Andrew Bader, and his younger brother, Steve, make sunglasses and other products out of plastics infused with hemp fibers using high-tech 3D printers and an injection molding machine.
They say using a plant-based and biodegradable form of plastic in their Hemp3D business is as much about improving the environment as it is about making a cool, marketable product that could provide full-time jobs for two farm boys looking for an alternative to growing corn and soybeans.
“The world is saturated with oil-based plastics. If we can get something that degrades faster in wider use, our world might be greener and our future a lot brighter,” said Andrew Bader, 26.
As he talked, 10 3D printers hummed in the basement of his ranch-style home in Seward, slowly fabricating parts of sunglasses. A sign reading “Think Outside the Box” hung on a wall nearby.
In a garage in Lincoln, his 24-year-old brother Steve uses a refrigerator-sized, plastic injection molding machine to produce up to 40 pairs of their HempVision sunglasses a day using a slightly different mix of ingredients.
Their prototype pair of sunglasses was made in 2019. Now, the company produces 11 models, from ones that look vaguely like Ray-Bans to a pair that Joe Naumann, the Baders’ cousin and marketing director, describes as a “combination of Elton John, Johnny Depp and Harry Potter.”
“They’re bio-based and made in Nebraska — people like that,” Naumann said.
Hemp3D is one of a small group of Nebraska companies making products out of hemp, a non-hallucinogenic cousin of marijuana that was illegal to grow in the state until 2019. That’s when state lawmakers, after years of debate and after hemp growing was authorized by the 2018 federal farm bill, legalized the cultivation and processing of hemp as long as its level of THC — the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — tests at 0.3% or lower.