From Pixels to Plants: How MagLock Sunglasses Are Made

They say necessity is the mother of invention. The father might be a stubborn refusal to settle, which is why we set out to design MagLock Sunglasses to be hard to lose and easy to love — because let's face it, neither you nor the planet can afford to consider sunglasses disposable.

And since we design Distil products from the ground up, we'll preface this with a Nerd Alert: These original sunglasses took us years to develop, and it might feel like it's taking that long to read this... So here's a quick, clickable guide –





It all started when Nate, our co-founder and industrial designer, dropped and lost the most expensive pair of sunnies he'd ever bought. They were hanging from his shirt collar, like they always did — but this time they fell off and were lost. Forever. *cue the-world’s-smallest-violin music* 

Little did we know how complex designing a pair of sunglasses could be...

Compilation of prototypes during the development of MagLock Sunglasses

The year was 2011 (the same year we founded Distil together). Nate disappeared into our workshop and emerged with the first prototype: a pair of existing shades with magnets embedded into the temples. The simple hack worked — and he still has that original hacked pair! With their hidden neodymium magnets, MagLock Sunglasses wouldn't just clip securely onto a shirt collar — they'd be easy to mount on anything magnetic, making them less likely to scratch or misplace.

It's a simple solution to an everyday problem — our main motivator for starting Distil Union. 

An assortment of items used in designing and developing sunglassesWe had other ideas to bring to life first, so the pair of magnet/frame prototypes waited patiently on the whiteboard until the time was right. It was important to us that our sunglasses were original designs, and while Nate had designed boats, battery packs, speakers, iPhone cases, wallets and dozens of other products, sunglasses were uncharted territory. 

Fortunately for industrial designers, the process and approach begins the same for a speaker, a speedboat, or sunglasses: Research. Competitive product analysis. Brainstorm. Concept. Prototype. Refine. Repeat. Nate dove in, learning about head curve, wrap angles, pantoscopic tilt, base curves, and all of the details down to what those three numbers printed inside the temples mean (lens width, bridge width, temple length). And interestingly enough, the Food and Drug Administration considers "magnifying spectacles, spectacle frames, prescription spectacle lenses and sunglasses" medical devices  FDA registration requires renewal annually, and it doesn't come cheap. Ouch. But as we learned, these are the things that go into high quality, original frames. CAD rendering of MagLock Sunglasses lenses

The last piece of the production puzzle was an introduction to one of the world's leading glasses manufacturers. After touring their facilities — which are so large it required a golf cart, and no photos allowed due to all of the Big Sunglasses Brands that would prefer to keep their secrets secret — we got to work with our new partners designing the comfiest hard-to-lose shades out there. 

Distil Union co-founders wear white pairs of 3D-printed sunglasses, and a gif of the magnetic frames attaching to a thumb tack on a felt letterboard

When it came to finding the right material for our gear, we left no stone unturned.

Because we were designing for a new functionality in sunglasses, we took a fresh approach to the materials. While highly flexible frames might not be considered standard, we found the flex to be essential – it allows the magnets to overlap with each other for a stronger connection on your shirt collar. And a flexible frame demands flexible lenses: Triacetate has excellent optical clarity, plus a polarized core that eases the eye strain caused by glare off of surfaces like asphalt, water, and even snow. We finish our lenses with a scratch-resistant layer because, well, life. 

MagLock Sunglasses diagram of lens layers

Designing innovative shades with run-of-the-mill materials would be like making a gourmet meal with leftovers from last night’s fast-food run: Not at all satisfying and may cause indigestion. You may think that’s where the food analogy falls apart, but hold on, this tasty take is about to serve up a surprising twist... We sourced a remarkable shape-memory material made from castor plants, and combined it with ultra-flexible and durable TPU in a combo we call Gnarlon™A collage of photos featuring MagLock Sunglasses with flexible Gnarlon frames: Our adventure-ready frames are an engineered combination of TPU and sustainable Pebax® Rnew® with a matte non-slip finish – nothing feels (or lasts) quite like it. We’re pioneering farm-to-face manufacturing. Just kidding, that’s not a thing.

MagLock Sunglasses are 45% plant-based to be exact! Bio-based Pebax® Rnew® is made from sustainably farmed castor beans. Beans? Yep. Castor beans actually aren’t edible, and they thrive in poor soil that’s not for crop farming — so they’re not removing a food source for humans or animals. The plant doesn’t contribute to deforestation as it is grown in arid regions on independent family-owned farms with sustainable agricultural practices. And of course, castor plants absorb atmospheric CO2 during their growth cycle, resulting in a material with a reduced carbon footprint. The resulting high-performance elastomer is lightweight, flexible and tough — without the need for harmful plasticizers. A line-drawing of MagLock Sunglasses with labeled materials and parts

In order to make MagLock sunnies perfectly safe for those with nickel allergies (many cheap frames aren't safe), the magnets are fully embedded in the arms. This also protects the magnets against the elements, which extends their lifespan. The literal finishing touch of all Gnarlon™ frames is a matte soft-touch finish — a comfy alternative to typical plastic frames that hurt your head, sit wonky on your face, slide off your nose, and end up in a landfill. 

World, meet the magnetic sunglasses so comfortable, you’ll forget you’re wearing them. (And so durable, you’ll forget to worry about ‘em.)

CAD drawing of MagLock Sunglasses with dimensions
  • ALL-DAY COMFORT No pinching. No slipping. Just smooth sailing: Ultra-light frames flex to fit, ensuring a snug, comfortable fit all day long. On top of the obligatory 100% UV protection, polarized lenses ease eye strain and improve visibility. Wearing these lightweight, non-slip frames, you’ll forget they’re on your face – which is ideal when you’re, you know, living life.
  • BUILT TO LAST Newton’s lesser known 4th Law: An object in car seat will break under the force of 185lbs. of rock hard muscle. We've seen one too many pairs of sunglasses get in a fight and lose... Crafted with scratch-resistant lenses and durable shape-memory Gnarlon™ — an elastomer made using sustainable castor plants with a matte soft-touch finish, nothing feels (or lasts) quite like it.
  • STICK WITH YOU These glasses are a stage-5 clinger. Seriously, MagLocks stay clipped to your shirt and stick to anything magnetic, so they’re hard to lose and easy to grab on your way out the door.

It took us a while to come around to the idea to launch them on Kickstarter; running a crowd-funding campaign on top of everything it takes to launch a new product can be a real roller coaster — not unlike testing the gravity-resistance of your magnetic sunglasses prototypes at the nearest amusement park. 

The MagLock Sunglasses launch was our 7th successful crowd-funding campaign, raising just over $100,000. Some would say it also kickstarted our obsession with magnets, as the 2019 campaign for our organizational system called Ferris would go on to raise even more! A magnetic hub for folks who like having everything in its right place, Ferris is a life-tidying modular system including ModWallet, KeyLoop organizer, and wall-mounted ModStation that streamlines your out-the-door routine.MagLock Sunglasses shown on a magnetic ModStation with Ferris KeyLoop

To tie it all together and as part of our commitment to making sustainable choices, all of our glasses come packaged in a reusable hard-body carrying case that conveniently folds flat (without the typical box that just gets thrown away or even recycled). Plus, the soft-sleeve they're wrapped in doubles as a lens-cleaning cloth — because we know it's tempting to use the corner of your shirt, but that is a one-way ticket to Scratch City for your lenses. And the longer these bad boys can last you, the fewer pairs will find themselves in a landfill. So here's to the great outdoors — now grab your MagLocks and get out there! 

Photo of sunglasses on a truck with text: As weekend warriors (and occasional commuters), we created our line of comfy + durable MagLock™ sunglasses that could keep up with us through all of life’s adventures.

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