The luxury sunglasses brand Just Human is all about duality. On one hand, it describes its approach to sustainability as “ruthlessly responsible.” “We tackle waste as an entire system,” says Craig Gonsenhauser, who debuted the brand with his wife, Stacey Gorlick, last March. “There are many components that go into sunglasses — from frames to lenses to packaging — so we had to be ruthless when approaching production.”
Yet while this ruthlessness drives the brand, it’s also grounded in empathy: Just Human understands sustainability isn’t always easy; it’s a journey. “The word ‘just’ for us, has two meanings: One, it's about being “just,” like we're all imperfect. We're all Just Human,” says Stacey. “But ‘just’ also means being better, doing what's fair and right. So Just Human is that balance of being imperfect but also being a force for good and working to be a better force for good.” Or, as it says on the company’s website, “We believe all humans have the power to do more good than ever before. But we are not perfect.”
Just Human was born from necessity both personal and communal. On the personal level, Craig, who spent a decade selling lens technology to optometrists, was frustrated by a lack of high-performance, high-fashion sunglasses. “I didn't understand why designer sunglasses didn't have the same functionality as sport performance frames.”
On the communal level, Craig was horrified by the amount of plastic and chemical waste in his industry: most lenses are plastic cut from a large blanks that look like hockey pucks, leaving a lot of debris in its wake: “They can't recycle that plastic waste. It's mixed up with all sorts of chemicals and materials, so it ends up in landfills or potentially in the ocean.” At current production rates, the sunglasses industry tosses an estimated 6,000 tons of polluting waste each year, and that number’s projected to grow to 35,000 tons in five years.
Meanwhile, so-called “sustainable” sunglass options weren’t really available, either: “All the sustainable brands were quasi sustainable: They would use a sustainable material, but then they would use plastic lenses, and we just felt like it was half-baked,” says Craig. “We saw an opportunity in the market to create a new generation of sunglasses that were sustainable but also felt luxurious and were performance-based.”
Determined to disrupt the industry and fill a much-needed gap, the couple, who have been together for 15 years, married their personal and professional lives: Craig focused on the manufacturing side, while Stacey, who previously worked in sales, took on that side of things, and together they’ve created hand-made sunglasses that are high-performance, highly attractive, and highly eco-friendly, too.
Craig and Stacey began by looking at their goals holistically and examining ways they could be more responsible from the get-go. Their elegant solutions: Don’t follow trends — Just Human’s classic looks are designed for life, not just a season; Remove gender from the equation — Just Human’s unisex offerings produce less potential waste from leftover stock; Work in small batches — Just Human produces small batches of each style and color.
With their design system in place, the couple then investigated materials and manufacturers, a trial and error process that took two years to perfect but resulted in sustainable solutions they refer to as “chic circularity”: Just Human’s recyclable frames are made from sustainably harvested softwood trees; their BPA-free glass lenses of sand and natural minerals, not plastic; and, keeping with their ruthlessness, Just Human’s packaging is post-consumer; their cleaning cloths are made of upcycled plastic bottles — 2.5 of them, to be precise —, their ink’s 100% eco-friendly, and the protective case is made by Piñatex, which uses pineapple leaves to create a faux leather. And they of course made sure their manufacturing partners in Italy and Japan pay their workers fair wages, offer paid sick leave, and practice impeccable sustainability, too.
This empathetic ideal’s baked into their design, too: while the exterior of Just Human’s hand-crated shades is polished, the insides are left raw: “It’s a nod to the idea that it's better to do something than to do nothing at all. That journey with sustainability — it's not going to be a perfect journey, but you have to start somewhere,” says Craig, while Stacey concurs, “We really wanted to create a modest, humble, and approachable brand and that people really felt connected to.” They’re certainly off to a good start. And they’re putting their money where their mouth is, too: Just Human donates a portion of their proceeds to Pure Earth, a non-profit that clears up toxic waste in developing communities.
Looking forward, Just Human is currently evolving its retail experiences — while primarily available at their website, they’re curating select pop-ups at forward-thinking spaces, such as LA’s Atelier and Repairs; Re:Store in San Francisco, and Toronto’s LeoneNapoli; they also have an installation at 11 Howard, the sustainable hotel in New York — and the duo is working on a second-generation collection. But don’t go looking for trendy, one-season specs. Just Human’s still sticking to its classic-yet-cutting edge aesthetic: “We don’t want to add unnecessary product. We want to build on this very thoughtfully.”