These entrepreneurs are changing the face of sustainable eyewear

Published by Isabelle Bousquette on

These entrepreneurs are changing the face of sustainable eyewear

Tyson Kaminska and Kristopher Kneen are making waves with SBOJi, a line of sustainable sunglasses made from seashells.

“Su bruh.”

That’s how Tyson Kaminska and Kristopher Kneen introduce themselves. Childhood friends with a passion for outdoor sports (and apparently for the word “bruh”), the two are now official business partners. The business venture? Surfer-worthy shades sustainably made from “see-shells.” Kneen and Kaminska are charming and seem to love puns just as much as they love the environment.

Tyson Kaminska and Kristopher Kneen, courtesy of SBOJi

“Environmentalism isn’t just a trend, but it’s a forward progression,” they tell Avant-Youth. Their interest in conservation efforts is a natural follow on from their penchant for outdoor sports. “When you really love the outdoors, climbing, or shredding that becomes the center of everything you want to protect and pass on to others.”

The iconic duo grew up in the resort lake town of Okoboji, Iowa. “People would come from all over the place to boat and party there,” they say. If you’re picturing Channing Tatum in a shirt that says “sun’s out, guns out,” I’m imagining you’re not far off.

Kaminska and Kneen loved Okoboji. “It was awesome,” they reminisce. “One summer we worked together on a dock tying up boats full of babes and filling their boats up with $8 per gallon gasoline.” But it wasn’t all babes and parties. As locals in a tourist town, Kneen and Kaminska witnessed the wasteful side of the tourism industry. They add, “It wasn’t uncommon to see a kook leaving McDonald’s wrappers in the sand.” And it was exactly those kooks who inspired Kneen and Kaminska on their mission. “We realized we had to do something,” they explain. That’s when they started their beach clean-up campaign.

The Keep It Clean Project has been active since 2015. Kaminska describes the clean-ups, saying, “You might be covered in sand and carrying around a bag of trash, but at least you showed some initiative.” And if that’s not doing it for you, then, he adds, “Usually there is coffee, donuts, and good vibes.” I’m guessing that “good vibes” follow these two wherever they go.

Like any true visionaries, Kneen and Kaminska were always thinking about what they could do next. Kaminska says, “The effects of wasted plastic on our environment are beyond evident… Kris and I caught this concept early on and frequently have conversations about creative solutions.” It was during one of these conversations they came up with the idea for SBOJi — sustainable sunglasses that float rather than getting lost at the bottom of the sea.

SBOJi, named for the founders’ hometown, funded its first successful Kickstarter campaign in 2017. The shades are made of 100 percent eco-friendly materials such as African zebra wood and cotton acetate.

What is African zebra wood? Unsurprisingly, Kaminska tells me it’s “an exotic wood native to Western Africa.” “It looks really cool and is very durable,” he adds.

The battle to source completely sustainable materials hasn’t been an easy one. But the SBOJi founders are committed to their cause. Kaminska says, “We’re really proud of the products we’ve been able to offer and stand behind them 100 percent.”

A pair of SBOJi sunglasses I test drove. Isabelle Bousquette | Avant-Youth

Since then, Kneen and Kaminska have been hustling to get their business off the ground. “There are no days off, we don’t sleep, and only drink our lunch.” Is there any respite? Only for the activities that inspired them in the first place. “If you need to go outside, take a hike, go snowboarding, whatever, we encourage that, it’s totally part of the being in the right headspace.”

These days, when the pair aren’t drinking their lunches, they’re focusing on their next line of shades: sunglasses made of real abalone seashells. “We call them our See Shells Series, get it?” he asks. He describes the new shades as “super limited and super beautiful.”

In this case, I’d have to super agree. Apparently so do a number of folks, especially in the music community. Kaminska tells me, “Bass music artists like Shlump, Dirt Monkey, Boogie-T have been really supportive in rocking our sustainable facewear and being a huge part of reaching a major core demographic.” It probably helps that Kneen, who also goes by the Instagram handles, “Bruh Bruh music” and “Boy Basshead,” is dialled in to the music festival scene. But who would the founders most like to see rocking a pair of SBOJis? “Kim Kardashian, preferably riding a segway in the country.”

While they have yet to reach Kim K, there is one famous instagram account supporting the brand: insta-famous golden retriever, Douglas Atticus. Kaminska describes the canine as an “elite team member” that’s been there from the beginning.

“Douglas, now Sir Douglas Atticus came to us a pup hoping to climb the corporate ladder. But, with his lack of thumbs he was only a disservice to the team. After a couple months we realized how good of a sunglass model he would make with that long gold hair and K9 smile. We can’t take credit for his insta fame, but we’re glad he still supports us on the business development side.”

Douglas Atticus rocks some SBOJis, courtesy of SBOJi
What's next for SBOJi?

“We’re really banking on running into the Kardashians on our next segway tour through South Dakota. But, just in case we’re focusing on outreach and making connections with new companies and people who motivate us.” They’ve recently partnered with Kleen Kanteen to create an insulated, reusable water bottle.

The ultimate goal for SBOJi, however, is to spark the important conversations. Kaminska explains that once you’re wearing SBOJi, “People will literally stop you and say, ‘hey, I like your shades.’ Then it’s easy to share a conversation about joining a beach clean-up, or a ‘hey recycling isn’t even in my area what’s up with that?’”

The visionaries are on a true mission to “spread the stoke.” What is stoke? It’s that feeling you get when you’re surfing and you finally catch the perfect wave. It’s passion, ecstasy and motivation all wrapped up into one. The analogy is totally on brand for Kneen and Kaminska, who spend every summer surfing and wakeboarding. But in the business world, the pair aren’t catching any waves at all. They’re making their own.

 

To support the production of SBOJi’s next line of sustainable shades, you can invest in their Kickstarter campaign until November 16th. 

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2 Comments

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Jill Rawlins · November 15, 2019 at 12:30 pm

wow amazing article these guys are so #relatable

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