We chat with Isle of Eden founders, Felina Natoli and Nelson Rayner.
After working in the Advertising and Tech industries in London for the better part of a decade, Felina Natoli and Nelson Rayner decided their time would be better spent elsewhere. So, the two dabbled in selling vintage sunglasses and realised that "in Australasia a good pair of sunglasses are about as essential as snow boots in Antarctica." From there, Isle of Eden, a New Zealand-based sustainable sunglass brand, was born.
After working in the Advertising and Tech industries in London for the better part of a decade, Felina Natoli and Nelson Rayner decided their time would be better spent elsewhere. So, the two dabbled in selling vintage sunglasses and realised that “in Australasia a good pair of sunglasses are about as essential as snow boots in Antarctica.” From there, Isle of Eden, a New Zealand-based sustainable sunglass brand, was born.
What made you start Isle of Eden?
There were several motivating factors that culminated in starting Isle of Eden.
First and foremost we’re eyewear lovers and have built pretty solid personal collections over the years. Even before starting the brand, by nature we both sought out interesting styles and designs both old and new. We even dabbled in selling vintage eyewear at one stage!
Secondly, having worked in the Advertising and Tech industries in London for around a decade, we wanted to do something more meaningful (and less wasteful) that utilised our skills, but was more inline with our values. Being from New Zealand we have a unique connection to nature and having travelled extensively, it really highlights how good we have it here. We wanted to be a force for good in preserving and maintaining what we have here for years to come.
Finally, in Australasia a good pair of sunglasses are about as essential as snow boots in Antarctica – but every time we travelled back for the summer holidays we were met with the same mass-produced, overpriced luxury brands. This felt like an injustice.
When we looked into the reasons why, we found that there’s a large monopoly in the eyewear industry. As an island at the end of the earth we’re particularly exposed to price gouging, lack of choice, and generally we’re a bit of an afterthought. We thought we would try to disrupt the industry by democratising high quality, well-designed eyewear, as well as making our things in a better, more sustainable way.
As we were having a baby, moving home was imminent. The stars aligned while on a trip to Milan – which just happened to be on the same date as the eyewear expo which ran in parallel with Fashion Week. We decided to go on a whim and over the next few months put together a business plan, brand and our first collection, which we launched on Kickstarter in 2018.
Do you have a morning routine? If so what is it you do to set yourself up for the day ahead?
We always start the day with a good coffee chatting about the day ahead (while our toddler eats breakfast). Being partners in life and business, as well as running our studio from home, it’s quite important for us to try to set boundaries. We frequently find ourselves discussing things during the day such as whether we send our daughter to kindergarten, or up until 1am talking to one another about the brand strategy. For this reason after breakfast we try to carve out personal time to exercise. As much as we’d like to say we do this this is everyday, this is not always possible- we usually have a backlog of customer messages, production emails from Europe and Asia, or are on on child duties.
What’s the biggest barrier you’ve found to succeeding as a socially conscious business?
As a business with more sustainable practices, we incur many cost’s that our competitors just don’t have. We not only use more environmentally friendly materials that are much more costly, but also offer a trade-in and repair service, as well as working with partner charities. In Covid times prices of materials and freight have increased significantly further squeezing our margins and it’s been very difficult working with our preferred suppliers due to outstripped demand and production / delivery timeframes. All in all though we think it’s totally worth it.
Within the ethical fashion community, there’s a big question that we ask which is ‘who made my clothes?’. In the scope of Isle of Eden, who made your sunglasses? Can you tell us a bit about them?
When we were in Milan visiting our first eyewear expo, we initially began talking to Italian manufactures thinking that Made in Italy equates to better quality, and higher standards. It quickly became apparent that this is not always the case and that as a new, New Zealand brand there was not a huge amount of enthusiasm. We also realised that as we were soon moving home, Europe is literally on the other side of the world. For this reason, we sought out the best boutique Chinese manufacturer from an district renowned for it’s craft in eyewear production, who we still work with today. We also work with European companies who supply our raw materials including acetates and leather, but manufacturing in China has proven much more practical and cost efficient due to proximity to New Zealand and trade-agreements. The plan is to visit our factories and suppliers once the border re-opens in 2021 / 2022!
Why did you pick the materials you have chosen to work with?
The eyewear and fashion industries generates an enormous amount of waste which is hugely impactful to the environment. The industry norm is to produce eyewear from materials that contain oil-based plasticiser or Phthalates which are detrimental to the workers producing it and to the environment.
To minimise our impact, all our frames are made exclusively using bio or recycled materials, both of which are derived from plants and provide a high level of finish.
We’re forever on the hunt for even better, more environmentally friendly materials and always ensure we utilise them as soon as they become available.
Best piece of advice you have ever received?
“Always start with a solid base (foundation)”.
What’s next for you and Isle of Eden?
Near term it’s our ‘21/‘22 releases, mid term it’s getting our optical offering right, long term is international expansion.
One book and/or documentary everyone should read/watch? Why?
Pretty Cliche, but for documentaries, we both loved ‘Exit through the gift Shop’, and ‘The Jinx’. For books ‘1989’.
Are there any other Movers & Shakers out there in your world that you think people should know about?
Our friends at Layplan are pretty awesome. They are producing bold and colourful garments which are made to order. We also think Found Store in Hamilton (one of our stockists) are pretty amazing. They curate a beautiful range of vintage and new garments and objects in their store, amongst other things.