Since starting the new job, I’ve been spending a lot of time working on corporate social responsibility and sustainability. I always keep an eye out for brands doing things a little different in the independent apparel industry – sustainability and ethics don’t tend to feature too much in the streetwear game.
Luckily I’ve come across a brand who are trying to change that. It’s always good to see companies breaking away and setting the mark – this next interviewee is doing that so everyone else sit up and take notice!
Boise, Idaho’s Proof produce eyewear from sustainable wooden sources and are also starting to produce clothing. Proof currently have four sunglasses, tees and headwear in their collection and are in the process of spreading their ethos worldwide (although we’re still waiting on a UK distributor).
I came across Proof via their head honcho Brooks, chatting on Twitter and then finding a bit more after we started talking via email. Proof’s views on sustainability and giving back to people who need it are extremely commendable, so I sat down with Brooks to find out more…
Who or what is Proof Eyewear? Proof is an eyewear and apparal company – and a movement. We make our shades from sustainably sourced wood. You heard right; real wood! We also donate a portion of our sales to social causes we believe in.
To my knowledge Proof is one of very few eyewear companies solely creating wooden sunglasses – how did this come about? How did Proof’s social endeavours happen, what social causes are you guys linked with? It is kind of a long story so I’ll keep it short. We grew up in the wood business. My family still owns and operates one of the largest millwork manufacturing companies in the U.S. My Grandpa was a sawmiller. He was a hustler as a young dude. He would run product at his mill during the week hop in his truck and drive it down to Customers on the weekend. He started this over 50 years ago so we have sawdust in our veins.
I was trying to come up with a cool wood product that was a little out of the ordinary. I was focusing on bamboo ski poles. I couldn’t get it to work. I tried and tried and couldn’t make it happen. So in the process of finding out about bamboo and all these great properties it has I stumbled onto bamboo reading glasses and thought why not sunglasses. That’s how it all got rolling. Then we started looking at other types of wood. Things got crazy and I brought in my two brothers on board to help me really grow the movement and make things happen.
The social movements that we’re involved in were built into our DNA early on. We didn’t add them into the mix to move more units. We have all worked in non-profit organisations in the past in some pretty tough conditions. One thing that a lot of non-profits lack is cash. So we thought why not give a portion of our profits to some of the non-profits we like.
So, our sunglasses are linked to eye clinics in India that perform sight restoring surgeries on people who can’t afford them. We also work with non-profits that are helping to replant trees in Haiti. Haiti currently has 98% deforestation, causing a ton of problems with topsoil being washed away, landslides, and just a bad environment overall. The last group we are working with currently is a group helping with education on Native American Reservations here in the U.S.
What does or will make your brand stand out and distinguish itself from the rest of the US/ UK streetwear pack? Well wood is pretty unique. Everyone wants to be an individual and do their own thing. Each pair of wood glasses we make are unique because each cut of wood we use is unique. Different colorations, different grain patterns, different patinas, it’s really pretty cool. No two pair are exactly alike.
We try to add new twists on old classics so all of our glasses look modern and brand new but there is somthing that is old school and classic. I think that’ll help give us some staying power.
We do a lot of little things too. We always send a little treat with our shades when they ship out. We have a message laser-engraved on the inside temple of each pair we sell. Little things that people notice that bigger companies don’t do or don’t execute very well.
We are also looking into some really cool streetwear collaborations coming up. With a ton of crazy companies. It is all over the spectrum. We just see good things happening on that front and think it’ll launch us into a ton of different demographics. Because even in the streetwear genre there is so much fragmentation. You’ve got skate, you’ve got hip-hop, you’ve got cut and sew, you’ve got dapper – it is all over the board which makes it great, but there may be one segment that knows nothing about us and one that is loving us. So some of these collabos will be crazy.
Who or what influences you in your work? Wow, tough question. I think our roots in the wood industry influence us for sure. We probably wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t grow up working with wood. Nature in general is an influence. There are things that we’ll see colors patterns etc that spark an idea and we have to do it.
Artists/ musicians to graffiti artist. People in general influence us. One of the reasons why we are dedicatd to helping others is that the world is full of people who are gifted and talented who just haven’t been given their shot. We are hoping that we can give them opportunities they weren’t otherwise afforded. We are driven by those people in a major way.
What’s your take on the UK streetwear scene at the moment, and how does it compare to the scene in the US? It’s really crazy right now. It seems like there are a lot of new upstarts. Anyone can start a streetwear brand with an idea and a silkscreener. There’s some really creative stuff out there that is driviving us to push harder and there is a lot of stuff that is biting off what someone else is doing.
It used to be that there was a formula for streetwear now there seems like there are no rules. You’ve got rappers who were wearing baggy sweats and jeans a few years ago now wearing tailored suits and bowties. I like the fact that there are people bending the typical genres and adding color and style to streetwear. I hope the trend continues. You also see accessories becoming a bigger deal. I like that too. I like people sporting some dope rings, a watch, a wood necklace, wood shades, bowties made from Legos (haha ok maybe that won’t last too long). It’s just cool to see creativity and a mashup of genres.
Where do you see you and Proof being in 5 years time? We hope to have made an impact on the non profits we work with done some real meaningful things there. I think you’ll see us expand into some other products and accessories. We’ll deffinately have a larger offering of shades. More models, more wood types, different wood options. It should be crazy.
We want to grow organically. We don’t want to shove what we are doing down people’s throats. We want to create stylish stuff that people seek out and want. So hopefully we can continue on that vibe.
Where can people expect to catch your work, any UK stockists to watch? Well we just got back from Magic in Las Vegas which is the place to be for fashion and accessories. We had a booth there and the response has been crazy. We have a few things in the works over in the UK and should be making some announcements soon if we can get everything inked. But we’d love to be able to have our product sitting on shelves in the UK as soon as possible. Until then all our friends across the pond will have to hit up the website, because we do ship international.
Top 5 favourite albums? Wow, another tough one.
- Michael Jackson – pick any album after he hit puberty, but probably Thriller
- Notorious B.I.G. – Ready To Die
- Toss up: Nas – Illmatic or most anything by Jay Z
- Toss up, Nirvana – Nevermind or Oasis’ What’s The Story Morning Glory? (Don’t ask us why)
- Outkast – Stankonia – this album changed hip-hop forever and made it not about gangs, drugs and guns but about real life. Big shift so had to throw it in.
Ask us again tomorrow and it’ll change. Probably include some Beastie Boys, Wiz Kalifa, Journey or who knows.
Shoutouts Shoutout to all those people who belived in the movement from the jump. To the customers who were the first to buy our product just based on a story and some pictures. Shout out to the chatrooms and bloggers like FKOF who have helped us gain some clout [thanks man, it’s what we’re here for]! And shoutout to all the new people who are joining the movement now and helping us grow and do our thing while doing some good at the same time. Much appreciated.
FKOF’s successes and longevity is mainly thanks to the constantly increasing number of independent clothing brands that start up and deserve recognition for what they do. Proof is the first (but hopefully not the last) of these brands to do things a little differently; working with sustainable sources to produce their frames whilst sharing their profits with charities and worthy causes. It’s fantastic to see Proof gaining the recognition they deserve for the work they’re doing. More brands should take a leaf from the Proof book and think about doing things like this. For more information on the company; follow Proof on Twitter, find them on Facebook and hit up their website to grab your frames and support these guys.
If you have any thoughts on what Brooks has had to say, or thoughts on anything else you’ve read let us know either via the comments section below or through one of the other forms of contact (email, Twitter and Facebook).