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Meet the mother and daughter with their eyes on charity aid work

By Heather Large | Features | Published:

"It would be a crime for these fabulous frames not to have another lease of life," says Lucy Crane, as she models a stylish pair of 1950s cateye spectacles.

Lucy Crane and her mum Tracey who recycle and refurbish retro and designer spectacle frames

This is just one set of vintage glasses that have been saved from potentially ending up in landfill by the 28-year-old and her mum Tracey.

Together they set up social enterprise Retrospecced that refurbishes and upcycles designer, vintage and antique frames, working with charity Vision Aid Overseas.

It all started when Lucy had her new pair of designer spectacles and asked her optometrist, who also happens to be her mum, what she should do with her old Prada frames.

"I was having an eye test and my prescription had changed slightly. I had a beautiful pair of Prada frames that to be honest I was bored of but I couldn't justify getting a new pair and not using them again, especially as I had hardly worn them and they looked like new.

"As mum is a co-director of Taylor Biddle Opticians I grew up working in the practice and knew that old glasses could be donated to charities like Vision Aid Overseas which distributes them to those who need them.

Retrospecced donates 20 per cent of what they sell each frame for back to Vision Aid Overseas to supports its work in Africa

"What I didn't know is that no longer happens and instead they are recycled for their precious metal content or plastic and what can't be recycled ends up in landfill," says Lucy, who works as an exploration geologist.

"There are 16,000 different variations in prescriptions so it's a logistical nightmare to exactly match up someone’s prescription with an appropriate pair of donated frames.

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"In 2010, the World Health Organisation recommended that sending glasses overseas was not the most sustainable way of providing eyecare in the developing world.

"Vision Aid Overseas uses the money from the recycling of glasses to provide affordable eye tests and new glasses at its vision centres," explains Tracy, who lives in Wolverhampton.

Both mother and daughter felt that only recycling spectacles for their scrap metal value and throwing away the rest seemed like a waste.

They decided there must be a better way for the charity to get the most out of the donations and prevent unwanted items from ending up in landfill.

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So two years ago they joined forces with Vision Aid Overseas, which receives up to 70,000 donated frames, to select the best ones to be given a new lease of life.

Retrospecced then donates 20 per cent of what they sell each frame for back to Vision Aid Overseas to supports its work in Africa.

"Correcting people's poor vision is said to be the most cost-effective way to alleviate poverty. If you're a schoolchild and you can't see the board in class, you're not going to get an education.

"If you're a tailor and your eyesight starts to go at 40, you're not going to be able to support your family. Every £5 donated to Vision Aid Overseas pays for an eye test and a pair of glasses," explains former Wolverhampton Grammar School pupil Lucy.

All of the frames are ultrasonically cleaned before being fully refurbished. They can be customised with different lens including those for individual prescriptions.

Lucy and Tracey work with an experienced glazing house which is able to cut and fit lenses to delicate older frames as well as to modern designer models.

Just one of the hundreds of frames rescued from landfill

"We fix them if they need to be but a lot of the time they don't it because they are immaculate.

"Some of the vintage ones have some minor wear and tear. I've got a pair that have a couple of bumps in them but I love that because it makes me wonder who might have worn them before," says Lucy.

There is always excitement when the latest delivery of frames arrives from the charity's warehouse.

"My friend Wendy Mcgarry works with us and we'll go through the box pulling each one out saying 'look at this' or 'look at that'. I just love the old glasses.

"They were made to last. I love the frames from the 1950s because some of them are so wacky. After a lifetime of having things that were purely built for a purpose, these were something a little bit fun," says Tracey.

"We also get a lot of the NHS 524s which were issued on prescription in the 1950s. They were the basis for the iconic RayBan Wayfarer frame," adds Lucy.

The Retrospecced team, which also includes Mark Ramotowski, who is responsible for the IT side of the enterprise, were winners in the accessories category at the Be The Change Awards.

These celebrated the UK’s most inspiring ethical and sustainable businesses and individuals making a positive difference on communities, people and the planet.

Their collection includes many unusual frames

The mother and daughter duo say launching their social enterprise has made them more environmentally conscious and made them passionate about upcycling and sustainable fashion.

"I was already pretty aware of the importance of recycling - we all know the feeling of guilt when you forget your shopping bags and have to spend 5p on a plastic bag.

"But this has made me understand the importance of sustainable fashion and the impact that fast fashion is having on the planet," Lucy tells Weekend.

"It's definitely changed the way I think. I'm far more aware of consumerism, recycling and the need to create less waste.

"People will buy an item of clothing, wear it a few times and then throw it away, which is just criminal when you think of the resources made to make it only for it to be thrown away. It means I think every time I buy something," adds Tracey.

She believes there is still a stigma about buying second-hand items especially clothes and accessories.

"We've got to get past that and turn it on it's head - second-hand is great. When you buy second-hand you are helping the planet by recycling and helping a charity at the same time - what could be better than that?We need to be bold and be proud of second-hand," says Tracey.

Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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