SEEING THINGS DIFFERENTLY – BALLO SUNGLASSES
I’M A LIFELONG WEARER OF GLASSES – AS A THREE-YEAR-OLD I USED TO AIM FOR THE DOOR BUT HIT THE DOORFRAME – AND AS SUCH I’VE VISITED MANY AN OPTOMETRIST AND ALWAYS DESPAIRED OF EVER FINDING FRAMES I ACTUALLY LIKED. IN FACT, I SPENT MUCH OF MY YOUTH HIDING THE FRAMES I LOATHED AND TELLING MY MOTHER I’D LOST THEM. IT WOULD BE SELF-DEFEATING TO DO THIS AS AN ADULT, BUT MY IMPULSE REMAINS THE SAME. THERE’S JUST NOT A LOT OF INNOVATION, JOY OR INSPIRATION IN THE PRESCRIPTION FRAMES GAME. WELL, THAT IS UNTIL ONE TAKES A LOOK AT WHAT LOCAL WOODEN SUNGLASSES AND PRESCRIPTION FRAME BRAND, BALLO, IS DOING.
With a deep commitment to sustainability, Ballo has been producing frames made from wood and other natural products since 2013, and making people look pretty darn good in the process.
“I have always loved sunglasses and still have my first pair of Frogskins from when I was 12 years old,” says founder and owner, Alistair Barnes. “My background is in nature, design and branding. I helped launch a sunglasses brand years ago and learned a bit about the market, saw some wooden sunglasses and, having grown up on a farm, the sustainable story appealed to me. Then I tested some wooden frames, found some weaknesses and thought I could do it differently and better.”
Different and better – those words some up Ballo perfectly. Their frames are glorious. They’re stylish, just the right dash of colour and their sunnies just scream “days on the beach”. The frames are made from off-cut timber from local furniture producers and include imbuia, walnut, cherry and wenge. There’s also a range made from buffalo horn (an organic by-product of domestic water buffalo farming and sourced without any harm to the animals) and another range finished in shweshwe.
“Our sunglasses are made from locally sourced wood veneer offcuts, recycled paper and tree sap bio-resin that are pressed,
cut and shaped by hand. At our workshop in Woodstock, Cape Town, every pair goes through a series of 22 processes, each done by one of our specialised craftsmen. We have worked hard to improve our craft and can now produce around 50 pairs a day – efficiency is a focus, with each unique pair still completely handcrafted.”
Alistair currently employs six specialist craftsmen, who between them have mastered the various processes it takes to produce a set of Ballo frames, from laminating and pressing to oiling, groove-cutting and lens-cutting.
But whilst the craft of the frames is key, the sustainability aspect of the production is also important to Alistair.“Growing up on a farm in the Drakensberg, I have been in touch with nature from a young age. I then moved to a city to study and was exposed to consumerism and excessive waste.The sustainable lifestyle and business practices have developed as a reaction to this culture of greed and ‘more, more, more’. I love that to make more sunglasses, I have to employ more people,” Alistair says.
Looking at just how well made and beautiful the Ballo range is, it’s hard to believe that this was once a fledgling brand just finding its feet. Fortunately, Alistair has kept a cool head throughout.“I had been experimenting with product design for years before I started Ballo, which helped me form a clear idea of the products and brand I wanted to build around my lifestyle. But, that said, I feel in over my head all the time.When I started hiring people and selling at the V&A Watershed I knew I was in over my head. I often have that feeling, but then I reach out and ask professionals or mentors for advice.”
In the five years of the brand’s existence, Alistair has learnt some hard lessons, but is wiser for it and willing to share some hot tips for the nervous young entrepreneur out there.“Don’t
Our sunglasses are made from locally sourced wood veneer offcuts, recycled paper and tree sap bio-resin that are pressed, cut and shaped by hand – Alistair Barnes
be afraid to make mistakes or ask for help. Vulnerability and humility are power. Also, don’t take yourself too seriously. I realised that I didn’t start my own business to be stressed, I started my own business to have fun. So I try to keep it light and playful as much as possible.”
The playfulness and the integrity Alistair displays have set Balloon an exciting path. Ball of ram es have been exported to many stores overseas – in Germany, France, the UK, Spain, the Netherlands, Italy and Australia – and will be launching in the US this year. “We’re also testing a new ethical fashion range at our Bo-Op store in the Bo-Kaap. We use end-of-roll interior design fabrics and locally woven fabrics to produce small runs of dresses, shirts, shorts and unisex T-shirts ,” Ali stair says.
Ballo’s frames and products are available through their own retail outlets at Bo-Op and V&A Watershed, at selected boutiques around the Western Cape, and online at www.ballo.co.za.