Pala Eyewear: See The World Better with John Prichard
When you put on a pair of sunglasses – it instantly makes you feel cool. Right? Well, you’re about to meet a sunglasses company that will not only make you look and feel cool – but to see the world better!
Pala Eyewear creates designer sustainable and ethical sunglasses and today you get to hear from the founder – John Prichard. Their story starts as all great stories do – finding passion and purpose.
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Meet John Prichard
John Prichard is the founder of Pala Eyewear a B Corp ethical sunglasses brand, that put people and the planet first. In his twenties, John traveled around Africa and fell in love with the beautiful places, people, and communities along the way. Years later he was moved by an article reporting that there are 1.2billion people worldwide with poor vision, simply because they don’t have access to glasses. Africa has 73% more visually impaired people than other regions. Yet a pair of glasses is recognized as the number one tool to fight poverty – enabling and empowering people to read, learn and work.
Pala was established in 2016, with a mission to inspire us all to see the world better, and funds eyecare projects across Africa using profits from each pair of sunglasses sold. The evolving sustainable collection of design-led sunglasses are made in small batch production at a family-run factory in Italy, using eco-friendly products – to maximize impact on people while minimizing the impact on the planet.
The PALA story
The Pala story started from John Prichard realizing that eye care is a privilege.
We can easily find eye care in the US and other developed nations. However this isn’t the case in many parts of the world, especially Africa. For instance, John tells us that in Sierra Leone there are just 4 optometrists for the entire country’s population.
After hearing Blake Mycoskie speak about Tom’s Shoes, his wheels started to turn. He reached out to organizations and factories trying to create partnerships in Africa while he was still working at Microsoft. Then in 2016 he finally got Pala up an running.
“(Pala) was fundamentally founded on that social cause of eye care in Africa – uniting the sales to grants and eye care projects in Africa. Clearly it’s that social impact has always been front and center, but the environment has always been close to my heart too.
So wherever we’ve tried to develop as a business, I’ve always tried to kind of put sustainable elements into the brand. I’m a very big advocate of making small changes and, and learning and an accumulation of small changes is far better than trying to make one big change and failing.”
Pala has a mission to become the most sustainable eyewear company on the planet. In 2020 they became B-Corp Certified, but the challenge doesn’t stop there.
“You can’t be, by any stretch, perfectly sustainable. By virtue of just being a manufacturer of eyewear, we are having an impact on the planet. But I think there are ways and avenues of being more sustainable and, and in particular, managing our environmental impact and the social impact that we are having. (It) puts us in a good position at least to have a lot arrows to the bow, or pillars, so to speak of sustainability…Our sustainable mission will always be ongoing,”
Social and environmental Impact
Due to climate change, the elephant grass that traditional weavers would utilize moved south due to recurring drought. Pair that with the issue of water contamination from DDT in the 50s and 60s, all water has to be imported to keep communities safe – creating an influx of plastic water sachets that typically get thrown out.
Seeing these two issues together, Pala began to partner with Care4basket, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) running an initiative in Bolgatanga, Upper East Ghana. Together, they are able to provide safe work for weavers and reduce plastic waste to create the woven Pala Eyewear glasses case. The elephant grass is replaced by plastic from used water sachets and secondhand plastic waste from a nearby facility. Each case has 6 water sachets and to date the company has redirected over 30,000 of these plastic water containers to cases.
This empowers and improves the livliehood of those communities, and each case bears the name of the person who made the case.
“I think a really important thing in our modern world is to really kind of connect people to what is behind your product. It’s an easy thing for us to do. And it’s an important that people don’t lose sight of, ‘Oh, it’s just another pair of sunglasses’ or ‘It’s just another sunglasses case.’ They’re very artisanal. Some people love them. Some people think, ‘Oh, well, they’re not kind of nice and smooth’ and whatever. Well, that’s not the purpose of the case. The purpose is itself is a story, and it’s a story of empowerment and hope for the communities that made them.”
As for the sunglasses themselves, they are handcrafted in small batches in Italy to reduce environmental impact. The lenses are made from plant resin (about 40%) and the frames are made from bio-acetate, a biodegradable plant based material (64-68%). The soft bags are made from 70% recycled PET plastic with vegan friendly inks. The metal work is stainless steel.
These materials are recyclable in the UK and Pala partners with Terracycle to recycle glasses into other items.
One thing that is unique to find in a company is complete transparency from the supply chain on up. Pala Eyewear does a great job of communicating with its customers and I asked John Prichard why that was so important to the Pala mission.
“I think as we go forward people will get less tolerant of brands that are producing something where either the supply chain is really poor and people aren’t being paid enough, or they don’t know the output from the full supply chain. Or it’s materials are non-renewable.
Because we are all learning pretty fast that this planet’s got a finite resource. And what we’re taking out – we’ve got to kind of give back, and if we’re not getting anything back, there’s gonna be a problem down the line for everyone. We are in a climate emergency, as everyone knows. There’s unfortunately a lot of distractions in the world right now, but the climate emergency won’t go away. It will only get bigger and bold and more in our faces as we see for ourselves the changes in the weather systems, the loss of habitat, and floor and fauna.
So this storytelling is not gonna go. It will get greater and deeper, and then consumers have got to make a choice when it comes to when they’re looking for their next t-shirt or their next food purchase or their next pair of sunglasses.
Do I go for the one here, which really isn’t holding any ethics or any environmental benefits to me or the future? Or do I go for this other brand here? The designs are pretty much the same, so why wouldn’t I go for the brand here, which is trying its best to have far far deeper resonance beyond just the physical product.
And for parallel, I kind of set it up to be that you buy a pair of sunglasses and then you are triggering a lot of little events by just by virtue of working with us. It means us paying for another case to be made from another Weaver in Ghana – we pay them almost three times the minimum wage. It’s about empowerment. It’s about them being able to afford the things that we take for granted. They have to pay for hospital treatment. They have to pay for school fees.
So it’s about change far, further and deeper down the line. But I think those that aren’t will find that they will lose their fans and followers over time. And the ones that have tried to set out right from the start and are open and honest and answer all the questions and admit to where they’re failing as well. I think that’s very important.”
The eye care work is why John founded Pala, so giving back to the communities only makes senses. Proceeds from each purchase go towards provided in grants to eye care projects in Africa through their charity partner Vision Aid Overseas, providing empowerment through the provision of spectacles or corrective surgery.
“For me, it is the fact that this very simple notion of spectacles or corrective surgery will mean that it might be for a school child or student the difference between reading the Blackboard or reading books, and potentially a proper education.
But where I’ve been to Ethiopia it’s a very hot, high cotton based industry out there. But if you haven’t got a pair of glasses to thread a needle – you can’t sew. So it’s these just simple, simple stories, and yet give someone glasses and it’s empowerment.”
But Pala doesn’t just give glasses and hope that they fix all problems. It is a holistc look at the culture and resources and availablilty of eye care in each region to ensure they are actually serving the communities well.
Pala and it’s partners have refurbished a building into a eye care center in Zambia – which has seen 11,000 patients so far, and they are opening up another in Sierra Leone that will service an area of about 200,000. These projects are a labor of passion that many people are holding the torch for in order to provide more people with opportunity for a better life.
Pala is a company based on improving the lives of people and the planet. When you’re wearing a pair of Pala Eyewear Sunglasses – you’re actually doing so much more.
“In creating Pala, I’ve created a brand which then transfers that purpose onto our customers. So by buying a pair of sunglasses, they haven’t just invested in a nice pair of frames on their face. They’ve actually invested in opportunities far further away.”
To learn more about Pala and help the world see better – please visit PalaEyewear.com.
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