We talk sustainable accessories and ethical business practises with Pala Eyewear. A creative sunglasses brand, thinking, and doing, what’s outside the box in terms of creating a better life for others. They work closely with eyecare projects in Africa, supporting those who don’t have access to prescription glasses. Their amazing and fulfilling projects are being documented over on their website; these explain how they provide funding for new vision centres and outreach programmes.
Alongside their inspiring contributions to society, Pala Eyewear have worked immensely hard on creating a brand built on sustainability and doing good by the environment when producing and distributing their collections. Like us here at Georganics, all their packaging is made from recycled cardboard. Pala also use recycled wood in store to display their products.
We love what Pala Eyewear are doing so I got in touch and had the chance to interview their founder John. Here he explains the brand’s goals and aspirations for the future, and where they stand in the grand scheme of the sustainability industry.
Tell us about why your brand started?
Pala came about as a result of me wanting to have more purpose in the work I do. My previous work life had, until that point, been a comfortable and enjoyable existence working in digital media. However, I felt it was too comfortable and began to struggle with the idea of simply continuing that journey through to a ripe old age, when there was so many human and environmental issues at stake in the world at large that need addressing.
I began Pala by identifying a cause first rather than coming at it from a fashion-led approach. I become aware of a lack of access to eyecare across Africa during my earlier travels abroad. In some countries it can be as high 98% of the population, and yet a pair of spectacles is recognised as one of the most cost effective poverty tools you can give someone. They empower the wearer by enabling them to read, learn and work. So, I had my cause. I then went about retro-fitting a business to leverage this cause. Creating an eyewear brand seemed like the step to take!
What are your main sustainable values and how have they shaped your business?
Pala is founded on the principles of ‘low impact planet, high impact people’. Our decision making is governed by this and we ensure that is recognised through all touch-points of the brand. In terms of ‘planet’ this can be seen through our ongoing evolution of product and packaging to minimise our environmental impact. In terms of ‘people’ this is realised through the empowerment that beneficiaries of spectacles and eye-care treatment achieve, as well as the weavers that create our cases, paying them a fair wage to help support them out of poverty.
What are your hopes for the future with regards to sustainability in your industry?
If we are looking at the fashion industry in its entirety we are looking at one of the most polluting industries on the planet. We need a revolution within this industry on a huge scale, and fast. Facts such as it takes 2,700 litres of water to make one t-shirt; a single clothes wash can release up 700,000 microplastic fibres into the environment; three-fifths of all clothing items will end up in an incinerator or landfill within a year after being produced, are frankly startling.
Small independent brands like us and the thousands of other brands out there fighting the fight for a more sustainable future will not create this wholesale immediate change. We are helping provide options at a grass roots level, but the truth is it needs Governments around the world to have legislation in place that works alongside the UN’s 17 Sustainability Development Goals and create change all the way from how we source materials, to supply chain transparency, to controlling overstock and how can promote and create a circular economy from products when they reach end of life. I’m hopeful that the increasing momentum and concern around climate change will only increase pressure on the government to take action.
We as consumers also need to play our part too. We need to shop better, which means shopping less and buying better quality. This is the mantra that sustainable brands sit behind. Buying sustainable fashion is more expensive than fast fashion, but that is the price to pay for quality, provenance and a better future. Where this is not always possible, then buying second hand or even renting clothing is an excellent route too.
Talk us through the process of creating a pair of glasses from Pala eyewear.
I work with designers in London. We go to the two major eyewear shows Europe, Mido in Milan and Silmo in Paris. These shows help provide us inspiration for style trends and colourways. When we return to the UK we then re-assemble to spend a good half day working out our styles for the coming season. We are really starting to get a good direction on what styles work for our customers. Our sunglasses are for those that want to embrace the great outdoors, travel and explore, and so our focus (pardon the pun!) is on modern classics, applying our own Pala twist. We may also throw in the odd showpiece from time to time too.
The styles are drawn up in CAD, amended and then sampled. Once we get the samples we approve or amend before going to full production which takes just over 3 months. Overall the process can take about 7-8 months, so we work quite a way in advance. In fact as I write these answers we’re just finalising Spring/Summer 2020!
What are three things you encourage your customers to do for the environment, besides purchasing your product?
I’m a big believer of taking lots of little steps rather than making huge commitments and being overwhelmed. So find your personal goal. It could be eliminating single-use plastic. So buy that re-useable coffee cup and get into the habit of using it. ‘Habit’ is an important thing here as to rewire our mindset to making changes to our routine we need them to become actions that are second nature.
Take the jump and save up for that one t-shirt – whether it be made from recycled PET bottles, is organic, is supporting a community in Nepal. You’ll appreciate it far more having grafted for it and for the deeper benefits therein. You’ll also realise in time that it will last longer than all three of the 3 pack £9.99 t-shirts from a fast-fashion shop.
Do a beach clean (park clean if you’re not in Brighton like me!) – I have a 10 year old who I take to a regular beach clean. It encourages an appreciation of our next generation of how we are impacting our planet. If we can help encourage a generation of ‘Greta Thunberg’s’ then we have an incredibly powerful body to challenge the governments of this world, and I have great hope.