Community as a Concept
Sweden’s premiere ski destination, Åre, is well known for world-class skiing and snowboarding, a thriving food and beverage scene and successfully hosting a trio of World Alpine Ski Championships. Less known is how a critical mass of local snowsport talent has also turned Åre into a centre of excellence and innovation in a range of products, from outerwear and base layers to hats, socks, skis, snowboards, and backpacks. A leader among these innovators is Spektrum, whose bio-based goggles and sunglasses may have achieved an unheard-of title: World’s Most Sustainable Eyewear.
Launched in 2013, Spektrum co-founders included big-mountain freeski legend Robert Olsson, pro snowboarder Andreas Nilemo, Olympian mogul skier Henrik Köhler, and celebrated snowboard photographer Anders Neuman. “I had worked in clothing design and was talking with Köhler about designing some kind of new product,” recalls Olsson. “We quickly decided against clothing and to focus on accessories that wouldn’t require a lot of sizes or stock-keeping. We thought ski poles needed some revival, but since we also wanted to include snowboarders, eyewear and goggles seemed the logical choice.”
Nilemo and Neuman have had similar discussions and brought relevant snowsport and business experience to help the team. And, as if these four didn’t have enough professional snowsport cred to lend Spektrum serious commercial heft, the group welcomed another local investor who’d probably had some thoughts about goggles in his time and whose on-snow achievements outsized them all — ski-race legend Ingemar Stenmark, who kept Swedes spellbound in their living rooms over a 15-year career that included a recently surpassed record of 86 World Cup victories.
The foundation of Spektrum’s products lies in a Nordic specialty — clean, functional design with high-quality materials, details, and finish. The company’s dual aim is always to improve consumer expectations in the most sustainable ways. Hence, a range of durable eyewear products garner labels like crisp, fresh, innovative, and stylish that never compromise functionality and are verifiably more sustainable than conventional brands.
The genesis of the company’s ethos is summed this way: the Spektrum folks love living and playing in the mountains; they know that anything made for use in the mountain environment must be able to respond to the changeable nature of weather here; they also understand that some of today’s biggest weather challenges are human-caused and that doing your part to minimize them is critical to the generational security of enjoying winter in the mountains; and finally, they somehow figure out a way to deliver all the values they live and play by under one unique brand.
This ultimately led the group to the plant-derived materials that now define their collections. With goggles, this adds up to 64 percent biomaterial and other recyclables. Frames, for instance, are fashioned from Spektrum’s go-to material, castor oil, and so are the more minor plastic details and, in some models, even the lens. These plant-based raw materials are modified into polymers, then made into pellets and injected with colour rather than painted; the dyeing process ensures superior durability and colour depth for all frames while vastly improving performance and scratch resistance. The method also spares workers and the environment from exposure to hazardous chemicals.
Interestingly, notes Olsson, sustainability started as a side project. “We initially did quite understated and clean designs at an accessible price point because, at the time, we thought most goggles were over-designed with too many tech features no one understood or needed. There was a gap in the market for that, but we didn’t think it was enough to build a strong brand. Then we got involved in a biomaterial project with the Innovation Institute at the University of Östersund (about an hour east of Åre), which helped us find and develop the perfect biomaterials for our particular use.”
Suddenly, they were looking at another niche entirely.
“We spent about two years on R&D,” recalls Olsson. “At first, we were trying out the more sustainable goggle idea as a limited series within the collection because not making a 100 percent switch all at once would be safer from a business standpoint. But in field tests, the biomaterials worked as well as, or better than, conventional materials — they were lighter and more durable than comparable plastics, delivered increased performance and stayed softer in cold weather, which made them more comfortable. So, we switched everything over the following year.” The move proved successful in more ways than one, and Spektrum immediately won the 2020 Gold Award for best eyewear at the world’s biggest sports trade show, ISPO, in Münich, Germany.
Next, they added Performance Eyewear, with frames constructed from the oil extracts of castor beans. Not only does this reduce CO2 emissions in manufacturing by an impressive 46 percent compared to conventional plastics, but the carbon released from castor oil is 100 percent derived from circulating atmospheric CO2 — not long-sequestered carbon from ancient fossils. Furthermore, the supply line is as clean as they come: the beans, which happily grow where other crops won’t, are fully traceable to a co-op project in India, pose no competition with food, use no GMOs, and cause no deforestation.
Still, this is no greenwash, and the group has no illusions. “For now, all the benefits are at the front end,” says Olsson. “We’re looking into fully biodegradable or circular designs, but there are some challenges.” Still, Spektrum continues to innovate. In winter 2021-22, it launched the RAW goggles made from 90 percent biomaterials, with a strap made from hemp and fully undyed components.
Where to next for Spektrum? Olsson was keen on their upcoming launch of helmets made with bio-based materials, which he figured would be immediately popular.
“We have spent the last two years designing and developing a range of helmets with the same ambitious eco-credentials as the eyewear. The first one to be released during the fall of 2023 was the snow helmet “Bunner,” built entirely from bio and recycled materials.” The helmet won the Red Dot “Best of the Best award” in 2023 before even hitting the shelves – proof that Spektrum indeed has the vision.