Every now and again we love to introduce you to the new up and coming or successful brands run by mums and dads. Parenting itself is a hard work and if you combine it with running your own business, you must be a super hero! So this time we met with another super parent, John Pritchard, the founder of Pala Eyewear, an ethical sunglasses brand, who put people and the planet first. Why is the brand so special? From each pair of sunglasses sold they deliver lasting change, empowerment and opportunity by funding eye-care projects across Africa.
Who is John Pritchard
Father to a 13-year-old daughter Eloise, based in Brighton, lover of the outdoors, passionate about our planet. When away from work (not very often) you’ll find me heading out to sea on my paddleboard or pointing my camera at yet another sunset. Can make a very good, boiled egg, and soldiers. And has somewhat of an eye for sustainable sunglasses – he’s the founder of Pala Eyewear.
How did you manage to build a successful business while working full time?
I worked at Microsoft for almost 10 years before making the jump to start my own business. As a company, Microsoft encouraged independent thinking and with that a sense of entrepreneurial spirit. During my time there I received excellent sales and marketing training, so I certainly had a good foundation of skills ready for when I made the move to start Pala.
However, the reality of starting a sunglasses business was that I was entering an industry (fashion) that I had no previous experience in, I just knew I wanted to make a difference and try to do it sustainably. But my knowledge of sunglasses didn’t extend beyond the pair of old frames I kept in my kitchen drawer. So, from that point of view it really was a case of starting from the beginning!
Initially squeezed Pala work in and around my day job when commuting, in the evenings and weekends. It’s tricky to get the work life balance right at the start, but for me it couldn’t have happened any other way.
Why ethical sunglasses?
Pala started, perhaps unusually, by identifying a cause and the starting point was eyecare in Africa – or rather, the lack of it. Founded on the fundamental basis that access to eyecare around the world is so unequal. Africa has 73% more blind and visually impaired people than any other region in the world, and yet a pair of glasses is one of the most cost-effective poverty alleviating tools you can give someone.
So, we kept it simple and created an eyewear brand that made an impact – from each pair of sunglasses sold we fund eyecare projects in Africa, via our charity partner Vision Aid.
What’s the concept of your brand?
First and foremost, it is to produce high quality eyewear. You can have the most amazing brand story but if your sunglasses aren’t there in terms of quality or style then you’ll not deliver for you consumers and your brand will suffer as a result.
So, for Pala it’s about high-quality eyewear but whilst always looking through the lens (pardon the pun) of minimising our impact on the planet and maximising social impact.
We use bio-acetate to create our frames, which is 100% biodegradable, plant based and contains no nasties – unlike most sunglasses on the market which are made from acetate with added oil-based plasticisers. And our production is all small batch, to minimise waste, created with an independent family-run factory – who share our environmental values and aims.
What challenges you face as a sustainable brand?
As a brand driven by purpose, our mission is to produce high quality, long-lasting eyewear whilst making a commitment to minimise our impact on the planet and maximise positive social impact on people. We are certified as a B Corporation, which means we meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance both profit and purpose.
I think there are always challenges in running a business. But trying to run one sustainably, with a triple bottom line of (people, purpose, and profit) rather than just profit can sometimes make it harder. It means we’re not taking the easiest, cheapest, or most convenient route – but rather considering carefully, how we can do things differently to spearhead real change and help to inspire positive steps forward in our industry.
What is your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Research your space. Identify the service or product you wish to be create and see where your USP (unique selling point) can shine and what value you can add for customers. It sounds obvious, but I would say it has probably taken me 5 years to finally get to a place where I am happy with our positioning in the market, the quality of product we offer and the story behind it. In those early years, pricing was all over the shop, we made mistakes with some style choices, we changed suppliers a few times. Then there is the fun and games of running into trademark disputes, stock being stolen and dare I mention Brexit? But it is all part of the process, and you need to make mistakes to learn and improve.
You need resilience and to be a little risk adverse at times and when there are bumps in the road, you just see these as challenges to be embraced… notwithstanding you’ve got a good story to tell at the end of it all!
When you ‘go it alone’ I think there is some trepidation that you are just that – alone in the world with your laptop and ideas. It can therefore feel overwhelming and perhaps put you off taking those first steps. However, what I found right from the start was that there is a lot more support and resource out there than you might expect. As an ethically based business, people are more willing to give their time and advice because there is this bigger picture of having a shared vision of a better planet. Connecting with people and building a network is key.
I’ll add that you need to be prepared for the long haul. Whilst sustainable fashion is becoming more common, people still aren’t necessarily shopping sustainable fashion (less than 0.5% in the UK), and those that are already ethically minded are buying less – as should be the case, one t-shirt that will last years instead of three. Therefore, as a brand, to be able to grow you must make sure you connect with the mainstream audiences too – they need to like your product regardless of the sustainable elements that are so important to me.
Where do you see Pala in 5 years?
I want to see Pala as a leading eyewear brand for sustainable sunglasses and eyeglasses, to have grown without compromise on our values and authentic voice; to increase our social impact work by helping establish more vision centres and further improve the quality of life for the weavers we work with through community projects. As a B Corp I want to see continual improvement in our score and my focus will be on circular economy and looking to see how we can continue to minimise our impact on the planet.