We talked to Jensen Brehm of Ombraz Sunglasses about its carbon-negative, armless sunglasses and COVID-19.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Jensen Brehm: Thanks for asking. First off, I’m the cofounder over at Ombraz Sunglasses. We are trying to look at everything with a silver lining and make the most out of a situation we have very little control over. Everyone I know is healthy, so things are as well as they could be!
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Ombraz Sunglasses.
Jensen Brehm: Sweet, well, I grew up just outside of Seattle, WA, and the outdoors played a massive role in my childhood. I was always outside, running around the forests just behind my childhood home. As I grew up, I witnessed these forests being clearcut all around me to make way for neighborhoods, which spurred a deep passion inside of me for preservation and conservation. Environmental studies became my favorite subject throughout high school. During my first year at college, a green entrepreneurship class kickstarted my yearning of starting a company with a net benefit environmental impact.
So how did Ombraz come to be? 9 years ago, I took a year off from college. I was on a desert camel safari in India when *SNAP, someone sat on my sunglasses and the sidearms broke off. Under a blazing sun, I tied a piece of cord to the broken hinges and wrapped the cord around the back of my head. I couldn’t believe how well it worked! More durable than ever, they were comfortable, and they didn’t slip off my face. I came back to the states and wore the macgyvered sunglasses for 5 more years! Sunglasses had always been something that had frustrated me – I had always hated sunglasses because I always lost and broke them. Many people inquired about the unique design that propelled a business idea, which would lead to the most practical sunglasses in the industry – Ombraz.
I teamed up with a good friend from college, Nikolai, who used to steal my macgyvered pair of sunglasses all the time. When we teamed up, he was an e-commerce wiz at Amazon, and we launched our armless sunglass concept via an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign in March 2018, where we raised $200K in preorders. (I highly recommend checking out our crowdfunding video! 😉
Since day one, we have focused on building a brand with a net-positive environmental impact. We plant 20 mangrove trees for every pair of Ombraz we sell, sequestering 330X more carbon than we emit to produce and deliver each pair and making Ombraz the most carbon-negative product currently on the market!
Within three months of delivering the first pairs to customers, Ombraz won Backpacker Magazine’s 2019 Gear Editors’ Choice Award and garnered incredible feedback from major gear publications like Gear Junkie, Rock & Ice, Climbing Magazine, and Outside Magazine.
How does Ombraz Sunglasses innovate?
Jensen Brehm: We build products that solve a problem and serve a purpose, which are always carbon negative. ALL feedback we get from our customers, we take into consideration. – Always. Listening to your customers is the best way to innovate. Listen to your customers!
We have an incredible team of creatives who specialize in both mechanical design and aesthetics. We innovate with the brand at the forefront of development – creatively and artistically.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Jensen Brehm: We are 95% DTC, which was vital to our survival during this pandemic given how young our company is – we’ve only been around for two years. We’ve had to open up preorders on products we were supposed to launch in the Spring, and we were late on delivery for those preorders given the global supply chain issues. Still, customers understand the supply chain problems during these times and have been receptive and patient with us.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Jensen Brehm: We had to put our entire guerilla marketing, boots on the ground/event schedule on hold for 2020, which was a bummer because we had a very robust event schedule built out. Ombraz are something that once you have them on, you fall in love with them. So, getting them in front of people is always a huge plus. We also had to pull budgets on some fun creative projects we had in the pipeline. But being nimble, quick to make decisions, and frugal are vital during these unprecedented times.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Ombraz Sunglasses in the future?
Jensen Brehm: Exercise is crucial! Nothing resets the brain like a sweat sesh! We look at everything optimistically and try to never make the same mistake twice! We also surround ourselves with an incredible team of mentors who help us make decisive company decisions. Building out a team of mentors is mission-critical to success.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Jensen Brehm: Oh, man, that’s a tough one. We have a patented product, and currently, we’re the only armless sunglass brand in the game. We’ve been knocked off a few times, but we sued them and got them to shut down.
Smith, Kaenon, Costa are all competitors but as long as we focus on being genuine, authentic, and innovative with customer feedback at the top of mind is also mission-critical for us.
Your final thoughts?
Jensen Brehm: Have fun. If you are enjoying life and your work, things remain pleasant, and creative juices flow. Don’t take anything too seriously. We’re all in this together, and variables that are out of our control are worthless the stress over.