Our team member Ryan Davren is one heck of a guy. He’s the creator of one of the World’s first eyewear collections made entirely of coffee grounds. And they’re made right here in Dundee. He launched his brand FLAT WHITE as part of his University Degree at DJCAD. While working in a bar making a lot of coffee, he was blown away by the quantity of coffee grounds that would be emptied straight into the waste bin with zero being recycled. Ryan being part of the Spex Pistols team means that we’ve managed to secure an exclusive interview with him…well, not exclusive, exclusive. We’re pretty sure he’s done around 10 and even been on national radio – he’s a man in demand. But, he’s promised to answer a couple of never before asked questions, just for us.
How did you source the materials you used? Were they all sourced locally?
Well, there were plenty of cafés all around making coffee and throwing away the coffee grounds – so it was easy to source. I started thinking about what I needed to use with the coffee to turn it into a material. It seemed to make the most sense to keep it completely natural so I decided to head to Vegan shops realising that they use a lot of flaxseed. Flaxseed is a perfect natural binding agent.
When you realised you wanted to do something about coffee ground waste, why did you choose eyewear?
I made a big solid block of material from the coffee grounds and the flax seed but thought ‘I have to do something with it’. I felt like I had to show people, how it could be used. I knew that I didn’t want to make anything boring, that wouldn’t show how the material could be transformed. And I realised, that of all the sustainable products, there isn’t really any sustainable eyewear. There’s eyewear made from recycled plastic but that has to be recycled again and you’re essentially just passing on the blame.
So when you were faced with this block of sustainable material – how did you go about turning it into frames? Did you get some help?
Yeah. Richard at Spex Pistols was a great help.
* crumbs, that’s made things awkward. *
Originally, I made the frame shape from a mould. So I had several different components… a couple of legs, a frame front… But, I didn’t have any way to put them together. Richard has all the tools that you need for frame construction in his workshop at Spex Pistols. In particular, I needed to use an eyewear pinning machine. It basically drives a stainless steel pin into the joint where the leg meets the frame. This is the technique that’s always been used to construct frames. There are other ways to do it but that’s the best way. The traditional way. Richard took the time to show me how to add all of the fixings and finishings including using the glazing machine. So basically all the frame construction happened in the Spex Pistols workshop.
With it being a new sustainable material? How did you learn to work with coffee grounds and what’s it like as a material to work with?
I had to look at the biomaterial science…but I’m not a scientist. I’m a designer. So, I decided to just play with it and spend a lot of time trying different techniques. First I would take the coffee and dry it out. I tested drying it out in the oven, then drying out in the microwave. It’s important to remember that there’s nothing particularly special about the coffee. It’s just a filler material. The binder is the flaxseed. After testing a lot of different methods, I found that the key to the process is to dry it, rehydrate and then dry again really quickly. That’s what sets it.
So are there are only two materials in the frame? Coffee and Flaxseed?
Yeah. Coffee and flaxseed and then at the end of the process, the frame is oiled. Because the material is completely natural we don’t want it to wear away where it’s in contact with the skin. So, we seal it with oil. First, I used beeswax but then realised that it wasn’t vegan. It felt like they should be a vegan product, especially when there’s no reason that they can’t be. So, I changed to avocado oil and pine nut oil.
Style-wise, what designs inspired you?
It took me a lot of time to build the material, almost a whole year. This left me with around two months to actually learn how to make glasses. Which wasn’t a lot of time. So, I took a lot of inspiration from frames that were popular throughout eras. First of all, I went for a classic John Lennon-esque 60s frame. A strong, round but wearable shape. Because I worked in Spex Pistols I learned that there are certain frames that suit everyone. I wanted to make the framework for as many people as possible. I didn’t want the style of these glasses to put people off the product. I didn’t want to make them crazy. Although, I do love wild over the top frames. I then created a classic oversized ‘hide the hangover’ set of sunglasses. Proper early 2000s style. And then I made a more generic ‘suits everyone’ set of classic sunglasses and they’re probably the most popular shape.
How many frames are in your collection?
Three in the original collection but now that I have started again completely on my own. I started with a sketching pad and made up completely new shapes. I have three new designs.
Where do you want to go from here? Will you be making more?
I’m a designer in residence at DJCAD now with a big workshop, which is great. I had to go back to the drawing board…I’ve been working hard to make the business scalable. The current plan is to launch a small numbered collection that will be available for sale via the Flat White website…once it’s finished.
How can people stay up-to-date with your progress?
What can we do with our unloved FLAT WHITE frame?
With them being 100% natural, you can eat them if you want to…I wouldn’t recommend it. They won’t taste good, but you can. There won’t be a reason that the frame can’t be kept forever, they’re made well to last but we know there’s always the next new thing and people just want to change styles. So, we recommend that you pop out the lenses and throw your unloved spex in the soil outside. Coffee’s a great fertiliser - in moderation. Put the spex in with a nice big monstera – the plant will be happy and so will the insects.
Do you know how long they take to breakdown?
They take around 4 months. The frame basically rehydrates again and swells. Turns jelly-like and then completely breaks down.
What would you most like people to remember about Flat White Eyewear?
The idea behind the brand is that it’s sustainable and transparent. Don’t try to hide what’s in the frames. That’s the value in the product – there’s nothing to hide. We want to create discussions about sustainability. The only business that works in the future is a sustainable one.
Now on to the exclusive questions you promised to answer, just for Spex Pistols’ customers –
What’s your favourite European border?
Easy! The Franco/Swiss border.
What’s your favourite movie?
Catch me if you can.
And what’s the most ridiculous coffee order you’ve ever been asked to make?
An iced, skinny, single shot, double vanilla syrup, latte with chocolate on top.