This Female-Founded, Sustainable Sunglass Brand Reminds Us That We’re All Just Human
Stacey Gorlick co-founded Just Human with her husband, Craig Gonsenhauser. They saw an opportunity to create a new model for responsibly made products, so they started with sunglasses. Noticing that sunglasses are not created equally—fashion sunglasses can cost an entire paycheck and sports sunglasses are designed for performance but can be pretty terrible looking—they set out to create sunglasses that are functional, fashionable, and made from sustainable materials. Additionally, Just Human gives back 1% of profits to Pure Earth, a nonprofit dedicated to cleaning up the planet to make it safer and healthier for all humans. We talked with Stacey about launching her business, sustainability, and the meaning behind the name “Just Human.”
At Cora, our goal from the start has been to reimagine and design products that are better for women and for the planet. I was so excited to learn about Just Human because your goal is similar but with sunglasses. Can you tell us more about the sustainability practice involved in your design and production?
One of our goals is to mainstream sustainable luxury. We wanted to introduce people to a more responsibly made product, but also a product that people would really want. Luxury design and quality natural materials were equally important to us.
We started with four design principles that guided our approach to creating our product:
- Chic Circularity – Iconic style and responsible materials, we are focused on the entire system from design and materials to manufacturing and packaging.
- Faces Not Gender – Unisex and universal, engineered to fit and function on all face shapes. We want as few designs as possible to be adopted by as many humans as possible.
- Functional Design – We researched sports lens technology to design function back into a fashion accessory and develop a better lens for every day.
- Made for Forever – One of the most environmentally responsible things we can do is make sunglasses that endure for a lifetime, not a season.
These design philosophies inspired our holistic approach to using responsible materials, manufacturing and packaging. The sunglass industry has favored cheaper, synthetic materials overlooking more natural and responsible materials. We knew we could do better. All our frames are made from FSC certified softwood trees that are sustainably harvested. Our glass lenses are made from sand and minerals instead of petroleum-based plastic. We also recycle all our lens off-cuts to make new lenses. Our sunglass case is made using pineapple leaf fibers and recycled plastic water bottles. We upcycle 2.5 plastic water bottles to manufacture our cleaning cloth and remove plastic from the waste stream. Our packaging is thoughtful by eliminating single-use plastic and using a low waste and minimal design inspired by Japanese origami. We use 100% post-consumer cardboard, eco-friendly inks and compostable tape made from wood pulp.
Image courtesy of Just Human
I also love that all the sunglasses are unisex. Did you explore men’s and women’s sunglasses or did you know this was important to you from the start?
When we started to design our sunglasses, we wanted to look at the whole system from a sustainable point of view. One of the questions we asked was, why do we need to have men’s and women’s sunglasses? Sunglasses can be universal and unisex, so we never ended up exploring men’s and women’s sunglass styles. We approached the design process by creating iconic styles that we felt would work for both and eliminate wasteful SKUs.
You co-founded Just Human with your husband. How has working together affected your relationship?
It’s helped us to grow together in a good way but it’s definitely not without its challenges. We have been together for 15 years so that gave us a strong foundation to work together. We each have our strengths and weaknesses. What’s nice is, Craig is more of a creative big picture thinker whereas I tend to be more focused on the details. Working together has definitely created a deeper level of trust between us. In the past, we were both independent individuals that did not rely on the other to make a living. Having left our jobs and deciding to risk our savings to work on this business required a great amount of trust in one another and ourselves.
You mentioned that the name “Just Human”—and the essence behind it—is very resonant with many of our experiences of womanhood and the duality of wanting to be the best possible mothers, wives, sisters, etc., while also having limits and insecurities and only so many hours in a day. Can you talk a bit about the message you’re hoping to send to women with the brand?
The name Just Human has a dual meaning, it’s about being imperfect, at the same time being a force for good. I think a lot of us can connect to the pressures of being the perfect mothers, wives, sisters, etc. It’s an imperfect journey learning how to balance all the things we juggle as women, nonetheless be perfect at all of them. Nothing is perfect, nor will it ever be. I am hoping to send the message of self-love and acceptance to women with the Just Human brand. The more we take care and nurture ourselves the more we can give to others.
With social media, it feels so easy to judge others, and more often, judge ourselves—for not being on the amazing vacation, at the gym for the fourth night in a row, in the latest designer outfit, etc. What can we do to better remember that we’re all just human?
I love this question because I have personally dealt with this in my life. After noticing that social media was not serving my mental health, I decided to take a 2-year break to allow myself to focus on me, not everyone else.
I think the way we recognize we’re just human is by being more engaged in our everyday experiences and by connecting with real people in our lives. By having everyday conversations with family, friends, and colleagues we understand that in reality, everyone has their own set of highs and lows, that nobody is perfect. I also think it’s important to find the time to disconnect and feel grateful for what we already have rather than wanting what others have.
We hope that by celebrating imperfection we can help others realize that what makes them imperfect is the same thing that makes them unique and endlessly interesting. We hope by that by using social media and other outlets to spread that message rather than the message of perfection, we will engage real people who feel the same way.