Karün, an eyewear brand based in Northern Patagonia, Chile, has the mission of redefining the way people interact with nature. They are using fishing nets, recycled ocean plastic, and fallen trees from Patagonia to make their glasses. Through their purpose-driven and eco-friendly business, Karün is sharing its products and stories with the world with the hope of “inspiring people to look at the world from a different point of view.”
How Thomas Kimber Founded Karün
In the Mapuche language, Karün means “To be nature.” The Mapuche, widely known for their art, sustainable living, and the way they resisted Spanish colonization, is an ancestral indigenous tribe from Chile.
Karün’s founder Thomas Kimber, a college dropout and Chilean entrepreneur, launched the company in 2012 with the hope of inspiring people to reconnect with mother nature. At age 19, Kimber dropped out of college after having a completely different point of view from his economics professor.
Kimber wanted to promote an alternative economic model – one where profits came at the high cost of the environment and people’s livelihood. “I want to dedicate myself to improving the economic model by changing the way businesses work,” he says. Kimber wanted to build a sustainability-related company that would enable people to adopt a different mindset when interacting with nature.
A Wildfire in Patagonia Ignited Kimber’s Activism
Kimber’s activism was fueled by a huge natural catastrophe. In 2011, a large forest fire took place at the Torres del Paine National Park, one of the most beautiful places in the entire Patagonia region, which happened to be near Kimber’s hometown.
Patagonia, which is one of the most precious places on Earth and is shared by both Argentina and Chile, has a gigantic natural value for mother nature. From grasslands to temperate rainforests, desserts, and glacial fjords, the Patagonia region is one of the most richly diverse places on the planet. The wildfires at the Torres del Paine National Park burned more than 17,000 hectares of the park – a true loss for mother nature.
Shortly after the forest fire, Kimber started a relief effort campaign to help fight the devastating fires in Torres del Paine. He used Google Maps to attract donors with the idea of planting a “Virtual Forest.” And, within eight months, Kimber raised $1 million US dollars from 17,000 donors from 52 countries.
Karün’s: A Mission-Driven Business
Another important part of Karün’s purpose is to support the local community in Patagonia, which is a region that is largely dependent upon tourism. “Cleaning ocean plastics becomes a source of income for micro-entrepreneurs in Patagonia,” said Kimber. “By doing so, they can scale their sustainable businesses and create economic opportunities.”
At the moment, Karün is helping fund more than 200 local micro-entrepreneurs in the Patagonia region.
Other than in Chile, Argentina, and the North American market, Karün also operates in the European market. One of the biggest lessons that Kimber learned along the way was the power behind “Opening yourself to collaborate and inviting people that share your vision and believe in your dream” to have more partners join Karün’s journey.
Recently, in 2019, Karün received US$3 million from Blue AB, a Swedish investment firm that supports sustainability-driven innovations and companies, as well as from the Walton Family Foundation, Walmart’s philanthropic arm.
Karün’s Products: It’s More Than Just Sunglasses
Karün currently offers both eyeglasses and sunglasses made with recycled and natural materials – which include recycled ocean plastics, recycled fishing nets, and recycled carbon fiber. Their sunglasses are designed and handmade in Italy with the most advanced technologies. Karün’s mission-driven business is transforming materials people would consider trash and useless into high-end, attractive products.
However, some people have questioned the durability of Karün’s glasses. To prove to stakeholders that their products are not only durable, but also of the highest quality, Karün’s founder Kimber has made a strong commitment to creating products that must last a lifetime.
When building a new business, innovation tends to be the cause of failures. In 2016, after years of development, Karün introduced a material that has never been seen or used before in eyewear. Their frames were being developed with recycled jeans and bio-sin. Although the glasses look beautiful and the idea was innovative, their collection did not pass the company’s quality standards. Rather than discouraging them, the experience made Karün strengthen its commitment to its customers to provide them the best quality product.
Talking about durable sunglasses, we can not forget to mention Karün’s Sailing Collection. The brand came up with a formula that mixed the recycled fishing nets with carbon fiber from an old mast, making their eyewear perfectly resistant even under extreme conditions.
Karün’s newest collaboration involves a partnership with National Geographic. Both brands joined forces to both help fight as well as raise awareness of ocean pollutants around the world.
Karün works with natural and recycled materials provided by local entrepreneurs from Patagonia. By doing so, they are building a circular economic model that allows them to contribute to the protection of over 400,000 hectares of pristine Patagonian nature in Northern Patagonia.
Fishnets or “ghost nets” are one of the oceans’ biggest pollutants. Discarded fishnets account for almost 10% of the plastic pollution in the oceans. Karün takes these disposed of fishnets, cotton, leather, cardboard, wood, and metals and then converts them into eyeglasses and sunglasses.
Karün’s Ocean Collection embodies the first sunglasses ever made with 100% recycled fishnets. Karün has partnered with the B-Corp Bureo and local fishing communities in Chile to create the collection. “These premium recycled frames set new benchmarks for sustainable materials for the eyeglass industry, while leaving a positive impact on our natural environment,” says Kimber.
Not only stylish, but more importantly, Karün’s mission-driven business model represents one that is not only good for the environment, but also good for the local communities. Through its business, Karün is uplifting the diverse ecosystems around them – from micro-entrepreneurs to tourism, local businesses, Patagonia, and mother nature herself.
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