Karün: At one with nature

Using recycled fishing nets and reclaimed wood from the beaches and forests of Chilean Patagonia, Karün makes high quality eyewear infused with the wilderness it helps to protect

By Karün
Published 30 May 2019, 17:26 BST
Karün sunglasses
Karün sunglasses combine top-quality ZEISS lenses with designs inspired by the natural world
Photograph by Pia Vergara

The company

This isn’t about fashion, designer brands or wearing the latest trend. It’s about harmony. Using recycled fishing nets and reclaimed wood from the beaches and forests of Chilean Patagonia, Karün makes high quality eyewear infused with the wilderness it helps to protect. But these aren’t just any old shades. In native Mapuche, the indigenous language of Patagonia, Karün means ‘to be nature’. Wearing the company’s sunglasses isn’t a fashion statement, it’s a statement of change. Karün rejects the old ways of thinking. See the world through a different point of view.

The process

Karün employs rural disenfranchised communities in Patagonia to collect fishing nets and other plastic waste from the beaches and fjords of the Cochamó Valley, then turns that plastic into high-quality eyewear. The communities use the money they receive from Karün as seed capital to invest in their own micro-businesses, learning economic skills that will regenerate the region and preserve the land at the same time. Sales from the sunglasses are then fed back into the community, in collaboration with Balloon Latam, helping to expand the programme. 

The people

Karün works with more than 200 entrepreneurs and each one is a friend. Pedro Rubio clears fishing nets from the Reloncaví Estuary and uses the money he makes to support his wife’s new empanada restaurant. Elsa Vera weaves brightly coloured straps for the glasses and helps other women in her village turn their skills into opportunities. Pato Gallardo lives high in the mountains and makes leather-bound cases for Karün. The job means he can stay in the valley where he was born. When you buy a pair of Karün sunglasses, you’re helping to change the lives of the people of Patagonia.

The product

Combining top-quality ZEISS lenses with designs inspired by the natural world, Karün sunglasses are both sustainable and beautiful. The Wood Collection, hand-crafted from reclaimed wood, is stylish, urban and sophisticated. The Sailing Collection, codeveloped and worn by Volvo Ocean Race sailors, is sporty, durable and performance-led. The Seven Seas and Pacific Collections are made entirely from recycled fishing nets to raise awareness of ocean plastic pollution. 

The movement

A new paradigm is emerging — humans living in harmony with the planet. Karün’s not trying to save the world with sunglasses, but it is trying to inspire you to see things differently. If Karün can make something beautiful from something harmful and create opportunities from waste, then perhaps it can change the way people think about other things too: economics, the environment, even ourselves. This isn’t just a product. It’s part of a much larger movement. Wear what you stand for.

Karün employs rural disenfranchised communities to collect fishing nets and other plastic waste
Photograph by Pia Vergara

Q&A with Thomas Kimber

Why did you start the company?
The fashion industry has enormous reach, but also has a disastrous impact on the environment. I wanted to prove it could be done in a more sustainable way, and also use those same channels to send a message about change. 

What inspires you?
The Patagonian wilderness is our teacher. It influences our designs, business model and philosophy.

What are your hopes for the future?
The first step is to work with our 200+ micro-entrepreneurs in the Cochamó Valley to build a resilient community that’s empowered and incentivised to protect one of the most beautiful places in Patagonia. Then we want to try and replicate it in other parts of the world where nature is at risk and rural communities lack opportunities. We want to prove it’s possible to do business this way. 


Email: europe@karunworld.com

Social media: @karunworld

To find out more, visit  karunworld.com




Published in the May 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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