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Community Highlights: Meet James Merrill of Opolis

Today we’d like to introduce you to James Merrill. Them and their team share their story with us below:

James spent the last decade living and working in every corner of the world for The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and other international NGOs. From Asia to the Middle East and all across Africa, James helped to build and expand programs that addressed gender and economic inequality, agricultural value chains, counter violence extremism, climate change, and biodiversity protection policies.

All of this allowed James to see the magnificent beauty of the world first hand; the sights, the people, the cultures. However, the images of violence, poverty, pollution and abandonment he saw have stayed with him too. That’s what Opolis is born out of. The beauty and despair James experienced around the world inspired him to create a brand with a soul; a company that’s able to uplift and benefit the communities (and the unsung heroes) he met along the way; a lifestyle that would take his love for travel, culture, photography, the environment and adventure, and use it to have a positive impact.

Through technological innovation, Opolis uses plant-based and recycled Polyethylene Teraphtahlate (rPET) plastic that is or would end up in the ocean as upcycled material for durable goods like sunglasses. Opolis is intentional about the sourcing of the plastic to be reused through creating jobs in Kenya, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Eventually, the rPET will be able to be used in other durable goods to put plastic to use instead of the garbage. As consumers, James and Opolis want to empower consumers to take accountability into their hands by researching products’ supply chains to determine if it aligns with their own definition of sustainability.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
As an entrepreneur and a small business owner you expect to encounter obstacles everyday. However, what I did not expect was COVID. I launched Opolis February of 2020, a month before the pandemic hit. Not only did this impact production and the official roll out but it affected my capacity of coordinating with my supply chains based in our three piloted countries. In addition, it made it extremely difficult to raise money.

To add to the stress of starting a new e-commerce company, the new IOS updates made it extremely hard and expensive to identify algorithms within the Facebook/Instagram marketing arena. Due to the fact that it was so expensive to acquire customers, I pivoted my strategy again and started to target wholesalers which actually worked.

As you know, we’re big fans of Opolis. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about the brand?
The mission for Opolis is much more than creating eco-friendly sunglasses, it’s about creating a circular economy where everyone has a stake in the game. That is how you truly combat a crisis as monumental as plastic pollution – empower everyone to join the fight.

The goal is to change the narrative around sustainable supply chains for the marketplace. The supply chain behind Opolis is a vast international network geared towards cleaning up waste and helping the communities involved.

Our supply chain is intentionally designed to uplift and benefit the communities (and unsung heroes) that are directly involved. Each person and place deserves to reap the rewards of their involvement, from the waste advocates picking up plastic bottles from the oceans, beaches, and landfills, to the customers putting a pair of sunglasses on their faces.

We have a network of over 2,000 waste collectors from the Philippines, Indonesia, and Kenya to recover plastic and transform it into sustainable sunglasses.

What matters most to you? Why?
Empowering others to take responsibility. I wanted to create something that encourages others to take personal responsibility for the plastic problem and to be ambassadors for not just the brand but the problem itself – to be ambassadors for our plant and communities most impacted by the plastic pandemic. Opolis is a way to start the conversation.

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Image Credits:

Sitting at Table Photo – Chris Cary

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