Two days into a camel safari in India, someone sat on Jensen Brehm’s sunglasses.
While the common mistake may seem fairly mundane to most, the broken hinges on Brehm’s sunglasses — and how he would fix them — planted a seed for the Kirkland resident’s and business partner Nikolai Paloni’s soon-to-launch crowdfunding campaign for their business, Ombraz Sunglasses.
Although the arms of Brehm’s sunglasses had snapped off, one of the exhibition’s guides had some twine and Brehm knew how to fix them.
“I just took a piece and tied it around the broken hinges and wore it essentially like that for the remainder of the trip,” Brehm said. “And we were, like, racing camels and sprinting down the dunes and doing all this stuff and they kept on staying on and they were comfortable.”
Brehm, a 2009 Bellevue High School graduate, got the idea to fix the sunglasses from his brother who encountered a similar experience in Mexico. For that reason, Brehm’s brother has some equity in Ombraz Sunglasses, he noted.
Upon returning to New Delhi, India, where he and his family lived for a year in 2012 during his father’s employment in India, Brehm upgraded to a leather cord and wore his sunglasses like that for years before Paloni, a friend from college, pushed him to start a company around the unique product.
With Paloni’s background as a former buyer for Amazon and Brehm’s college degree in environmental business, the two worked well together. They started to get serious about Ombraz — the name is derived from “ombra,” the Italian word for shadow — in October 2016.
Since then, the Brehm, 26, and Paloni, 27, have set up shop in the second story of a barn in Clyde Hill. They’ve gone through 25-30 cord samples, countless designs, and have even written and submitted their own patent, which is pending review.
“We read hundreds of patents and wrote our own patents because we went to a law firm downtown and they quoted us $25,000-$30,000 to get a patent and we’re working in the second floor of a barn,” Paloni said. “We don’t have that kind of money, so we just said we’ll write it ourselves.”
That do-it-yourself mentality is the same approach the pair has taken to carefully crafting not only their product, but their business and its long-term goals.
Although the founders of Ombraz would love for their product to be stocked on every shelf and shading every set of eyes, their real passion lies within their company’s mission, which is to help with reforestation efforts by planting 20 trees in Nepal, Indonesia and Madagascar for every pair of sunglasses sold.
“I’ve always wanted to be part of something that’s going to have a positive effect when I leave the Earth and this is a good way to be creative and come up with something that people are going to like and enjoy and utilize,” Brehm said. “But then also, we’re a carbon negative company.”
Called the Ombraz Shade Project, Brehm explained that with each purchase of Ombraz Sunglasses, and the planting of 20 trees through their partners with nonprofit Eden Reforestation Projects, the company will be removing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it takes to create and deliver the sunglasses to consumer’s doors.
“Morally, I couldn’t just produce this overseas, out of plastic and ship it all over the world and feel good about making money and doing that,” Brehm said.
Paloni said trees made the most sense when they were looking for an environmental project to support because of the impact they have on ecosystems.
Brehm said trees retain the top soil, which can prevent runoff from going into rivers in Madagascar, which can impact coral reefs’ abilities to photosynthesize. Native fruit trees also provide sustenance.
“When we talk about the long-term, it’s not like, ‘I can’t wait to sell millions of pairs of Ombraz.’ It’s like, ‘I can’t wait to plant a billion trees or millions and millions of trees,’ and that’s how we’re thinking about it,” Paloni said. “Our long-term goal is to see the positive change Ombraz is having in the natural world.”
During Ombraz’s upcoming crowdfunding campaign, likely to begin sometime in early March, the duo promises to plant a tree each time their campaign is shared on Facebook or posted about on Instagram in addition to the 2,000 pairs of sunglasses (40,000 trees) they hope to sell in the mere 30 days the crowdfunding campaign will run on Indiegogo.com.
The sunglasses’ frames are made from premium acetate and the cord is a hand-crafted, poly-cotton blend that’s organically waxed and will be sold for around $60. For those who want to upgrade to a premium lens through Carl Ziess, a lens company based in Italy, it’s another $40-$50.
Ombraz has been approached by many big companies who want the product in their stores. However, Brehm and Paloni can’t yet disclose which companies. They do say, however, staying local to the Pacific Northwest is important to them.
In fact, during their research, they discovered the Seattle-area was one of the best sunglasses markets in the country.
“It’s counter-intuitive but if you think about it, if you live in Southern California, where the sun shines every day, your glasses are kind of tied to you,” Paloni said. “That’s part of your daily uniform. You get up and you’re not leaving the house without your glasses. But here, you use your glasses for four months out of the year, put them away for eight months and then you never find them again or when you’re using them, you’re on the lake and you’re losing your sunglasses there.”
So, Seattle, per capita is one of the best sunglasses markets in the country, Paloni added.
The demographic of “weekend warriors” who are hiking or backpacking the Cascades in the Pacific Northwest, rock climbing, rafting in the summer or biking year-round, also fits their target audience.
Although Brehm points out anyone — from the busy college student to the 70-year-old busybody — can appreciate their product.