Sorry for the delay, it's been a hectic time with all your orders before Christmas and we're in catch-up mode. So without further ado, let's get into episode 3 of The Purpose Podcast.
Episode 3 Guest
This week’s guest is John Pritchard, Founder of award winning sunglasses brand Pala Eyewear. Through John’s passion to travel and his connection to communities in Africa, Pala Eyewear was founded to giveback. In this episode we learn about the lasting change and opportunity that John and his team have created by funding eye-care projects across Africa.
In 2020 Pala Eyewear became a certified B Corp and John shares his experience to achieve this. Pala Eyewear truly embodies purpose before profits, John's dedication and passion is inspiring.
Alex Stewart: Hello and welcome back to another episode of The Purpose Podcast. I'm Alex, the founder of OneNine5; we're a London-based start-up that designs eco-conscious and unisex travel goods. We launched The Purpose Podcast so that you can get to know the people, stories, and challenges behind some of the most exciting brands that have a purpose at the heart of their business. If you have aspirations or plans to launch your own business and make a positive impact, then you're in the right place for insights and advice.
Today's guest is John Pritchard, founder of award-winning sunglasses brand Pala Eyewear; it launched in 2016 with a priority to give back whether that's through Pala's commitment to sustainable design or their long-term partnerships in Africa to support and provide eye care programs. In this episode, I'm excited to hear about John's personal experience that inspired him to launch Pala Eyewear, what it means to be a registered B Corp, and get his advice for other start-ups that would like to work with charities and NGOs. So, with that in mind, John, welcome to The Purpose Podcast.
John Pritchard: Yes. Thanks very much for the very glowing introduction, so much appreciated. And yes, I appreciate the chance to have a conversation today.
Alex Stewart: Yes, no problem. How are things going for you at the moment?
John Pritchard: Yes, not bad. As we're only sort of a sunglasses brand we're obviously very sort of beholden to the seasonality, so in the UK this time of year things drop off, and when we have to sort of fight for the Australian and US kind of sunbelts of the markets and try and get sort of bigger and bolder out there. So, we're forever chasing the sun, so to speak, but we also have some optical and blue light frames coming out next year, so planning on those designs at the moment. So, always a lot going on as anyone will tell you when you're sort of in a start-up new business.
Alex Stewart: Cool. I like it. Well, though I must admit, I guess we're probably all chasing the sun right now with what sort of 18 months of it being challenging to travel. So, hopefully, there are plenty of people planning for some winter sun and ultimately wearing your sunglasses as well.
John Pritchard: Well, yes, I fully support anyone who wants to take sunglasses on their holidays, the travel market is clearly a decent market for us and a lot of people have sort of obviously been doing staycations in the UK. And as much as I like to think that the UK is the sunniest place on the planet, it probably isn't, so the more that these sort of international routes open up potentially the better for our sunglass sales.
Alex Stewart: Yes. We can certainly relate to that one too after 18 months of pretty much shutting down global travel, John, I'm really keen to jump in and go right back to, oh, I'd say 2016, but probably even before that. So, we'd love to know a bit more about what sparked the mission to ultimately launch Pala Eyewear and sort of having that commitment at the heart to drive a positive change.
John Pritchard: Yes, we've been trading for about five years but registered the business back in 2011, it's more than 10-years ago and I guess if you're looking for sort of a line in the sand, I used to work at Microsoft before doing Pala full-time and we had a conference over in the US and one of the guest speakers way back when was Blake Mycoskie the founder of Toms Shoes. And he was there talking about putting social cause at the heart of his business. And that just really connected with me and thought that's fantastic working with a business where it's not just about the physical product that you're selling, there's far more to it.
And I guess I just got my brain working and I had a lovely time at Microsoft, they look after you very well and it's quite an entrepreneurial environment, a lot of people go off and do their own things. And I ended up being one of those people, I wanted to inject more purpose into my life and have more impact than just sort of effectively taking money from one big company and giving it to another, which was effectively or the role that I was doing. And so, yeah, it was quite some time in incubation as an idea and I did side-by-side as I think a lot of people have to do when you're starting up a business.
And then one day you just decide to make that full-time jump because it just starts to take over your life and you, therefore, need to be fully committed and back yourself, and that was sort of 2016 when I say we actually went live and started selling to the rest of the world.
Alex Stewart: Really like it. How did you know when to make that jump? Well, I guess that's often cut out that nervy moment when you cut ties with that guaranteed monthly salary coming into the bank account. So, how did you know when to make that move, and ultimately, how did you feel at the time?
John Pritchard: Yes, I guess there's a kind of a tipping point. For me, it was trying to do something which had a purpose was becoming a bigger, bigger, bigger, and bigger itch, so to speak and I just felt that I needed to make a move on that sooner rather than later. And actually back around 2016, there were some redundancies going on and I felt okay, so I've been here 10 years and I could maybe take advantage of this and I sort of put my hat in the ring and I got paid out. So, using that money really was the impetus for me to be able to say, right, I can go 12-18 months without having to earn a salary and then see where I am after that.
And so, yes, one was obviously the call or feeling that I just needed to act sooner rather than later, not to let my life or career drift. And then two, obviously, there's a financial sort of moment which made it seem to be the right time.
Alex Stewart: It's really interesting because actually we have very similar paths into what we do now, actually, so my background was within tech and sort of the corporate world, so initially with IBM and then more recently with Dropbox. And in exactly the same sense as you, I took a redundancy package and then opted to re-invest that funding into OneNine5. How was it at the time when you started to tell friends and family that this is the big plan, was it panic stations or were people very supportive?
John Pritchard: Not really, no. If you think about it, it's registered back in 2011 so everyone knew about it, it was just the when rather than the big surprise, oh, I'm just going to go off and do this. It's probably the longest thought-out spontaneous decision you could ever have really, but the family supported and I was, what was it at the time? Well, I was 42, 43, so at a stage in my life where I think you can go off and try something, you can make mistakes and you can still recover from those. I think if you leave it too much later if you're sort of in your fifties and sixties and you're trying to do something and it doesn't maybe pay off, then it's a bit harder maybe to fall back into the system.
So yes, I just felt like everything was lined up, and just for me, it was the serendipity of having that sort of redundancy opportunity come up and then going for it and then, obviously, family backing it as well, so it’s wicked nice to have support from friends and family to give you that impetus to crack on.
Alex Stewart: I think when I told people what I was doing, I think that they were completely sort of bamboozled by this, that essentially I was going from the world of tech to being a wash bag salesman.
John Pritchard: I'm the same, I have no background in fashion, any friend will tell you that I have no fashion sense, less so even eyewear. So, I didn't really care for sunglasses, to be honest until I started thinking of it as an idea, I just had a pair of sunglasses like everyone else in their drawer. Maybe got a new pair almost yearly because you'd end up breaking the ones you had and all scratch lenses and stuff, but it was really for me Pala was formed on a cause. I didn't go out there and say I want to create an eyewear business, I could have been a teacher, it could have been anything but because sort of the emphasis of what I wanted to do the purpose was EyeCareAfrica.
We can talk about that shortly, but I wanted to create a brand or product that leveraged the impact that we were creating on eye care in Africa and, obviously, in a sort of clear marketing sense, it would be good to continue that sort of communication. So, a bit like with Toms Shoes' mold here, buy some shoes, get some shoes, so we have, some sunglasses and we'll provide grants into eye care projects. But yes, I came from a position of zero knowledge of the market and more of zero knowledge of setting up your own business, so yes; I had a lot to learn.
Alex Stewart: Yes, likewise again. So, to that point, where do you start? So, you're not a designer or you're not coming from a fashion background, so when you started out with this mission and this plan, where the hell did you sort of kick start things since these are the sunglasses that I'm going to produce?
John Pritchard: Yes, so, well, actually, so my first conversation was with Vision AID Overseas, so they're a charity-based sort of near Gatwick because what I needed to do was understand how we could actually create change on the ground in Africa. And I was never going to be able to do that through my own roots, it was to hook up with a charity partner and get them to create that impact through our grants. So, that was an important conversation because without that the fundamental basis of what we wanted to do was not in play.
And then, yes, it was a case of networking the hell out of your friends and finding out who knows a designer, or who knows a factory or whatever. And you'd be surprised how many people just know someone who knows someone and then all of a sudden you're connected to somebody, maybe three sorts of connections away who perhaps designs or got around in the eyewear web business. And you just start asking questions and understanding it all but you also learn as well; we've changed factories a few times, in fact, I've changed design as well once, but it's getting those sort of fundamental core elements in place really it was just down to networking and using LinkedIn and the various platforms potentially to see where it gets.
One thing I will add is, being a brand that has a purpose, so to speak, you find that the community is far more receptive to you and sort of trying to help you because there's a bigger play going on here. You're not just a brand out there that's just trying to make as much money from sunglasses, that's not what we're here for, we're here for the planet and people and profit is the least of my, well, obviously it has to happen at some point, but we've never made a profit as a business yet. We're getting very close now, but fundamentally the way we set up, that's just something that will come in due course, so we have to ensure that the network and the people around us are strong and that those people have been so fantastic in helping leverage our situation.
And perhaps it wouldn't have been such an easy environment if we were just out there to maximise profit on making sunglasses.
Alex Stewart: Yes. You made the exact point that I was going to say as well, so I think firstly, from our experience there's definitely a lot of curiosity when starting a business and people want to get to know what you're doing, who you are, that type of thing, which definitely helps. And then on top of that, when you have as you said, purpose at the heart of what you're doing, then we found that people are always super helpful and that's been a similar approach for us with OneNine5, and who do we know or who do we know that other people know that will be able to support and help us? And that's what's been really our approach since we launched in 2019.
John Pritchard: Fantastic. So yes, certainly that's definitely been something that I think being a brand that's kind of a business for good, so to speak, has a real advantage in this current environment.
Alex Stewart: Yes. It makes a lot of sense. And then in terms of one of the real central sort of core foundations of Pala is the give-back program and working with communities and teams in Africa. So, I'd love to hear a bit more about that in terms of your experience that led to that point and ultimately what that looks like today in that program itself.
John Pritchard: Yes, sure. So, why did I choose Africa? That's a continent it's not even a country, but yes, sensibly I've been lucky enough to travel in my earlier years to a number of places across Africa and kind of really fell in love with the various countries that I've visited and the people I've met and just the culture. And, obviously, clearly also of the beautiful places like the Maasai and the Serengeti and that kind of stuff, so I don't know, a soft spot is probably a better word for Africa.
And I also realised at the same time that Africa is one of the most disadvantaged countries when it comes to eye care, in fact, I think that there's a stat from the IAPB, which says that Africa has 73% more blind and visually impaired people or patients than anywhere else in the world. So, it's kind of if you want to start somewhere, you kind of start where the problem is the most exacerbated. And for me the simplicity of a pair of spectacles, which can really change a life of perhaps a child in a school and looking at a Blackboard or reading a book or perhaps a woman threading a needle and being able to sew, it's that simple, a pair of glasses can achieve that for you or corrective surgery as well.
And I just like that and just for me, that was a fundamental, there's a problem and there's something that we can do, whether that's through helping refurbish vision centres or doing outreach projects in schools. So, we've just done one this year in Ethiopia, or just providing vital equipment, it's quite funny, those little tonometer’s, when you go to your opticians, those little kinds of puffy things they do in your eyes, they're about 3000 pounds. So, yes, it's providing equipment and as long-term solutions, it's not about just sort of dumping glasses in local areas and clearing off, it's setting up systems and working with local government, this isn't Pala working directly, it's through a charity Vision Aid Overseas, so ensuring that this is all done in the correct way.
And I always wanted this connection to Africa to be a lot deeper, so our cases, for example, we work with four female weaving communities in Bolgatanga, upper east Ghana, and they make our cases from recycled plastic waste and water sachets. So again, using or reusing plastic that would otherwise be destined to landfill but the important thing really here is that climate change has meant that sort of the elephant grass or straw that they normally weave with drought has meant that they no longer really can access that locally and they would normally have to travel hours to go and harvest it.
And for women traveling alone, there are inherent dangers of doing that, so again, by providing them plastic materials to weave with on their doorstep we're actually helping on different levels in that sense too. So, where we can, it's always trying to connect back to, Pala itself comes from Impala, which is the native African antelope, and all our frame names or African names again, just relate to nice positive sort of African words. So, it's always been that and we wanted to try and keep it quite focused in that sense, pardon the pun, going forward.
Alex Stewart: I love the mission. I think that what you're doing is absolutely incredible. So, was it really a case then of actually meeting people back when you were traveling, that was the real catalyst for you wanting to drive a change or a positive change.
John Pritchard: Yes, it was just when I went to Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, and you'd stop, I did a few of these Overland trips where you're sort of in the truck and you sort of tend to camp instead of staying in hotels and cities, you kind of get out there a bit. And so, you're in and around these communities, which are in the middle of nowhere and everyone sort of comes out and sort of come say hi, or we'd bring a few footballs with us, so suddenly there's a football out on the pitch and everyone's, everyone's kicking the ball around moms, dads, kids, boys, girls, whatever.
I look back and I think that there are very few of the materialistic stuff that we have nowadays in the UK or anywhere in the modern world and yet there was something that made me think that whole simplicity of just enjoyment over a few fundamental things. I sometimes wonder if we have gone a bit too far in our world of screens and stuff, and people being too engaged in other content and rather than just enjoying being out playing. I remember in Ethiopia, there are bicycle rims and a stick and kids will be trying to see how far they can the bicycle rim down the street and it's just amazing, and yet there's no want for anything, there's no envy or anything like that.
And yet I still felt that with a pair of glasses or spectacles, there's an opportunity to sort of break the potential cycle of poverty that a lot of people live in. And so, it was kind of a very strong call to action to me to feel a real connection to those people that I met and felt that this was the most, or the easiest way to channel my wanting to give something back and spectacles or corrective surgery felt like the best route to do that
Alex Stewart: Love the story and think even more so now maybe than pre-Brexit, pre-pandemic, what you're sort of saying is that there's a huge purpose and a huge value in where the planet feels like a smaller place in the last couple of years. That ability to be able to get out there, to meet new people, experience a new culture, that's really what has been the factor to drive change or for you to sort of make a drastic change in your career and have a positive impact.
John Pritchard: And just to add, I feel very, very privileged to be able to do that, I've come from a background that has afforded me to be able to try and do something and make a change and it's not a vanity project here. But I just don't want to leave this planet feeling like I let this whole thing happen and not had a go myself at trying to provide my own solution.
Alex Stewart: I think that it's absolutely clear that it's definitely not a vanity project, it's very apparent the kind of passion and love that you have poured into this. I was keen to get a bit deeper and sort of chat a bit more about the actual products themselves, the sunglasses; I noticed on your website that you refer to them as sustainable design. So, I'm keen to understand what that means and ultimately sort of how you consider the planet alongside your other sort of programs for give-back as well.
John Pritchard: Yes, sure. I guess when I first launched in 2016, we used acetate for our frames. Acetate is a kind of superior material in most high-end frames, but it is quite plastic-based, there are elements of sort of wood pulp in there. So, there are some organic elements in there, but it's not particularly high, but the good news is, bio-acetate is a material that sort of appeared, and you'll be seeing a lot more sites in due course, that's sort of sprung up, I would say, certainly in the last five years, it's definitely had more prevalence.
And the reason for this is the plasticisers, so the bio-acetate material needs plasticisers added to it to make it into the kind of constituent to set in the material that it needs to set in, in order to be what it is. But now you can basically get organically based plasticisers, which means that the frame itself can then now biodegrade, so as bio-acetates, which is biodegradable ayacahuite, obviously, that's in the right conditions, so yes, they will eventually biodegrade in your garden if you bury them for long enough.
Again, I'm very conscious of greenwashing and all this kind of stuff but the acetate that we use, which is Mazzucchelli bio-acetate, which is probably the leading bio-acetate manufacturer in the world, and 90% biodegradation within 115 days is what qualifies for that. But that has to be in the right industrial situation for biodegradation, so clearly, not any of us have that in our back gardens or probably at home and very few of us probably have it at a council level too. So, it's there and you'd hope that the setups at the back-end of the system will improve in due course, it will by the way if you were to compost them, but then forget there are metal parts in a frame as well and, obviously, that's a whole different story too.
So, I am conscious of that, but yes, the back to the main story is that bio-acetate is a far more prevalent material nowadays, and it's good to see more people being encouraged. It's taken me long lead times to get hold of the material for next season, which is good in some ways, bad from a personal point of view, but good that it means there's so much demand for it right now, so clearly the message is getting through and you'd hope that the suppliers will therefore produce more and more, so that's positive. And then for our lenses, we use a more eco-based lens which is made from 39 and a half percent castor bean, so again, an organic component to our lenses, which means we’re having to draw on less sort of non-renewable resource for our material.
So, I feel that we have our product in a good place we're using sort of the most sustainable materials that we can use right now, there is work, obviously, to be done in the industry. It'd be great if I could tell you that bio-acetate meant that there are no oil-based materials in it, but I think that it's roughly about 68% organically based and the other 32% is still oil-based materials, so it's not perfect.
But the industry is definitely moving and shaking, so that's good to see and I think that it's sort of the small indies like us that are kind of prompting the change, and hopefully one day some of the bigger guys in the market will feel like, okay, well, they have taken a bit of our market share now and they'll start changing as well. So, I'm a big fan of grassroots causing change towards the top of the chain, as well as, obviously, people at the top of the chain supporting the grassroots as well. So, it's in terms of our product that's where we're looking, obviously, all our packaging is either recycled or up-cycled even our points of sale, so we're not quite plastic-free in that sense.
There is obviously some bits of plastic in the lenses and still in the frame, but it's getting there, we could offset our plastic if we wanted to, but again, I prefer to put pressure on ourselves just to be making sure we're using the best as in markets and the most progressive in terms of innovation towards being more sustainable.
Alex Stewart: You kind of make a really interesting point because I think this is always a challenge in the industry working and I know that we work with different materials, but at that same time there's that need for easy and safe disposal because ultimately we have to accept that most products do have an end of life. So, to your point around biodegradable and the challenges with that, but then at the same time, there's also that need to produce good quality, durable, long-lasting products so that we're not promoting or actually ending up exacerbating the issue of over-consumption. We're different industries, but definitely faced the same sort of challenges or conundrums between both of those requirements.
John Pritchard: No, I completely agree and from our point of view, we want to provide the best materials and the best manufacturing to ensure that they last as long as possible, but we'll also on sort of the roadmap, we want to look at almost like a refurb where if you've had a frame for of a couple of years then we can maybe apply refurb service, something like that. We're having pace currently a take-back scheme so that if you buy a pair of sunglasses from us, we'll take up to any three old frames that you might have. So, they're not going to be ours, hopefully, they're not but everyone has a frame languishing in the bottom of their drawer and that comes back to our warehouse.
And then we work with TerraCycle and then what happens there is they get broken down into plastic parts and metal parts, the metal is made back up into some nuts and bolts and screws and the plastic parts are made up into rogue cones and watering cans and the like, so there's a positive end of life that we feel responsible. For me, the mission will be we take more frames out of the system than we're putting in ourselves, and the ones we are putting in are as good as we can possibly make them.
Alex Stewart: Love that, I really like it indeed. On the topic of your sunglasses and we often think about the materials and talk about the environmental sustainability of the actual products themselves but the production process is also kind of a key consideration around this. And I noticed that you moved your production I think that it was early this year to Italy, so I was keen to understand what the priority behind doing that was?
John Pritchard: It was actually last year during the lockdown, which is quite easy to start moving stuff around but I think that I got out on the 3rd of March last year, which is by the time I was flying back from Italy, I think I was on a flight with about five people and everyone one was properly masked up, it was like one of the last flights out before they closed things. But prior to Italy, I was manufacturing in China with a very good ethically audit factory, which obviously was an important part of my factory decision but there' are really two issues there.
One is that I was shipping frames a long way to get them to the UK, so I wasn't particularly happy with my carbon footprint for that and then the other real benefit of working with Italy is that we can work in small batch production, so we can produce a style and if we want to just produce 30 those pieces. Whereas, I don't know, do you work in China or Europe; I don't know where you work?
Alex Stewart: Yes, we're manufactured in China with again, one manufacturer.
John Pritchard: Yes. So, you will sometimes find the minimum order quantities are a lot higher, so what it affords us by working in Italy is the opportunity to work with small-batch production and only effectively produce what we need to produce. And the perfect scenario would be getting ourselves into a pre-order system in the long-term where people can order in advance and then they arrive, we sell out, let me make some more. So, trying to turn that whole retail model on its head a little bit, we're obviously a long way to go on that, but it just means that we have less stock on a shelf, sat there for a season, or whatever, I'd much rather we have sold out of it on our sunglasses or coming back soon.
And again, I think that the people that shop our sunglasses will respect the fact that they may not be able to get their sunglasses next week and that's okay, that's fine, they'll be coming back in another two months when we have the new order in and they can wait for them to come in. So again, it's changing some consumer behaviour there, but I think overall that it's a better practice for us with eyewear. So, that was fundamentally the two reasons, plus, whether you like it or not, I have a lot of time for Chinese manufacturing, personally, I think that they do very good quality eyewear and get a bad rep, I think, but I think that's right at the bottom end of production.
I think that they're very good in all kinds of manufacturing but we're based in Italy, it's all handmade by a small sort of family kind of operation, we have just been out there filming them the last couple of weeks. And that sort of extra detail to craftsmanship in terms of that sort of family connection and showing the kind of love and the passion that goes into it, there's a nice story to be woven there. And I think that's something when people are looking at our website, for example, it's a missing piece for us because I think sunglasses or glasses can look quite one dimensional on a website they don't really come to life.
But if you have a bit of film showing the whole sort of piece in action, I think that will really help kind of provide that quality built position that perhaps we have been lacking in terms of just communicating that across effectively.
Alex Stewart: Yes. I have seen a lot of the videos that you have on your website, I do really like them. I think that they're a really powerful way to sort of tell your story.
John Pritchard: Yes, I don't know which ones you have seen, but a lot of them they're not about sunglasses. A lot of them are about the makers, the weavers in our cases, some are the beneficiaries of our spectacles. And one that we even did was Jib, who runs the NGO CARE 4 BASKET that we do our cases for and that was really his story. Once you bring his story to life, he lives quite close down here in Brighton, he has a very humble little table with baskets and I just thought that it was a very good story to show what was behind his baskets.
And then we filmed half it over here in Brighton and then half back over in Ghana where it's a different world and it just shows you the effort that goes into making something and I'm sure that you'll agree. I think that a lot of that is lost nowadays in communications, people forget just what goes into the product, it just seems to be all based on price and that's completely the wrong way to look at what the value of a product is.
Alex Stewart: It's been sort of a fairly similar theme throughout the podcast and we talked about this with neat. a cleaning company and that you walk down a supermarket shelf and you almost take for granted the stories behind these products because you're almost running on autopilot, so you're right. Would you class yourself as being a fashion brand?
John Pritchard: So, there are two ways of looking at this. So, I'll start with that our sunglasses are British designed, we have a really good designer that works with us but I'm very conscious of not creating sunglasses, which have a very fast fashion appeal to it, or very high fashion in the sense of being a bit out there and wacky because again, that doesn't really tally with our strategy of being sustainable. We don't want to create sunglasses that are in one season out the next, so if you look at the website you'll see that the majority is we want people to have a bit of personality with the frames on their faces.
So, they're not all just Wayfarers in 50 colours but it's about having a balance but certainly moving away from anything that's kind of remotely fast fashion because again, that just doesn't work with our principles of sustainability. We don't want people to have a frame in their drawer for a year that ends up going into a landfill because it's no longer in fashion. And in terms of colourways, we tend to use nature as our inspiration; so again, you'll see a lot of the references to our colours being flint, quarts, or amber and all these kind of things, so it's drawn from that sort of the palette of colours.
So, whether that's not fashion, I don't know, I think that the main idea is actually that we're producing sunglasses that don't go out of fashion. So, it goes with that principle of having a pair that lasts you years and years, and not feeling that you're outdated and it's creating a dependable frame that looks good and it keeps on going.
Alex Stewart: And the reason why I ask that question is that I think that you have struck this really nice balance, so your sunglasses look very stylish, they look great and they look awesome but obviously they have that purpose behind them. So, you have sort of struck that balance, ideally, so you said that you had a British designer, where do they seek inspiration for new designs? I'm often curious about this?
John Pritchard: Well, it's weird, well, I don't know you may have the same issues with yourself, but with eyewear, there is a finite amount of designs, so it's not a case of, hey, we have cracked or we have got this new design that's never been seen before; everyone will have seen our design in some capacity. Actually, that said, I feel that we have a couple that feels quite Pala, so we have a collection and that's actually probably one of the mistakes I made early on in our iteration was just producing what I thought was a classic pallet of frames of here's a Wayfarer, here's a Clubmaster, here's a Cat Eye, all this kind of stuff.
And then actually, when you think about it, anyone else who's shopping for those things, they're going to see thousands of those, so what makes them go for your Cat Eye over and above thousands of other Cat Eyes. So, actually having core frames that you can really say are your frames is actually quite important, but even then, they're not going to be too discernible, be too much different from other competitors just because say there's a finite to the number of styles out there. So, look, there are some big trade shows that go on every year some are in Paris and MIDO in Italy and those two are probably the main ones.
And yeah, we can go and look at frames that we see there and have a think and a chat, principally, we also work with, obviously, our manufacturers in Italy, they have some frame shapes that they have, and we look at some of those too, so it's an amalgam really of ideas. And I look at how the overall collection and where I feel that there might be a gap in the collection where we may need to put another one in or think about, let's say, well, 75% of our audience are actually females, so again, thinking, so we're going to be launching a slightly more narrow frame later in the year in response to some customers who just say, look, I have a slightly smaller shaped head, love it if you could produce a frame that can work for.
So, it's again, thinking slightly strategically as well, so giving customers what they want but also this kind of amalgam of working with my designer, inspiration from shows and the guys in Italy and also my thoughts on where I feel that we need to have maybe a pair in the collection, which we are not really covering up.
Alex Stewart: And I think it's not easy to strike that balance for sort of unisex design, but again, I think that you do it very well indeed.
John Pritchard: Yes, thank you. It's not easy and you're never going to make all people happy all of the time but I think a lot of that is down to understanding your audience, so again, that insight of 75% of our audience is female. So, there's no point in me doing hundreds of male sort of designs or frames that have sort of slightly more masculine overtones because actually our predominant audience are women and we do carry more male styles now but often we are finding that's perhaps women buying it for a partner or a male partner as a gift.
I do think that the world of sustainability is still very much dominated by female shoppers and that there's a bit of a lag in sort of the male shopper coming through and buying sustainably. I tend to speak at events and I tend to feel like I'm in a minority in terms of people in the audience, so very much it plains out inside that women are our core audience.
Alex Stewart: Probably say the same thing on our side as well whilst we are a unisex brand, in terms of customers, they do seem to be sort of more heavily skewed towards a female audience. The one thing that I'm really keen to get into and understand a bit more is about your B Corp certification, so, well, first and foremost, obviously, congratulations on receiving that amazing achievement. And one of the things that we are really quite keen to try and do in this podcast is to understand what these types of things mean.
So, I said that you often might see things like the B Corp certification or 1% for the planet on people's websites and different company websites. So, in your case, what does that journey to become B Corp certified look like? And then ultimately as a customer, what does that mean for them buying from you?
John Pritchard: So yes, we certified last year and in terms of the process, it is a pretty tough process, but really one that I thought was really valid for us as a business, there are a lot of certifications out there, you can be GOTS, you can be vegan-friendly, all these kinds of different things, fair trade, et cetera. But for us as an eyewear brand, very few resonate with us in terms of really accurately kind of reflecting our sort of sustainable or our planet and people credentials.
But actually, the B Corp one does because it actually looks at every single part of your business and therefore will verify you according to your strengths, but also you get to acknowledge your weaknesses as well. And I think that's really important because that's obviously where you work harder and look to improve your score every three years because every three years you kind of re-certify.
So, basically, I started that again, at the start of lockdown, March 2020, so a bit more time on my hands perhaps to think about it, and I was lucky I had a few contacts within the B Corp world or B leaders, so there are people who go out there and sort of almost help on behalf of B Corp kind of with your journey in the application process. And there are a couple of B Corp companies around here who had already certified and I connected with a couple of their team members who kind of again, talked through that process.
So again, a lot of assistance because there's the impact assessment form, which I think anyone can access that used to be free to access, but it might be now that it's a hundred pounds, but don't quote me on that. But I think that you can go in there and have a look at all of the questions that are involved and then you will see that actually it is quite involved and the art is actually trying to understand what they are trying to get out of that question too.
So, it does take quite a lot of time and interpretation, certainly going back and forth, certainly making you check on some of your own stats and carbon outputs and making calculations that you perhaps haven't made before and then going to sort of a verification stage and it took about nine months, I think for that all to happen. There was perhaps a four-month wait in between because even last year it was getting busy, I know that the UK last year was the fastest-growing B Corp community and then I think that this year, even, I think that there are maybe 500 plus B Corps now in the UK and globally we're up to about 5,000.
So, it has started to really kind of have a lot of visibility which is great and there are a lot of benefits, there's what's called The Beehive, which when you become a B Corp you join The Beehive and there's so much learning in there, which I can use for my own business. So, we've committed to being net-zero for our carbon into 2030, and they have a whole piece on that and there's lots of stuff on how to qualify my stoke three-carbon output, all these kinds of things, which are just some of these impossible questions, so that's a really nice community and plus, obviously, there are other B Corps in there.
So, we have a B Corp month in March, I think, and we all kind of support each other's businesses and stuff, so there are some real benefits of doing that and I think that what we'll see is the consumer benefit coming through at some point, I don't think it's hugely visible yet in the UK. I still think if you probably walk up to 20 people, maybe one person might know what B Corp stands for whereas if you look at the US, I think that's a more developed market, I think that it started in 2007, I think with people like Patagonia.
So, people, there are more familiar with what a B Corp means, that they are used for logo a lot more on their products or in their stores or whatever to emphasise their credibility, I think the UK, we just lag in that market somewhat, but it will come. And I think in a couple of years’ time again, if you're looking at the speed at which the B Corp movement is happening in the UK, then that momentum will channel through to the point that people will start seeing that logo more and more, and then ask the question.
And then once they find out what it stands for and that it kind of hopefully aligns with their values, they will start shopping on that basis and I know that even now since we became a B Corp, I now use three different suppliers who are B Corps. I've changed my suppliers purely because they're B Corp, so to me in my head, they're already a company for good and providing their rates or their services are as good as the incumbent then there's no reason why I wouldn't want to change to them.
So yeah, that's a long rambling answer to your question, but it is a long process, it can be arduous, but that's for good reason, we don't want it to be a situation where every company that goes through it becomes a B Corp, otherwise, it just becomes an easy ticket. So, I think, I can't remember, I'm terrible with quotes, so perhaps don't quote me, but I think it's 90% of companies that start the journey drop out or don't make it. So, that emphasises the situation there, but do you know what, if you persist and you become a B Corp, I think it's going to stand you really good stead in the future
Alex Stewart: From your side then, in that case, a level of your commitment and your passion because it's a small team to be able to make this happen and run a business the right way with that kind of accreditation and certification, then it speaks volumes for what you have achieved since 2016.
John Pritchard: Well, thank you. I do have to thank the lockdown for some of that extra time that it gave to me and to say, the other people within the B Corp community that gave up some time to help provide some mentoring and help me with some of the questions. But because we do a lot of giving and a lot of our impact is in that space, that's an easy thing to quantify, so that really helped us and the whole sort of raft of questions that we don't because we don't have enough employees to kind of answer that part of the scope yet.
So, the bigger we get we will unlock those questions and that will open us up to more points in the future, so that's the thing, it's a great carrot and stick, yes, we have our B Corp score, but I want that to improve every year and I think that's in everyone's interest to do that. And I certainly know that there are a whole bunch of things that we can do better, so it's not a club for life so you have to re-certify and it's important that you keep your membership
Alex Stewart: Well, congratulations all the same because I think that it's a testament to what you have achieved thus far. One more question for you regarding Pala and then I want to get into the practicalities and a bit of advice for anybody that might be listening, who you can help out. So, I know you have already mentioned about products-wise that are sort of coming next year, but I'm keen to also understand what is the purpose for you and ultimately for Pala Eyewear going forward as well?
John Pritchard: Look, the bigger picture I would say, getting to profitability is always a helpful target because then I know that I can support myself in the business, but beyond that, it's really the more we achieve, in terms of the bigger we get as a business, it's completely connected to our impact in terms of what we're doing in Africa and with the weavers and all the other sort of areas we're doing as well. So, it really is that kind of fundamental equation and we're speaking to Vision Aid Overseas recently, there are a number of vision centres that could be made and built-in time and I'd love to be able to turn around and say, okay, look, if you're going to do one in Burkina Faso next year and this area we'll pay for that.
And that's a genuine longstanding solution, we did one in Zambia in 2017 and it sees about seven and a half thousand patients a year, I think it's at 750,000 people, sorry, not 750, 75,000 people, or is it 750, I can't remember actually, I have to look that one up but it serves a lot of people. But Zambia, case in point is that I was speaking to the sort of the chief optician for that vision centre and he was saying back in 2014, they had less than 10 optometrists for the whole country and that's for a country that's something like four times the size of the UK, so, we can go outside and head down to opticians, that's not so easy in Zambia.
So, it just goes to show the impact that having a vision centre can have, and there's no reason that the bigger we get we can just create far more vision centres and these long-term solutions, rather than it being a sticking plaster here today, gone tomorrow kind of solution, which doesn't really work for anyone. So, that really is the fundamental aim of the business, yes, we'll increase into blue light lenses and spectacle frames, but that's just a practical kind of business decision, that's an important part of the business, of course, and we just need to get more famous and sort of get our brand more visible around the world, very easy to do that, of course.
Alex Stewart: Nice. And your purpose itself probably leads quite nicely into one of the questions I wanted to ask you around some advice that you might be able to give back today. So, for somebody else who might be starting their own business, or have aspirations to launch their own business as you have done; a sort of place that gives back at the heart of what they're doing, how would you advise to really start that process? So, if for example, you might not have relationships with an NGO or a charity, or you might not have been on the ground to meet certain people, so how do you really go about that?
And then secondly, I don't really know where this came from, but I often sense that there's an aspect of skepticism towards charity donations that is this money being spent in the right way and if it's not in front of me, do I really know how this money's been used? So again, if you are somebody that's passionate to do that, what should you be looking out for? How do you make sure that donations are used in the right way?
John Pritchard: Two really good questions. And the first thing is sometimes you just have to bite the bullet in terms of approaching charity, Vision Aid didn't know that before I came to them, I had a phone call, but it was a nice phone call from their point of view. It was me saying, look, I want to give you some money effectively, so any charity's going to be quite effective in terms of positive to your responding, what is important is how you structure that giving.
So, it's really important so we have an agreement that grants money into projects, it's not money into the charity and it's being spent on sales costs or admin costs or whatever because to me that's not, I need to be authentically telling people what the impact of their purchase is, and that wouldn't be authentic. So, they provide a report, well it's every year at the moment, I hope for it to be every six months showing the project and where the money has gone to. So, say back in the summer, we did a school project in Ethiopia where all the kids were screened, all the teachers were screened and some of the teachers were trained up into how to do screenings.
So, kind of an overall benefit for that particular school, I get all the reports and I get photos and all that kind of stuff comes through, which we will now and again, put up onto our social platform to connect people to that core story, and then the weavers is interesting because this really is about trust and also respect. So, I went out to see the weavers in 2018, I felt that it was really important that they saw who I was, and I could meet them and talk with them and get an understanding of the kind of relationship we wanted.
Unfortunately, they had been burned by the white man, so to speak before, getting them to weave stuff, baskets and whatever and not paying them, and so that trust is a really, really important level and by going out, meeting and having a conversation makes so much difference. And I can't go out every year, but Jib who I said runs the NGO that I work with, he and I will sometimes do a WhatsApp call, so some have phones with the WhatsApp function on it, so we can connect and have a chat in that way.
But we sort of led onto that as you have mentioned earlier, if you look at the video content that's on our Vimeo page or on the website even, you'll see that most of that video is basically talking about our supply chain or our impact because I really think that the videos speak louder than words. We can say that we're doing it, but let's show that happening, let's show that being done, that's what I think those videos do, they bring to life, the fact that we are genuinely authentically doing this and it is about creating trust and relationships and taking a very long-term view about it.
B Corp rewards companies that work long-term with their suppliers and you can see why because it's about building and growing and getting the best practice and getting, I guess the best quality, and seeing what else we can do. And with the weavers, going back to what you're saying the bigger we can get, the more impact we can have, we're not just looking at paying them a good wage for the cases that they make, it's also knowing what would help the communities as well.
So, when I was out there they are very keen to have some wells built, and so we are kind of in a position where we're looking at building a well for one of those communities because I think it's like a seven-mile round trip to get water. And so, it's learning those sort of stories too and looking beyond it, just being a pure sort of working relationship, that's providing more than that, so that's the trust, trust I say, is one of those very important things.
Alex Stewart: To go back to the first point, that's a really interesting sort of piece of advice there that ultimately in donating, you're donating to specific projects, not to the charity in general. And I think that probably a lot of people aren't really aware that, A, that's the case may be on your side, but actually, B, that if they wanted to do it themselves, that would be a super practical way to be able to give back and have that degree of confidence that it's being spent for the right reasons.
John Pritchard: No, I agree. And maybe I've been lucky that we did spend quite a lot of time and it's not easy just to go and fly out to a country and video and all the costs involved in that but it's very, very key to us and in terms of our marketing spend for us that's what it is. It's not about Facebook ads; it's actually producing really nice quality content that tells our story which is far stronger than my view and showing a pair of sunglasses on someone's newsfeed on Facebook.
So, it's why we have gone actively to show the makers there, that's just, again, important to tell that story because it gets under the skin of our brand and I think particularly in this time and place now where there are so many brands that may have their eco or their conscious collection, let's say and they get all the headlines and actually, their conscious collection might be 2% of their business, but the rest of their business is run terribly.
So, there is a lot of greenwash going on, and so I think that you mentioned on your site, which is a core value, is being real and real is authenticity and I think that if you stick to that core value, that's the thing that's going to really stand you out from the competition because you can't fake being authentic. The two words don't connect together, so we have always done it the hard way and being authentic from the start, which has meant stretching our budgets and our costs to tell these stories and to do so much giving right from the start, it's why we're not profitable.
Because we give so much on our way as we grow, but the more we connect with people then the better it'll become and that's the way that we set up and I think that's it's like that for most sustainable business I'm under no illusion that it's easy, it's a hard slog. I was probably like everyone else, when I launched, I think, oh, in two years’ time, we'll be doing this number of sunglasses and et cetera, but there are all those battles of visibility and competing with everyone else in the world out there to try and breakthrough and penetrate and really get that message through.
And that's an art all of itself, and I don't think that we have even got that right after five years and there's still a heck of a lot more to be done. We're just about to have our website rebuilt because it's a bit clunky and it's living off plugins and all kinds of stuff, but that will speed up our website and the UX and the user experience. So, there are all these other things you have to think about in the business, well, the sustainable stuff, but all the other kind of practicalities of running a business and with have a small team, as you say, we have a very small team here.
I'd like to think perfectly formed, of course, but we are a very small team and we can't always pull all the levers that other companies can go to, we can't just run out and grab 10 influences to go and wear our sunglasses, we just have, have to do it carefully. But I think that in doing so, doing it carefully, being authentic, you bring in an audience who understand that and appreciate that, I think that you get a more loyal customer as a result.
Alex Stewart: Kind of the big thing that I think I have almost taken away from speaking to you today, John, is, ultimately that I guess if Pala Eyewear was a stick of rock and we cut you in two, then it's that feeling that trust runs all the way through the business. And that's between you and suppliers, you and NGOs, but then ultimately you and customers as well, and I think that's ultimately why you'll certainly win in the future as well.
John Pritchard: Well, I definitely like the stick of rock analogy coming from Brighton, so that's great. I'd love to get some part of rock made up or something, but well, yeah, I think that you're right, I think that it is just the element of trust and respect for the supply chain but communicating all of this to our customers so that they can see for themselves and equally making sure we have a very good product. We won't survive, it can be the most sustainable ethical, whatever, but if our sunglasses are terrible, then nobody is going to buy them, so again, it's making sure that we have an extremely good product, which is market-leading in its price point or whatever we have chosen.
And for us, we feel like we have a really well-made product at that price point in the market but having, obviously, all the sort of supporting materials of sustainability that sit behind that and probably this year, this summer is like the first time that I feel like we have gotten to that point. So, it's taken five years and I'm not putting anyone off who is starting their own business because I think eyewear is a particularly complicated market to start-up in because there are so many manufacturing component parts, but it does take a while.
But I think if you're passionate about it and you're passionate about the cause and why you have set up, that's going to carry you all the way through to success. And that will always come across in the way that you talk about your product or your brand's people because you can hear the passion in people's voices when they get excited about what they're talking about and we have all got ideas and passions.
And I think that if it's something that we can make the most of, and I think that will separate a lot of the sustainable businesses that are starting up today from some of those sorts of slightly more dinosaur businesses that rely on prices, their only metric for reaching out to people.
Alex Stewart: So, if anybody's listening right now that is passionate to either, support you, follow you or buy a pair of your sunglasses, where can people find you, John, what's the best way to discover you?
John Pritchard: Well, clearly it's going to be winter by the time this podcast comes out, so not the best time to be seeing sunglasses, but maybe I'll go around shining torches in people's faces and seeing what I can do. But look, if you're interested in checking us out, the best thing that you could do is actually come to our website and just join our newsletter, for us, that is where we can talk to you. It's not a newsletter that thrusts loads of product under your noses and talking about that, our strap-line for the business is, see the world better and that's not just about seeing the world better from the people we're helping in Africa through the eye care.
It's not just from the literal fact that through sunglasses lenses and protecting our eyes, or even optical lenses that we're helping with your eyesight for any of our customers, but also in our newsletter, it's very much the people we interview, et cetera. So, for example, the chief scientist from The Barrier Reef Foundation, and we have done scientists on micro-plastics and various people, we meet, who, yes, they talk about the problems that are out there, but they're also talking about solutions, so how they see the world better.
So, it's just a very nice short piece of content for your inbox and you would get a 10% discount as well if you sign up to our newsletter, so that for me is the ask, go to the website, wait for the popup to come up or whatever, and come and join our newsletter. Yes, you can follow us on Instagram as well, of course, and like our pictures and comment and do all that kind of stuff but if you just want to join us on our journey the newsletter's the best place to be, and if you do buy some sunglasses well, that's great and do talk about us to your friends.
Alex Stewart: John, you're an absolute gent, thank you so much. I appreciate your time and I'm looking forward to supporting Pala in the future going forward as well, I think that you're going to do big things.
John Pritchard: Well, that's very kind, Alex. So, pleasure speaking to you and likewise speaking with another brand, which its mission is business for good and I'm a great advocate of always being supportive of that environment. So, certainly, perhaps we'll interview you for our own website at some point and get people going to your site too, so yes, much appreciated.
Alex Stewart: I appreciate that, thanks, John, have a good day.
John Pritchard: All the best
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