The Regent's alumnus using fashion to enable action against ocean pollution

On Thursday, Francois van den Abeele, former BA International Business student, came back to Regent’s to inspire to final year undergraduate students on what their next steps might be, 23 years after his own graduation.

In 2016, Francois launched Sea2See – an eyewear company which designs and produces optical frames and sunglasses entirely made with recycled marine plastic waste collected in collaboration with thousands of fishermen in Spanish ports. 

With more than 175 containers in 30 ports throughout Spain, Sea2See’s trucks collect on average one tonne of waste per day, which is transferred to a waste selection plant. Here, the different parts of plastic are manually separated, before being recycled into a reusable raw material which is sent to Italy to produce the glasses.

Francois stunned his audience with some particularly devastating statistics on the state of the world’s oceans: 

  • By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish
  • One in four of the fish humans eat contains plastic
  • 800,000 tonnes of fishing gear is discarded annually, which is equivalent to 90,000 double decker buses
  • Ghost nets are the deadliest ocean trash, causing one death every five minutes to marine life

“Every year, between eight and ten million tonnes of plastic ends up in the ocean. That’s 256 kilograms per second," said van den Abeele.

“The sad thing is that everything that ends up in the ocean comes from earth; from rivers – from us. Every type of different plastic that has been created, stays.

“Three years ago, I thought – I need to do something. I’m going to do something positive, something with a meaning. Something which has an impact.

“I’m a surfer, I live in Barcelona and I see what’s happening. I spend a lot of time in the water and going to conferences on ocean plastic. I was not a recycler, I wasn’t in waste management and I didn’t know a lot about it, but I knew that there was a lot of plastic out there. So I called the local authorities and I teamed up with a waste management company, and formed an agreement with the ports and the fishing authorities and we started placing containers in the ports. 

Sea2See and Paul Ryan
Sea2See's Francois van den Abeele and Dean of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences, Paul Ryan

“We started with one container in three ports, and today we have 175 containers in 30 ports, and we’ve started importing waste from other ports in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.”

Francois wanted to create a product that would raise awareness, and in doing so was able to be mass produced at a reasonable price. He wanted it to be something people need and would wear, and that can be seen and have a visual impact. Thus, Sea2See was born.

With a Hollywood following including Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, Sea2See’s frames are now available in over 1000 optical stores, and will launch in the US and Canada in the coming weeks.

According to Francois, the consumer is changing. “Three years ago and even before that, plastic was seen as a waste. Today people see plastic as a threat. 

“It’s in the press all the time. Plastic production is increasing by 15 per cent year on year. 

“Consumers want to feel part of the story. They want an emotional connection. If you drive an electric car, it’s not because it’s a Tesla or BMW, it’s because it’s electric. 

“We want to know what we eat, where or clothes come from; how they’re made. Consumers think differently, and do care more ever than before about the planet.”

“Less than one per cent of what we wear is being recycled. That’s why I think fashion is a great tool to communicate and to make people understand that things can be done differently. Like these glasses.”

Francois finished his presentation by inspiring the students to consider that whatever direction their next steps might take them in, to ensure it's having a positive impact on the world.

Sea2See's Francois and Regent's students
Sea2See's Francois and Regent's students

“Most of us have to work, but doing something that has a positive outcome makes you feel great. It’s a selfish comment but it makes you sleep less because you work harder, but sleep better. 

“If I can give any advice; do what you love and love what you do. If you can have an impact, even better.

“To conclude, I always say that sustainable glasses will not change the world, but the people that wear them will.”