Christian doesn’t have the physique for the job. We would see this flamboyant fifty-year-old, steel blue eyes, silver chains around his neck and wrist, as a hero from the futuristic world of Mad Max. But he works in an industrial zone of Tourcoing. Within the AlterEos workshop, which recruits disabled people, he patiently gives a second life to glasses on behalf of the start-up Les spectacles de Zac. On his work table, a magnifying glass, a variety of screwdrivers and a “micro washing machine”. It takes him twenty minutes to make a frame like new: he removes its lenses, cleans it in an ultrasonic bath, shines it with a cloth, tightens the temples, and, for the metal pairs, changes the pads and the sleeves.
Behind Christian, on shelves, boxes of the brand at the origin of his mission: Zac. The supportive and eco-responsible optician founded by Ophélie Vanbremeersch. In 2017, at just 17 years old, this high school student from Villeneuve-d’Ascq cried out a eureka: “In philosophy class, I looked at my glasses and I wondered what happened to our old pairs.” She discovers that 110 million of them are sleeping in drawers. The week of her baccalaureate, she lost her mother to cancer: “I understood that life was short and that I had to quickly realize what was close to my heart.”
Constituting a link in this virtuous circle is one of Jade’s motivations. In the workshop, the young woman, logistics manager, sorts the donations which flow into the boxes of a thousand collection points, partner opticians or involved companies. Only the “nuggets” are recycled, ie 30% of the total, approximately 1,000 frames per month. The rest goes to training or NGOs. “Thanks to sorting, I provide an activity for people who need it,” she rejoices. Joining Zac opened his eyes: “Before, I owned several pairs of fancy sunglasses. I didn’t realize what was behind this overconsumption. In two years, I changed my vision, I pay attention to clothes I buy or the paper I use.”
Zac, driven by this ethical approach, has found his audience, and fifty partner opticians already distribute his products. His shop attracts rather young customers, who have heard about it through their friends or social networks. For Diane, 25 years old, afro cut and caramel skin, it was on TikTok: “Végé, I don’t fly and I was waiting for a system that reconverts glasses, like for phones!” At the entrance stands the famous urn to deposit them. The “reconditioned” ones occupy the space, leaving only a section of wall for new “eco-designed” products made from wood, plastic or recycled metals. Françoise, a septuagenarian with azure eyes under drawn eyebrows, pushed the door open with her husband to transform an old eyeglass frame into a solar one: “We want to prevent our children and our grandchildren from living on an archipolluted planet, with bottles oxygen!”
Everyone is aware of the need to change our relationship to the world and that Generation Z is on the front line. As such, Zac’s team, made up of twenty-somethings, is emblematic. A cork board in the shop, as if in a students’ paper, brings together the polaroids of the faces of Ophélie, Jade… and Nicolas, manager of the place, who confirms: “We have the same references, that makes it easier to exchange. After work, we go for a drink, play board games… I feel like I’ve joined a big family.” Zac, Ophélie’s big family, the parents with whom she grew up and the “team” she is building.
Recipes for success
- Network of partner opticians The approach has already won over fifty opticians, including very recently Vitamine T for recycling. The start-up is aiming for a thousand opticians by the end of 2024.
- Competitive rates Refurbished frames, priced between €39 and €99, are reimbursed by mutual insurance companies. Ray-Bans usually sold for more than €100 are displayed here at €69.
- French made Manufacturing takes place mainly in Hauts-de-France, such as the glasses made by Novacel in Château-Thierry (Aisne).