Outdoor Junkiez is a community based, outdoor company. That goes for the people sharing and renting gear to the likeminded businesses and brands that all share in our vision of building a sustainable outdoor industry.

Enter ZEAL OPTICS. We stumbled across ZEAL during a recent road trip to Fort Collins, Colorado where we found these stylish shades nestled amongst the trendy, boldly colorful, backpacks of the TOPO Designs shop in town.

For me, ZEAL was a new company and while their shades had the look and feel of the best in the biz, they did something that immidiatly made rise above the rest…

They make their shades from f*ckin plants!

They have a couple different variations: from a strong, flexible castor bean resin to these cotton based frames that biodegrade if they fall off your head and into the ocean or trail. Even their lenses are made from natural resins that out perform their petroleum based counterparts.

Being the naturalist outdoorsman that I am, I had to learn more. So we caught up with MIKE LEWIS, ZEAL’s Director of Brand Activation and Digital Strategy, to learn more about ZEAL’s philosophies, sustainability in the outdoor industry and how these shades handle the elements.

OUTDOOR JUNKIEZ (OJz): Why are sunglasses important?
MIKE LEWIS (ML): We travel to experience new places, to see what the world has to offer, and our eyes are our portal to the world. At ZEAL, our goal is to provide amazing visual experience for a lifetime. In addition to unrivaled clarity, color-enhancing lenses and polarized and photochromic technologies, protecting your eyes is our mission at ZEAL. Time spent in the sun and the water can lead to host of eye health issues including cataracts and pterygium, especially amongst surfers and watermen. Our ellume lenses are designed to help you take in the wonders of the world until you’re 112 years old!

OJz: Why make lenses and frames out of natural products?
ML: Our outdoor playgrounds, parks and wonders are our R&D lab and inspiration. At ZEAL, we do everything we can to reduce our impacts on these places and our resources. Additionally, it’s a great way to start conversations on how our fans and customers can vote for the environment with every dollar they spend. Conscientious consumerism is a huge way that we can vote for sustainability every day.

OJz: Are there any sacrifices in quality and performance or limitations in using these materials?
ML: On the contrary! It’s interesting – when most people here that products are made with alternative materials, they assume there will be a trade off – either in price or quality. With our Z-Resin castor bean-based frame material, the frames are not only as durable as traditional, petroleum-based plastics, but much lighter, which is a huge benefit for the outdoor minded. Additionally, our castor-based ellume lenses are clearer, with a higher ABBE rating, than your traditional polycarbonate lens.

OJz: Is sustainability important in the eyewear industry? In the outdoor industry?
ML: It’s important in every industry. The world around is changing so quickly, and unless we make sustainably-minded decisions in every aspect of our lives, our environment, our playgrounds, and every vista and view we treasure will reach a tipping point, from which there is no return.

OJz: Do sunglasses have a lifespan? Do ZEAL sunglasses have a lifespan?
ML: Lenses obviously get scratched, but if you take good care of them and use your case, the lifespan is really up to the user. Additionally, our hardcoat helps protect our lenses from scratches to extend the life. We also work to create timeless designs so people aren’t needing to swap out their glasses based on fashion trends. We want people to buy fewer sunglasses and keep them longer.

The one place they do have a true lifespan though is our M49 line of biodegradable sunglasses including the ACE, Memphis, Fleetwood and Dakota. These frames are made with cotton and wood pulp and will biodegrade in 18 months. Drop these in the ocean or landfill, and they’ll be gone in a year and a half!

OJz: Can you elaborate on the extent of your partnership with Maui Jim?
ML: We were acquired by Maui Jim nearly five years ago and couldn’t ask for a better parent company. Maui Jim is independently owned and backs us 100%, as well as gives us access to their factories, R&D process, waste-free Rx lab and other backend support that helps our small brand have an outsized reach globally.

OJz: What excites you most about ZEAL?
ML: Our focus on our three guiding brand pillars – Passion, Purpose and Adventure. These translate to continually reducing our footprint as much as possible, giving back to the community by helping people experience the outdoors, and enhancing outdoor adventure through unrivaled optics!

OJz: What can we expect in the future from ZEAL? The optics industry?
ML: Look for numerous new styles, materials and initiatives to continue to generate excitement and focus on sustainability and conscientious consumerism.

OJz: What’s your favorite style(s) and how do you use them?
ML: Where to begin!? I’m currently loving the new Capitol with our copper ellume lens. It’s so versatile from beach to brunch and surf to snow. That said, this is like asking me to pick a favorite kid!

OJz: Why is Boulder Colorado home base?
ML: It’s where our roots are and is the perfect place for working with like-minded outdoor enthusiasts. We have an amazing network of partner brands, ambassadors, friends and family here that allow us to put our products through the ringer on a daily basis, right in our backyard. If you’re ever in town, swing by 1230 Spruce and checkout our showroom and headquarters!

OJz: In Hawaii we have live volcanoes and oozing lava fields, will my sunglasses melt if I stare at the lava? Will my eyes?
ML: Your eyes may if you’re not wearing ZEAL, but your shades shouldn’t. Unless you get too close – you’ll probably have bigger problems than your shades melting at that point though…

OJz: In the movie the Revenant, Leo gets mauled by a vicious bear? I noticed ZEAL goes through great lengths to make scratch resistant glasses for an active, outdoor, lifestyle. Like Leo, without proper precautions, bear mauling can be a serious issue in the outdoors? How do ZEAL sunglasses hold up against bear paws?
ML: Let’s just say that if we ever made a full body suit out of our ellume lens material, Leo would be laughing. Plus, he’d love the eco focus. On that note, if you haven’t seen “Before The Flood”, do so….

Mahalo Mike for the words! It’s companies like ZEAL that give promise to the future of the outdoor industry. Companies who choose to look deeper than profits and do something different. While there is an inherent consumer need in the outdoor industry, it is our goal at Outdoor Junkiez to help you guide those choices in way that is sustainable for the industry and environment. ZEAL OPTICS is one of many we are proud to call our partners in this adventure and I hope you enjoy their shades as much as we do.

If you’re interested in partnership opportunities with Outdoor Junkiez please email

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