“We need to ‘walk the talk’ of good business practice”
Pala Eyewear founder, John Pritchard, tells OT about the brand’s cause-first approach, upcoming frame launches, and what is involved in being a B Corp
23 March 2022
What is Pala Eyewear and what makes your eyewear unique?Pala is a UK-based eyewear company inviting us all ‘to see the world better.’ Our core proposition is to offer ethical and sustainable eyewear that’s also stylish and affordable, to fund eye care projects in Africa.
We only use environmentally friendly bio-acetate supplied by either Mazzucchelli or Laes and create our frames in small batch production, working with a family-run factory in Italy (to support other small independent companies and help reduce air miles).
Our sun lenses are 39% plant resin origin, and our sunglasses cases are uniquely woven from recycled plastic waste by weaving communities in Ghana. All our packaging is plastic free and recyclable.
Pala Eyewear in three interesting facts
- The name Pala is derived from ‘Impala’ – a native antelope in Africa which uses keen eyesight to keep itself alert for predators
- Pala was founded on a cause first: eye care in Africa. The team retrofitted an eyewear company to help find a solution to the cause, Pritchard said: “We could have been anything but decided on eyewear for the natural connection”
- So far, Pala has provided over £43,000 to eye care projects across Africa via its partnership with Vision Aid Overseas.
What is the latest collection you have introduced and why does it stand out from the crowd?We have several new frames dropping into the evolving collection this spring. However, for us it is not about jumping on the latest fashion style, it’s more about creating timeless pieces that will endure season after season. We have a well-set collection of styles that we have refined over the years and we know connect well with our customers, but we’re always looking for opportunities to innovate too.
For example, we have a lovely new square cat’s eye arriving in April, which I am excited about. We have also thought about those customers who have a more narrow or wider face shape. Subsequently, we are introducing two new styles to be more accommodating at either end of that spectrum.
Mazzucchelli has some lovely new bio-acetates with some beautiful colour gradients in them, and we’re hoping to be one of the first brands to bring some of those more playful colours to the market.
We are part of a group of winners including brands, suppliers, and organisations, all at the forefront of pushing best practice in the fashion industry
In 2020, Pala moved production to Italy – can you talk about this decision and what this has meant for the brand?This was an important part of our strategy as a business. I wanted to have a supplier that was closer to home so that we could work more intimately with them and build a strong partnership together. It also reduced our carbon footprint significantly.
Small batch production means we only make what we need, so we don’t waste stock and minimise our impact on the planet. The smaller minimum orders also mean we have the freedom to explore collaboration and custom opportunities – which is exciting and rewarding for both parties.
Last year, Pala received B Corporation certification. What can you tell us about Pala’s B Corp journey?Becoming a B Corp business had been on our radar for some time. The certification felt a natural next step for Pala. Since our inception in 2016, our mission has been creating a positive impact for planet and people and the certification rewarded us for our focus on this. I also recognised that, by putting the company through the rigours of the assessment, I would learn more about the areas in which we were not doing so well – to help us be better as we grow.
Our approach to business as a force for good is trying to be the best we can across the four main assessment areas of the B Impact Assessment – namely governance, environment, community, and workers/customers. All our decisions as a business are taken within the context of how they impact across these areas. We need to ‘walk the talk’ of good business practice and be advocates within our industry to champion better solutions for the planet and people.
What does it mean for Pala to be named one of the winners of the 2022 Common Objective Leadership Award?It’s great recognition for Pala within the industry, and on a personal level, I’m really delighted with the win. It means that we are part of a group of winners including brands, suppliers, and organisations, all at the forefront of pushing best practice in the fashion industry. It reflects the efforts of the wider team and partners around the Pala business to push the agenda for better business and innovating for a more sustainable future.
Here’s hoping we have a lovely summer, and we all get to wear our favourite frames in that beautiful, great outdoors
What effect has COVID-19 had for Pala over the past two years, and how have you had to adapt since?
It gave and it took away. The main impact was the significant damage to our wholesale business, with shops closed for prolonged periods and not in the position to be buying, or if they did, very cautiously. The travel market is an important one for us too and clearly that was and continues to be adversely affected. Fortunately, we have a good web presence and saw an increase in online sales, direct from our website, with customers exclusively shopping online while shops were closed.
It has not been an easy period by any stretch, but it has allowed us the time to focus more on optimising our web presence and making it the best experience for our online customers. To that end, our website has just been re-built and the customer experience feels natural and a lot faster than our previous version. It will also help to grow our international presence too.
Are there any new products or projects in development that customers should be aware of?It is an exciting year for us as we will be launching a blue light/optical collection in late Spring which will open new trading opportunities and add to our customer proposition.
We’re also introducing virtual try-on for the first time. After lots of research to find the right technology provider to enable this, we’ve found a brilliant small company, also based in Brighton, to help us fulfil this. We’re really excited to see how our online customers respond.
What are the company’s main ambitions for the next 12 months?
Brand partnerships are a growing area for us, so we’re looking to focus on this more – and have some exciting announcements in the space in the months to come. We have a few nice marketing ideas for this year too and are looking forward to revealing all in due course.
Of course, the impact work in Africa is a huge part of our raison d’être so we will be increasing the visibility around that and connecting people to the story and the change they are part of creating.
Pritchard on 2022 eyewear trends
In the sunglasses space I am seeing a lot more cat’s eyes appearing for the season ahead, many referencing 50s glamour and edging towards a more oversized finish.
With lockdowns, we have seen a real push in athleisure and that fashion seems to pair well with chunkier frames. Athleisure remains big and that continues to be good news for those thicker styles.
Aviators will continue to shine this year and I would expect to see acetate versions competing with the metals. These will be particularly popular with the millennial generation who are enjoying the 80s/90s revival right now.
Whilst we talk about the aviator, timeless styles continue to build in popularity. The sustainable movement is helping push this – advocating styles that can last season after season without ever going out of fashion and moving away from seasonal one-hit wonders.
In terms of colourways, the trend for invisible frames will be seeing a lot of frames in clear acetate and soft pastels this summer. Here’s hoping we have a lovely summer, and we all get to wear our favourite frames in that beautiful, great outdoors.