Pala Eyewear's founder John Pritchard, a longstanding PLATF9RM Member and inspiring entrepreneur, gives us the low down on his ethical business and the future of his forward-thinking products.
Pala is an ethical eyewear business, what motivated you to start the company?
My initial spark stemmed from a desire to do something with my life that provided me a genuine sense of purpose – to make a difference to others’ lives and not just mine. I didn’t want to sit back in my rocking chair in 30 years’ time (or something much more futuristic) knowing that I hadn’t tried to do something positive and lasting during my short stay on this planet. Setting up my own business and putting a social cause at the heart of it was my way of doing this, giving me that purpose.
For me, it was a case of identifying a cause first rather than coming at it from a ‘fashion creation’ angle. Having become aware of lack of access to eyecare across Africa during my travels I already had the seed of that cause. 10% percent of the world’s population are unable to get access to eye care and yet a pair of spectacles is recognized as the number one most effective tool to fight poverty – it empowers the wearer by enabling them to read, learn and work. Simple, yet so very so effective.
That was the cause, and so unusually perhaps, Pala was retro-fitted to support this cause and act as a vehicle for delivering change.
So tell us a bit about the sunglasses industry. How do you ensure that your products are ethical?
Our focus is on becoming the most sustainable eyewear brand on the planet. A lofty ambition, but someone has to gun for the title!
Our work charity Vision Aid Overseas enables us to fulfil our promise of giving a pair of prescription glasses for every pair of sunglasses we sell. This is achieved through grants we provide to their Vision Programmes across Africa. Our most recent project was the building of a Vision Centre in Chinsali, Zambia which serves a community of almost 75,000. It’s a sustainable solution that provides infrastructure, equipment and long-term patient care.
Our cases are made from recycled plastic waste by weaving communities from Bolgatanga, Upper East Ghana. We use secondary waste plastic from a plastic bag factory in Accra – I guess you could call it ‘sleeping with the enemy’ and discarded water sachets that are collected from the ground and washed. The material is cut into strips, twisted into strands and then woven into a case. The plastic waste from our case making process (approximately 12%) is then also recycled and re-entered into the production cycle. There is a big waste issue in Ghana and in a small way we are trying to help make a change.
It’s also important for our values to be applied within the business practices itself. All our packaging is recycled or FSC, likewise our point of sale materials. We carbon offset all the airmiles we incur for importing our product and business travel and we pay £1 every time we deliver our sunglasses to our customers around the world. There is still a lot more to do, but it’s all work in progress!
In terms of product we use acetate which is a high quality material made from natural materials, however plasticisers are added to it which are ultimately harmful when the frames eventually biodegrade. Us, alongside other independent brands have been pushing for more availability of bio-acetate and are having some success here as you will see from our future plans.
I’ve recently been told that I am a finalist in the Natwest Entrepreneur For Good award for London and South East, so I'm delighted with that and it endorses the fact that team are on the right path to creating change in our industry.
What’s next for Pala?
In the realms of our sunglasses, our focus is on building profile in the UK and continuing our progress in the US Sunbelt, Australia and New Zealand, after all we need to follow the sun when it starts getting all gloomy in the UK.
For SS20, the new collection will be entirely made from bio-acetate. So no harmful chemicals - again, improving our environmental credentials further. The new collection is designed for those who acknowledge the need for a better future, appreciate the world we live in, and embrace the adventure of exploring it.
Our new positioning will be for our sunglasses to be the ultimate travel companion with each style taking a classic, familiar sunglasses design, updated with a contemporary finish.
We are also going to push our optical range which we soft launched with opticians earlier this year. It might be that we deal with the prescriptions ourselves in due course, but one step at a time.
You’re a long standing and valued PLATF9RM member; we love having you! What’s kept you here?Ahh, thank you -wipes tear from eye- Well, to be honest it’s the free coffee and the fact I don’t have a home to go to, so I secretly live in the boudoir (but don’t tell anyone).
Actually, it’s the great atmosphere created by the staff and other members that make the working environment such a positive one to work in. I also like the advantages of the access at weekends and the odd social!
You seem to enjoy shaking up your work environment and move around both spaces a lot, do you have a favourite spot in both Hove & Tower Point?If I’ve got a lot on I head to Hove and shut myself off in the quiet room on Floor 2. If I’m feeling a bit more relaxed about things then I tend to gravitate towards Tower Point. So on that basis I’ll often be in Hove beginning of the week and gravitate towards Tower Point as the week progresses. I’m often on the ‘chatty’ main desk on Floor 6. Tower Point also does the better cocktails on a Friday, although to give balance I’m loving the wraps coming out of The Grounds!
Is there an event you have attended of ours that sticks out in your mind (in a good way obvs)?I’ve enjoyed a lot of events for very different reasons. The recent swim/volleyball social was great fun… I really like the events where business owners come in to talk about how they have created their success - I really connect with those and take good inspiration.
Did you enjoy having your assistant with you recently? We miss Julian!Julian was great. For that one month he managed to contribute so much to the business. We pretty much let him loose across all areas from day one and he certainly repaid us for our trust in him. I actually wrote an article here on it as it was such a positive experience.
I’m hoping to hook up again next year with the business school and create the same opportunity.
What book can you read over and over again?I am terrible with books. I have one by my bed and I read the first 10 pages, fall asleep, pick it up the next day, re-read the same 10 pages and fall asleep… and repeat. I tend to read business books, my absolute favourite being ‘You, Only Better’ by Nicholas Bate. Aside from being short(!) I’ve found it incredibly useful in improving my performance.
Is there a cartoon character you most identify with?Hmm. Well not so much a cartoon character, but you wouldn’t go too far wrong with Mr Forgetful. I was once bought the book by an old girlfriend… on the bright side at least it wasn’t Mr Misery.
If you want to be a member at our space, get in touch for a tour and trial.