Pala Eyewear: Ethical sunglasses that leave others in the shade

Fate played a role in today’s post. I’ve been wanting to write about Pala Eyewear and my own experiences with eyesight and glasses for a while – but how to illustrate it?

And then, out of the blue, my friend sent me a photograph from when we were in sixth form and there I am.

Now I think there’s some law that states I must warn you when there’s a scary photo coming up so…

SCARY PHOTO ALERT!

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(Yes, I’m very aware of how I look like Rose West. Believe it or not, I was about 18 when this was taken. My friends are still as beautiful today.)

I started wearing glasses at school and they were awful. I escaped those horrible blue NHS ones, but we didn’t have much money in my household so I couldn’t ask for something very expensive (not that I think it would have made much difference. We are talking about the 1970s – the time that style forgot). I ended up with a brown framed pair that felt so heavy and ugly. I took them off as soon as I could.

Then in the 1980s, the Daphne from Neighbours look took over and glasses became big. Very big. However, rather than looking like the sexy Antipodean girl next door, most of us looked like Edna from The Incredibles after a bad night out.

I tried contact lenses but after breaking them the night before seeing Michael Jackson live at Anfield (no, of course I hadn’t taken my glasses with me), decided to just settle for my face looking more like the bottom of a beer glass than a face.

That all changed in 2004, when I had Lasek laser surgery and could see again (I wrote about it for my newspaper, which you can read here).

Now glasses are sexy and cool and cheap and we take being able to see properly for granted. But I remember the days of having to fork out loads for glasses and how difficult it was for families like mine where money was tight. I also learnt a couple of years ago that 640 million people around the world suffer some form of visual impairment and have no help available.

And this is why I was delighted to hear about Pala Eyewear and wanted to share their story with you.

Pala – the name comes from impala, an animal renowned for its eyesight – is a relatively new British eyewear brand that aims to do something about that shocking figure by selling sunglasses and eyewear

Determined to make his life count for something, founder John Pritchard wanted to create a business that had sustainability and an ethical message at its very heart. As a result, he’s created a working model that means for each pair of sunglasses you buy, you’re helping someone in Africa get a pair of prescription glasses so they can see.

You buy a pair, someone in needs gets a pair. Sounds good, eh?

It works like this: Pala works with Vision Aid Overseas and gives grants directly to eye care projects in Africa – money to buy a Vision Centre, for example, or to set up a dispensary, or buy equipment. From funding these projects, they can work out a “cost per patient” and that’s the price you pay for your sunnies.

By focussing on people’s sight, John hopes to help alleviate the poverty and all it’s connected problems.

As the Pala site says: “A pair of spectacles is an invaluable economic tool providing empowerment for the wearer. They enable reading, learning and access to better education. They provide a chance to operate a machine, or to thread a needle and improve overall job prospects.”

But there’s more. As well as helping people, Pala is doing its bit for the environment. All the plastic that goes into making the cases has been used before, things like recycled plastic bags, for example. It makes for sturdy, flexible cases with their own unique style.

That’s not the only way the cases are having an impact. They’re woven using traditional methods in one of three rural communities in Bolgatanga, in Upper East Ghana.

Pala provides each weaver with the materials they need, they then make the case in their own time and hand over the finished product for payment.

This not only means that the weaver has a trade and an income, but traditional methods that bind these communities together are being maintained and strengthened for the future. The better Pala does, the more weavers and other members of the production team are needed.

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You can see one of the women involved, Ayin Poome, in the main picture at the start of the post, while this picture is of Sakintu Adams, who used her weaving money to buy a school uniform, books and shoes.

Added to that, all the packaging is recycled (I love the “wear • love • give” logo printed on the boxes) and Pala pays a donation to offset their carbon footprint and the environmental impact transporting their sunglasses has.

However, none of this would mean much if they weren’t also offering a really good range of eyewear that you want to be seen in. The frames range from classic through retro to cat eye and funky transparent plastic. Plus they’re really affordable, with prices around the £70 mark.

It’s not just sunnies, too. Pala are also launching their first collection of optical frames, which is great because, as my eye surgeon warned may happen, I now need a pair of reading glasses and I really like the Nia.

What I like about Pala is that “sustainable and ethical” are often bywords for “not really very nice but we’re playing on your social conscience”, but they’re showing that it doesn’t have to be this way. That you can starting off with ethical principles and promoting sustainable practices from the beginning and make a quality product while doing your bit to help others.

There isn’t a pair I wouldn’t want to wear – and I will never have to worry about looking like Rose West again.

Additional photos: Pala Eyewear. Studio Sarah Lou (CC BY 2.0)

What do you think of Pala? I’d love to hear your comments below. And don’t forget, if you’ve enjoyed this, please like and subscribe and share with your friends.