vs Plastic in Sunglasses & Eyewear Production

So what actually is Cellulose Acetate?

Cellulose Acetate, although sometimes referred to as a 'plastic', is actually a plant-based material.  

Cellulose in particular is the main substance in the walls of plant cells, helping plants to remain stiff and upright.  And Cellulose acetate is a non-petroleum based material that is made from natural cotton and wood fibres, so is therefore able to be produced ethically and sustainably, with a greatly reduced environmental impact.  We are actually working with our materials partners, and our own processes to further reduce our environmental impact and waste production. 

'Acetate' itself is derived from cellulose by initially deconstructing wood pulp into a purified fluffy white cellulose. This is then streamed and formed into sheets.  To manufacture a really good, high-quality product, special qualities of pulps, such as dissolving pulps, are used. 

For acetate that is destined for our premium eyewear, natural-dyes can be added to create beautiful colours and effects. These sheets can then be worked into frames and shapes according to our designs.  One of our favourite acetate compositions to work with is the Havana range - which has around 25,000 different patterns and colours!  

This material was first used for eyewear over a century ago because of the brittleness and other issues with the early plastics of the day. 

Cellulose Acetate also has the widest range for transparency, rich colours, and finishes.  More complex colourations are able to be produced by layering several colours or transparencies in layers and sandwiching them together.  There are endless possibilities for these laminated acetates. This gives us almost unlimited options for designs and new models and innovations.

Cellulose Acetate for eyewear is made by forming layers into large blocks then carefully slicing individual parts, hand polishing and finally assembling them into a frame.

What is the difference between cellulose acetate frames and injection-moulded plastic frames?

You may think that it is out of date, and modern plastics would be better, however today’s acetates are known for being strong, lightweight, and flexible - making it ideal for durable and long-lasting eyewear production.  Sure, manufacturers can use cheap, injection-moulded plastics to create eyewear - but the durability and cheap production costs involved may make for nice margins - but come at a significant price for the Planet.

You'll know this stuff when you see it - a lot of big name brands use this method - citing its lightness and durability as benefits - but only in the same way a plastic bottle is durable...  And we all know how that one goes... 

On the flip-side, Cellulose acetate is hypoallergenic, made from a renewable resource, lightweight, and very strong.  It is made from cutting, forming and polishing the sheets derived from the plant-based extracts.

As the name implies, injection-mould frames are made by injecting a more brittle petroleum-based plastic that is liquified, then injected into an aluminium or stainless steel mould.  Petroleum products are much, much more harmful to the environment, however as mentioned above, cellulose acetate is made from natural, renewable materials.

Injection-moulded frames are generally less expensive to make, but considered to be much lower quality. 

In developed economies, about a third of plastic is used in packaging and about another third in production.  Worldwide, about 50 kg of plastic is produced annually per person, with production doubling every ten years. 

We firmly believe in our choice of materials and our considered and ethical approach to production processes, and we hope you will choose our quality sunglasses and optics.

You'd be surprised at the number of major eyewear manufacturers who use this very cheap, mass-production process, which we believe results in an inferior product, but still charge absolutely premium prices...  Yes, they are the big-names you are thinking of!