It’s a foundational principle of starting a business: discover the intersection between something the world needs and what you can uniquely provide, and you’ve found a niche to develop into a thriving business. And if you’re lucky enough, your passion intersects with your lifestyle, and your “business” just becomes the “life” you want.
Costa del Mar has taken this concept to such heart as to personify the founder’s original values to this day.According to its Vice President of Marketing, T.J. McMeniman, any discussion of Costa with new partners or potential customers starts with its story: In 1983, hardcore angler, Ray Ferguson couldn’t find a pair of sunglasses that could stand up to the harsh conditions of long days in the salt and sun that he and his fellow fishermen endured, so he engineered Costa Sunglasses.
But what good are durable sunglasses if the purpose for which they were created disappears? Ferguson knew, even decades ago, that the world’s oceans were endangered from pollution and abuse. And so from the outset, Costa aimed to not only produce sunglasses that stood up to the conditions of the lifestyle, but to help sustain the world it was born from, for the water-goers who loved it.
That focus has endured and evolved through the company’s history. Even the quickest research on Costa sunglasses illuminates aspects of their efforts to sustain the oceans, starting with their materials. The glass lenses are made from mineral glass derived from a plentiful resource: sand. And many other parts are made from 100% aluminum, which is infinitely recyclable. All of their plastic frames are made from bio-resin derived from the castor plant, a more earth-friendly product than petroleum-based plastics. As a matter of fact, across the board plastics reduction through the Kick Plastics Initiative is currently one of Costa’s biggest sustainability efforts, involving reducing single-use plastics, such as water bottles, in their day-to-day operations and finding alternatives to using plastics in packaging and production, to the Untangled Collection, last year’s revolutionary new line of sunglasses made from discarded fishing nets. The Untangle Our Oceans initiative that spawned the collection identifies discarded fishing nets as the most harmful type of plastic ocean pollution, and the program works with partners such as Bureo to not only support collecting and recycling of that waste, but to re-educate and resupply fishermen with more sustainable alternatives to the conventional nets that scrape ocean floors, killing coral reefs and entangling valuable ocean life. Through such efforts, Costa has “recycled over 9 tons of polycarbonate scrap from our manufacturing process” in the last year, according to McMeniman.
After sourcing the materials, Costa’s sunglasses are assembled by hand in their Daytona Beach facility, and are designed and built to last. But if anything does break, Costa offers mail-in repair services, and if the item ever does reach the end of its usefulness, most of the materials it’s made from can be upcycled into other products, according to McMeniman. Reducing or eliminating the downstream environmental costs of waste and replacement for their own product is part of the kind of cradle-to-grave responsibility Costa was born for.
While saving the oceans is inextricably woven into Costa’s product and process, “it may not always be the main message every single time you see a piece of advertising from Costa,” says McMeniman. Through the website and other messaging materials, the information is readily available for those who are interested in learning more, and that pool of consumers and stakeholders is growing. McMeniman says that 90% of millennials and Gen Z-ers “will tell you that all things being equal, they’re going to choose the brand that has a more of a sustainable conscious eye.” He has found that the sustainable angle isn’t lost among retail partners, either, and that many of them “believe in the same kinds of things we believe in,” he says. “We believe in doing the right thing, and when you do the right thing, it makes it almost impossible to refute.”
Costa’s multi-pronged sustainability approach supports the innovative work of organizations who research and implement solutions for some of the most harmful threats to our oceans. “We invest over $1 million in our sustainability efforts each year, ranging from organizational charity donations, research on new materials and products, or supporting local organizations and groups initiatives to keep oceans clean,” McMeniman says.
These types of programs are the lifeblood of Costa’s sustainability philosophy. But asked to break down the costs of being “sustainable” versus operating as most businesses do, McMeniman says it has been so much a part of how they’ve operated from the beginning, that separating out the actual cost isn’t even possible.
Some of the rewards of being a sustainably responsible company, on the other hand, are measurable. On average, over the last 10 years, Costa del Mar has grown 15% in revenue, and the brand boasts a net promoter score of 66, which is the highest in the industry, according to McMeniman. The company now employs around 300 Daytona Beach locals, who are expanding Costa sunglasses beyond the Southeast, rapidly squeezing it into the top four sunglass competitors.
McMeniman insists that the expansion won’t change Costa’s roots. “Florida is our home,” he says. “We have no interest in moving.” And he encourages interested area businesses to find their own intersections between what their business does and what they believe is the greater good, and to follow it. “People want to support, they want to do good, they want to do more than come to work and punch a time sheet. They want to feel like they’re contributing to the world and to society in a greater way,” he says of such a company’s employees. “And if you can find that passion point for your business,” he adds, “I think you’ll be absolutely amazed at the support energy that will bring to the organization and the amount of productivity you get out of it.”
That energy has carried Costa del Mar a long way from a small group of fishermen searching for the right sunglasses to a community of like-minded individuals creating an ocean of change. For Costa, adhering to their foundational philosophy has proven key to their success, and perhaps their approach has endured because it was sustainable from the start.
Brigitte Hoarau is an English Professor and freelance writer. She earned a BA in Film & Video and an MFA in Creative Writing: Fiction.