Pilgrim Surf + Supply / Ahnah Eyewear

New York-based Pilgrim Surf + Supply is one of many brands that has chosen Eastman materials to shape a line of eyewear.

Started by artist and lifelong surfer Chris Gentile in 2012, the outdoor apparel company grew out of a small retail business he opened beneath his Brooklyn art studio in 2007 that sold surfing essentials to the local community.

“At the time, there wasn’t a single surf shop in the New York metro area,” he says. “And lo and behold, they all started coming out of the woodwork. As it turns out, there are thousands of surfers living in the city limits.”

The company eventually moved into a larger space in the heart of Williamsburg, which gave Gentile the chance to extend its business into high-quality men’s and women’s wear. At the time, he says, New York’s surfers had few options outside the mass market. However, surfing the East Coast is a vastly different proposition, and lifestyle, to the more casual, temperate west.

“I didn’t know any surfers in New York who wore stereotypical surf clothes, it’s not an aesthetic you see on this coast. Surfers here tend to wear casual brands with technical qualities,” he says.

When Pilgrim Surf + Supply launched, it built its identity on supplying brands that were practical in extreme conditions, such as Norse Projects, Battenwear, Patagonia and Arc’teryx.

Today, the studio behind Pilgrim designs and manufactures high-quality clothing for men and women, utilizing production teams in both Brooklyn and Tokyo, where Gentile now sources 70 percent of his materials.

Gentile’s goal is to develop products made with integrity and a small environmental footprint. To that end, he will launch a new eyewear brand, Ahnah, in 2019 made with Eastman materials.

“I educated myself on the way that eyewear is manufactured, and decided that if we made something, we should start small, and source our materials and manufacturing in the United States so we have the smallest possible footprint,” he explains.

This led him to New Jersey-based Frameworks America and owner William Vetri. From the start, the conversation revolved around using Eastman cellulosics for the frames, and Eastman’s clearer-than-glass lens material, Tritan™ from Eastman, for the lenses. Unlike polycarbonate, the environmentally neutral, biodegradable Tritan is BPA free — which allows Ahnah to avoid the potentially harmful carcinogenic.

“We always wanted to make the frames from acetate because it resists the fatty acids in human skin and perspiration, so it was very easy for us to say yes to that,” Gentile says. “These materials are also shatterproof, so if you step on the frame or if it falls off your face and drops 100 feet, it will probably still be intact.”

Maintaining the connection between style and technical quality was one of his prime concerns, Gentile says.

“Our inspiration for Ahnah was to design sunglasses that work for bike riders, mountain climbers and sailors — but also so that whoever buys this frame can transition from one of those activities to just walking down the street in them as well.”