Did you ever wonder how spectacle frames are designed? The Royal College of Art (RCA) runs an annual competition for the best design from its students – the winning entry is shown off at the 100% Optical show. This year’s theme was sustainable sunglasses. Students had to use  materials that don’t hurt the planet or people’s pockets during the cost of living crisis. Careers in Eyecare spoke to the winner, Linwei Zheng.

What encouraged you to enter the competition?
I’m currently studying accessories design. Before I came to the RCA, I was a jewellery designer. The most important thing is the interaction and functionality with the body. I never limit myself to one type of design, such as bags or necklaces, and I thought it was a challenge. 

How did you come up with the winning entry? Why did you choose to use bicycle inner tubes?
My inspiration comes from the large number of discarded inner tubes in landfill. This material is durable and difficult to degrade. It has properties similar to leather, but is more flexible and elastic. I have made a series of inner tube bags before, and I know the material well. I designed sunglasses that can be deformed and folded through the lens.

What were the challenges?
I think the most difficult thing about spectacle design is that it needs to be very precisely combined with the human face. This is a product that focuses on functionality and comfort, unlike bags and jewellery. I measured a ton of frame and temple sizes and kept testing them on my face.

What did you enjoy about the process?
What I enjoy the most is my various experiments with materials. I’ve also been experimenting with different shape and colour matching and using different hand sewing methods. It is really cool to add coloured lenses and coloured stitching to the discarded inner tube.

What are you going to do next?
I am currently preparing my next pair of leather spectacles. Now I have experience, I want my glasses to be really wearable, so they can be sold as products. I created engineering drawings, I contacted a factory and they are now helping me to cut the lenses for my new eyewear.

This competition gave me a lot of confidence and helped me start to understand the eyewear industry. I will continue to design glasses.