Pala is an eyewear brand with a difference. With a brand new collection in our fashion store One.Six.Eight, this London / Africa based brand works towards what really matters to them, sustainability and making a real difference to those who need it most. We wanted to find out more so we had a chat with director John Pritchard and took a behind the scenes look at all things Pala.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, we understand your professional background was in a different industry?
My professional background has always been in digital marketing and advertising. My roles have largely been creative ones so very much taking advantage of my expert ability to daydream – my teachers at school weren’t wrong on that front. An enjoyable career path (I mean, there’s no such thing as a bad idea, right?) but then the Pala ‘itch’ began to take hold.
Outside of work, I live in Brighton and have a nine-year-old daughter and so my life is balanced between Pala and her – the two biggest passions in my life!
What inspired you to start an eyewear brand and particularly work with African artisans?
My motivation stemmed from a desire to do something with my life that provided me with a genuine sense of purpose – to make a tangible difference to the lives of others and not just my own. I didn’t want to sit back in my rocking chair in another 30 years’ time with my pipe and slippers (or something much more futuristic) knowing that I hadn’t tried to do something positive and lasting during my 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, and certainly provided that purpose that I was seeking.
So, for me at least it was a case of identifying a cause first. Whatever I was going to create as a product needed a cause at the heart of it. Being made aware of the global issue of a lack of access to eye care provided that seed. Ten per cent of the world’s population are unable to get access to eye care and yet a pair of spectacles can be so empowering for the wearer by enabling them to read, learn and work. Simple, yet so very so effective.
The collection is underpinned by the brand's story. What is the process when making a pair of Pala sunglasses from design to production?
I work with a couple of designers and each year we visit the two leading optical trade fairs, Mido in Milan and Silmo in Paris. We use these fairs to get our inspiration for what is coming down the line in terms of shapes, colourways and detailing for the following season. We then use this to inform our own collection and we spend many hours and coffees in a room full of frames, colour chips and lens cases to shape our collection. Once we have settled on our styles we then CAD up the designs for the factory who will get initial samples, any minor adjustments are made, and final pre-production samples are received and once signed off we go into production.
The cases have a slightly different story. The plastic is cut into strips and made into twists before our weavers set to work. Each case uses around 60 twists and where weavers cut away excess plastic from their case making process we take that away and re-cycle once more into the system. The colour stripe on each case can be traced back to the community that wove it and more recently the weavers have taken to writing their names on a tag that comes with the case as they are immensely proud of their work.
Pala actively supports optical centres and eye care in Africa, how did this come about and how successful has it been so far?
As my intention had always been to have a cause at the heart of the business one of my earliest tasks was to find a suitable eyecare charity we could work with that was already established in Africa. Vision Aid Overseas is the leading UK charity working in Africa and Pala have been a partner of their since 2015 which makes it a lot easier for us to facilitate our ‘giving’ goals and commitments.
It’s been a real success. Pala provides grants directly into the projects, so we know exactly how our money is spent and gives us something tangible to tell our customers about. It might be a vision centre, a dispensary or a key piece of optical equipment. Last year we completed a project to build a vision centre in Chinsali, Zambia serving a region of 75,000 people. We hope to announce a new project later this year.
We get asked this all the time, what does the word Pala mean?
All elements of our brand go back to Africa and our name is no exception. It references the native African antelope the ‘impala’ an animal renowned for its superb eyesight – their main survival tool (and a decent turn of speed!)
Do you have any upcoming collections in the pipeline? (inspirations / themes)
There are few exciting developments in the pipeline. Towards the end of the year we will be producing a capsule optical range and at the end of the summer we will be launching a black version of our popular Asha style, but this time made from recycled acetate. It’s another small step for us to be moving in moving towards more sustainable solutions for our customers.
We then have our 2019 collection which I’m really excited about. We’ve got a couple of great new cat-eye shapes coming along as well as some exciting editions to our square frames. In terms of colourways earthy and cosmetic tones are a key trend next year and if you’re particularly adventurous there may well be something in the collection that picks from the ‘orange and lemon’ colour trend for next year too.