The natural look

Woodzee founder wants to remove the plastic from fashion

Luke Winter says he hopes Woodzee’s success inspires other businesses to use recycled materials.

Luke Winter says he hopes Woodzee’s success inspires other businesses to use recycled materials.

Photo by Ken Smith

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As the original owner of downtown Chico clothing store Trucker and husband of LuLu’s co-founder Colleen Winter, Luke Winter was already deeply embedded in the fashion business in 2011 when he started looking at the industry through new lenses.

“I love fashion, but wanted to find new ways to do things,” Winter said during a recent interview in his office above Trucker. “I wanted to do something that combined fashion with social responsibility and blended style with the beauty of nature.”

“Style and Nature” eventually became the tagline for the company he started that year, Woodzee, makers of sunglasses frames. One of Winter’s biggest gripes with his industry is its reliance on plastics, so he thought a good place to start would be to make frames from sustainable and recycled materials.

“We primarily use recycled and recyclable materials, and mostly wood,” he said. “Our main premise is to avoid petroleum-based products. We, unfortunately, still need that for lenses, but we’re working on that. Other than that, we use buffalo horn [trimmings], recyclable metals and bioplastics.”

Winter said he started Woodzee as a side company on his days off from Trucker, but the glasses caught on quickly and were soon being shipped to far-away countries (they sell particularly well in England, Italy and Australia). In August 2014, he sold the Trucker store he’d started in 2003 to focus on Woodzee full-time.

In addition to manufacturing glasses, Woodzee has branched out to make other products, such as a teak-wood-faced watch called The Wanderlust. Winter said more watches are in the works, but he believes the company is best represented by its most humble offering: a toothbrush.

“It’s not like a huge moneymaker,” he said, “but it kind of sums up Woodzee in one product. It’s cool, it’s stylish, but it’s also sensible. And it doesn’t need to be made out of plastic … think about how many plastic toothbrushes go into the ground and don’t biodegrade.”

To help customers share in the value of renewable manufacturing, Woodzee has its own recycling program. Customers can exchange any Woodzee product, with no receipt and for any reason, for 40 percent off their next purchase. The returned items are then parted out for free repairs.

Winter said many Woodzee lines have been made in China from the company’s inception to keep costs down, and because, when he started the company, he was repeatedly told that manufacturing them locally was financially impossible. In 2015, local manufacturer United States Thermoelectric Consortium told him it was possible.

Winter invested in some equipment and now has a cooperative deal with USTC to make limited-edition, Chico-made lines. The first run was a collaborative effort with Maker’s Mark bourbon—sunglasses made from recycled whisky barrels.

When asked for advice for other entrepreneurs, he said, “Get ready to work hard and to suffer. It’s like having a baby, so expect to spend all your time and money on that baby rather than running out to buy things and do things for yourself.”