Madison Park resident and entrepreneur Nikolai Paloni and business partner Jensen Brehm believe they’ve developed the last pair of sunglasses anyone will ever need — now they need the capital to hit the start button on mass production.
The idea came about after Brehm came back from a year abroad in India, where his sunglasses had broke while on safari. With the desert sun beaming down, going on without sunglasses wasn’t an option, Paloni said.
“He just took a piece of twine and wrapped it around,” he said, later replacing the twine with leather.
After receiving much attention for the armless sunglasses that held on better with an adjustable strap during vigorous outdoor recreation, the duo decided to team up and refine the concept.
“Our goal was an uncompromising pair of sunglasses,” Paloni said, “something that was durable and useful for sports and athletics.”
Ombraz is the product of lots of trial and error, multiple prototypes and local and international assistance.
Leather straps wouldn’t do, because the material reacts poorly when exposed to water. They ended up choosing a poly-cotton material treated with organic cedar bees wax, making them water resistant and less prone to abrasion, Paloni said.
The Ombraz duo received help finding the right frame for their sunglasses from Eyes on Fremont owner Nate Agura, after they came in with a prototype they’d just unsuccessfully run over — their final product can be seen on marketing films surviving a steam roller.
Agura has a few glasses lines of his own, and he connected the Ombraz owners with a manufacturer in China, where all of the manufacturing will take place. The Eyes on Fremont owner said he initially thought the idea was a little “wacky.”
“I think it’s kind of a cool thing now, what they’ve got,” Agura said. “They got the cord to be a pretty functional, cool thing.”
Paloni said it was hard to find manufacturers in the United States willing to work with a startup, especially as they worked through the product development cycle. Brehm and Paloni spent three weeks in China, touring every factory and watching the parts for their sunglasses being made.
While they would like for everything to be produced domestically, Paloni said, down the road Ombraz will likely have all manufacturing sited where the market is strongest, whether that be China, Europe or the United States.
The frames they landed on are a cellulose acetate, and the lenses are a polarized and scratch-resistant poly-carbonate. The German-born Zeiss company, which specializes in camera lenses and optics, was willing to work with them on their sunglasses, Paloni said.
“They kind of were on the hunt for some optics, so I helped them out with some lens info as well,” Agura said. “…There’s a lot more detail that goes into coming up with a finished eyeglass product than a lot of people realize.”
When the team isn’t working in Brehm’s grandmother’s barn-turned-workshop in Clyde Hill, Paloni spends time in Madison Park coffee shops, working on the business on his laptop.
The two-man company launches its crowdfunding campaign on March 24, with what Paloni believes is a realistic starting goal of $25,000. If successful, Paloni said he believes Ombraz could begin shipping product by June.
Focused on sustainability and what they call “tree-commerce,” Ombraz has partnered with nonprofit Eden Reforestation Projects to plant 20 trees for every pair of shades purchased. The trees are planted in Nepal, Indonesia and Madagascar.
Rather than commit a percentage of its profits to a cause, which Paloni said lacks transparency, planting trees felt like a concrete goal, and a benefit people could actually see. Ombra means shade in Italian, Paloni said, and Ombraz is selling shades while planting trees to provide shade, so the name just made sense.
While Ombraz is on its 30-day crowdfunding campaign, Paloni said the company is committing to planting one tree for every social media share, whether that person invests or not.
Ombraz will be pushing out a number of videos showing the durability of the sunglasses, whether stepped on or run over, as well as how they stay strapped in during even the most extreme of sports. For people wanting to test the product before committing to buying a pair or chipping in during the crowdfunding campaign, Ombraz will have a product display up at LumberUnion in Pacific Place, 600 Pine St.
Find out more at Ombraz.com.