SEE­ING THINGS DIF­FER­ENTLY – BALLO SUNGLASSES

In Flight Magazine - - ISSUE -

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.”

UP­CY­CLED SPECS

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.

SUS­TAIN­ABLE SUN­NIES

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.

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