How One Entrepreneur Reuses Detroit's Devastated Homes

Benzinga

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For Achille Bianchi, it all started with a pair of sunglasses.

He got the wood from a friend's boatyard. He'd been messing around in the woodshop of OmniCorpDetroit, a collective of entrepreneurs, artists and others that operates out of a 800,000 square-foot building in Detroit's Eastern Market.

Using a laser cutter in the OmniCorp makerspace, he made his first pair out of the boat wood. He made his second with wood from charred remains of Detroit's former Imagination Station, which burned down in 2012.

Bianchi then got the idea to make more sunglasses out of ruined homes in Detroit, and Homes Eyewear was born.

Homes Eyewear creates hand-designed and hand-crafted sunglasses out of reclaimed wood from blighted Detroit houses. It was founded out of OmniCorpDetroit, whose makers range from furniture design to sound engineers and everything in between. They work collectively and collaboratively, bringing tools for everyone to use. The nature of the shared work space is what founder Bianchi told Benzinga really made Homes possible.

“It's just the most amazing, creative outlet. It's definitely a product of the people who work here,” said Bianchi.

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Working In The City, With The City, For The City

Bianchi gets his reused wood through Reclaim Detroit, a nonprofit that deconstructs old Detroit homes and then sorts, catalogues and sells the salvaged pieces.

Of course, Bianchi could join the masses of illegal scrappers and go collect the wood himself, but that's not really his style.

“It's different if I go out with a hammer and crowbar to some abandoned house and steal the boards out of it,” he said. “I don't really see that as contributing to society in much of a way.”

Going through Reclaim Detroit is also a way for him to support a local organization.

“I really love the way they work. They pay their employees well, and they're really contributing,” said Bianchi. “They're not just demolishing houses. They're deconstructing them. They're cataloguing the materials. So, it doesn't just end up in another landfill.”

Bianchi isn't the first manufacturer of wooden sunglasses, so he needed to make his unique. A friend pointed him in the direction of Reclaim Detroit, and he said it was a perfect fit.

“The reclaimed homes is what was going to be the big thing that set me apart from the rest,” he said.

There's history tied to his sunglasses, too. Bianchi goes to the Burton Collection at the Detroit Public Library and pours over blueprints from the 1910s and 1920s to see how the homes his wood comes from were actually built.

Dedication To Quality

“They're not cheap, and I understand that,” said Bianchi. The glasses start at $150.

But these aren't some mass-produced, cheaply made accessory. They're designed and handcrafted by Bianchi, himself, while a pair of Ray-Ban's (NYSE: LUX) goes for around $100.

Bianchi said he's sold about 20 or 30 pairs so far -- enough to keep him going. He spent most of last year developing the product and the process.

“I didn't want to put out a bad product. I wanted to put out a very high-quality, well-designed product,” he said. “So, I spent most of my time on that.”

He wants to get a few more tools, possibly even a lens grinder to make his own lenses in-house. He'll continue to refine the process until it gets to be the best.

“I'm still working on it,” he said. “Every pair I make gets better and better.”

Looking Forward

Home Eyewear has two styles of sunglasses available already, and six more are being developed.

He has a partnership in the making with SMPLFD, a Detroit clothing company. He'd also like to partner with some of his friends who do furniture design.

An expansion in the types of products Homes offers is also in the future. Bianchi was to do both a medium-hard leather pouch and a hard-wood carrying case for his sunglasses. He has other ideas to develop a Bluetooth beach radio and a pinhole camera.

Bianchi eventually wants to do prescription eyewear, but that would require the aforementioned lens grinder and adherence to stricter standards than those for regular sunglasses.

For now, Bianchi is going to continue doing what he loves.

“I just want to keep making them, because they're awesome,” he said. “It's so fun.”

A small glimpse of Bianchi's workshop and glasses.

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