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Jensen Cipriano Brehm: “Grow and become more simple, not complex”

Well, we are making a big change to the way sunglasses are worn — Everyone wears sunglasses, and everyone experiences the same frustrations — They fall off, break easily, and hurt the sides of your head. We’ve solved those problems — by eliminating sidearms. Our fames attach directly to a minimalist, adjustable cord that keeps the sunnies securely and comfortably in […]

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Well, we are making a big change to the way sunglasses are worn — Everyone wears sunglasses, and everyone experiences the same frustrations — They fall off, break easily, and hurt the sides of your head. We’ve solved those problems — by eliminating sidearms.

Our fames attach directly to a minimalist, adjustable cord that keeps the sunnies securely and comfortably in place. We’ve built a pair of sunglasses you can throw in a pocket/backpack and not worry about, wear in the surf and not lose, keep on for hours without getting a headache, and hike up the trail and not look like a dork. Our custom cord even fits perfect under a helmet. People tend to be skeptical, until they put them on, then they are always ridiculously impressed.


As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jensen Cipriano Brehm, visionary, creator, environmentalist, explorer and inventor/cofounder of Ombraz Sunglasses. With a profound passion for the great outdoors, Jensen loves mingling with new faces and has a knack for adapting exceptionally well to new environments. Hailing from Seattle, Jensen graduated in 2014 with a BA in Environmental Business — focusing on ecological design, entrepreneurship, and vegetated roof systems. Jensen has designed and implemented his own unconventional living roof systems for residences in the Pacific Northwest, built wind turbines with a team of engineers for coastal villages in India and designed small 800-SF off-the-grid eco-homes. Jensen puts the same emphasis into running his brand, Ombraz, that he does living his life — have a great time, laugh, learn and explore but do so with a profound appreciation for earth’s fragile ecosystems, and an intent to make this planet a better place for all its inhabitants.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Oh man, I can! In 2011 I was on a desert camel safari in India. A few hours into the expedition, *SNAP, someone sat on my sunglasses and the sidearms broke off. Under the blazing sun, pink and burnt to a crisp, I tied a piece of twine to the broken hinges of my sunglasses and wrapped the twine around the back of my head. I couldn’t believe how well this macgyvered pair worked! More durable than ever, they were comfortable and they didn’t slip off my face. When I got back to New Delhi, I switched out the twine for a piece of leather cord and wore the same macgyvered sunglasses for 5 years — through college! (This is coming from a guy who loses his wallet once a week — so keeping them for so long was quite the feat — and it was simply because my sunglasses were more practical for me.) So many people — friends, peers, strangers off the street — enquired about the unique design that it propelled a business idea which would lead to the most functional sunglasses in the industry — Ombraz.

Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Hmmmm. Oh! Guy Raz, the host of NPR’s podcast ‘How I Built This’ told me we had the best crowdfunding video he has ever seen! And he’s seen a lot of crowdfunding videos. (I recommend checking ours out! 😉 A month after delivering the first pairs to our crowdfunded backers, my business partner was in Berlin and ran into a random dude on the street wearing a pair of Ombraz — he had heard about us randomly online. That’s when we felt this product had the potential to be a big hit, globally.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

Ecological stewardship. Since my late teens, it was always a goal of mine to build a product that solved a problem and delivered a net-positive environmental impact. We plant 20 mangrove trees for every pair of Ombraz we sell, sequestering 330X more carbon than we emit to produce and deliver each pair — making Ombraz the most carbon-negative product currently on the market. If each company operated with this same ethos, our planet would be in much different shape than it is today.

Ok thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

Well, we are making a big change to the way sunglasses are worn — Everyone wears sunglasses, and everyone experiences the same frustrations — They fall off, break easily, and hurt the sides of your head. We’ve solved those problems — by eliminating sidearms.

Our fames attach directly to a minimalist, adjustable cord that keeps the sunnies securely and comfortably in place. We’ve built a pair of sunglasses you can throw in a pocket/backpack and not worry about, wear in the surf and not lose, keep on for hours without getting a headache, and hike up the trail and not look like a dork. Our custom cord even fits perfect under a helmet. People tend to be skeptical, until they put them on, then they are always ridiculously impressed.

How do you think this will change the world?

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

Nope! 😀

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

I think it was after the 94th random person came up to me on the street (back when that was socially acceptable) and asked me who made my macgyvered armless sunglasses that I realized this was a product that solved a problem. This was a product based on a need — not a want — and there was nothing available like them on the market.

In Spring 2015, I visited San Francisco. I had a few good friends that were friends with the guys that started ‘Chubbies’. We visited their office and I was enamored with the lifestyle they were building for themselves and the excitement and buzz of building a company from the ground up. I came back from San Francisco, and that next week, I started prototyping different attachment points for my armless sunglasses.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

We need to ramp up our guerilla marketing efforts and get these on more people of influence in the outdoor community (guides, liftees, rangers, outdoor athletes, people of influence etc.) Once someone tries a pair on, that person is sold on the concept and they want to tell everyone about them — they start to sell themselves. In my opinion, word of mouth is our best form of marketing.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Diversity and inclusion in the outdoor space should be a major focus, always. Ombraz are for everyone and we would be first to say we haven’t done a good job of ensuring Ombraz ambassadors, athletes, models and contracted employees exemplify this. Showcasing Ombraz on a diverse array of people is a major focus of ours as we build up this brand.

Doing your own customer service initially is critical, but pass it along after 6–8 months. Nikolai and I spent the first year and a half doing our own customer service. It was a major time suck and took a lot of energy.

Always simplify. Grow and become more simple, not complex. During our crowdfunding campaign, we offered a ton of extras and add-ons, this complicated delivery and brought on a lot of headaches. Keep it simple, keep it focused.

Read ‘Shoe Dog’ — nothing prepares you for the trials and tribulations you will face like the first-hand account of how Nike rose to become a brand superpower.

Establish an incentive program to hold manufacturers to a higher standard of quality. We did not do this initially. We have done all final QC checks for the past two years. No pair of Ombraz has been sold without being inspected by the founders. Trust your manufacturers and build a relationship that ensures quality and consistency.

When you realize there is someone out there that could do a better job at certain facets of the business than you yourself can do, find that person and get them involved. Nikolai and I have been running every aspect of the business, we have no other employees. It wasn’t until we dissected every aspect of Ombraz and our complete workflow recently, that we realized we were spread too thin. The areas where we each provide the most value were being neglected. One of our dearest mentors recently told us, ‘Don’t be afraid to hire your friends! The most important aspect of trust is already established.’

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

Our business model was largely influenced by Yvonne Chouinard’s (founder of Patagonia’s) book, ‘Let My People Go Surfing.’ We’ve implemented the book’s principles by focusing on three pillars — quality, customer service and environmental stewardship. We believe businesses are not only responsible to their customers, or shareholders, but most importantly, to their resource base.

Additionally, the mentors and people we have sought out for advice as we steer the metaphorical ship that is Ombraz have helped propel our success. I cannot stress this enough — we, as well as most entrepreneurs, don’t really know what we are doing. It is the people we talk to who have been in similar situations -failed and learned from those mistakes — that we turn to to bestow wisdom on us. It is up to us to digest and pick and choose the right advice to navigate these uncharted waters. We are incredibly thankful for our mentors and partners who have invested their time and energy to help us. It has been invaluable for us.

Oh and stop looking at your phone — it is a distraction and a massive time-suck. It’s not easy to get off the phone, trust me, but when you do — it’s crazy how much you can accomplish in a day.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Within two months of delivering the first pairs of Ombraz to our crowdfunded community, Ombraz won Backpacker Magazine’s gear editors’ choice award for 2019. After the award was announced, REI tracked us down and as a two month old company, we were selling in REI, where orders have been consistent ever since. Gear Junkie, Gear Patrol, Freeskier, Climbing Magazine, Rock and Ice, Ski Mag, The Inertia, Outside Magazine, Business Insider and Forbes have all sung their praises of Ombraz armless sunglasses. We have been profitable since Day 1 and we absolutely love building, innovating and creating through this brand.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@Ombraz on Instagram! I run the account! Check it out! We, the founders shoot a majority of the content and I curate and caption the creative. Nikolai and I engage with everyone that reaches out — we love being authentic and genuine through IG — one of our biggest sales channels. Follow along! We have a great time, and do so with a profound appreciation for the planet and its peoples!

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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