Meet Pala. Through the sales of their sunglasses, the company provides grants to create vision centers, dispensaries and screening programs in Africa. For every project or program, there is a cost for each patient to be seen. Pala calculates the necessary donation required from each sale to match the cost of each patient to receive the right glasses, one patient for every pair of sunglasses sold.
Pala’s name comes from the ‘impala’ antelope. Renowned for their superb eyesight, their main survival tool, this native African animal re-enforces the connection to the brand.
Each project or programs provides a cost per patient seen and Pala is therefore able to work out the necessary donation required from the sale of each pair of sunglasses to match that patient cost, thus fulfilling the ‘buy-give’ promise. The philanthropy extends further to the glasses cases themselves which are woven from recycled twisted plastic, using a traditional Ghanaian basket-weaving method. Each case can be traced back to one of three rural communities that produce them by the colored stripe that is woven into the design.
Below is a Q&A with John Pritchard, founder of PALA…..enjoy
How did you become so passionate about the global vision gap that faces hundreds of millions of people? Was it a trip you took?
My passion for the countries and people of Africa goes back to my twenties when I was fortunate enough to travel for over a month through Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. I returned home with such powerful memories and experiences.
Fast forward fifteen years.
When I was sat thinking over the big question of what I could do with my life to give it a better sense of purpose (as you do!), my long-standing affinity for Africa was resurrected – I wanted to help make an impact there. It was when I was investigated possible causes and solutions that I learned of the great work of Vision Aid Overseas in combatting the problem of lack of access to eye-care. The fact that a pair of prescription glasses can be so empowering to the wearer – the ability to read, learn, work… I just knew the I had found the cause, and one I felt passionate about.
When you decided to start PALA, what were some of the first steps you took as a Social Entrepreneur trying to start a mission driven brand?
One of the first steps was to get Vision Aid Overseas onboard as a partner. Between us we quickly established that our goals were mutually beneficial and we put a working structure in place. We now regularly catch up to discuss the contributions of Pala and the progress of the projects we are involved in.
I wanted all touchpoints of the brand to have an impact. So in terms of the sunglass cases it was about creating something different there too. When you buy a pair of sunglasses, the case is often the forgotten extra. I wanted it to have a story. It meant working directly with rural communities which bring its own unique challenges. You have to build trust, have someone to co-ordinate and provide payment at a local level and ensure the whole supply chain is covered right down to paying for new pairs of scissors to cut the weave. I’m very lucky to have a Ghanaian contact who effectively project manages this on my behalf.
I also needed to get the right type of investor on board – a person who was genuinely bought into the ethical nature of Pala. We want our sunglasses to be as affordable to as many people as possible and not compromise on quality, so whoever was going to invest needed invest in the long term mission of Pala. Subsequently I was very lucky to meet Nick Robertson, former CEO of ASOS who is that very person.
Can you talk about the vision grants a little more and what exactly they are? When a customer buys a pair of sunglasses what in turn happens from the impact perspective?
Our promise is that for every pair of sunglasses we sell, we give a pair of prescription glasses to outreach programs in Africa. Evidently this not an instantaneous process, and what we do is provide grants towards vision projects that Vision Aid Overseas run across multiple countries in Central Africa. These projects might be the creation of a vision centre, dispensary or the running of a screening programs.
By investing in this way we can calculate the number of patients that these projects will serve over a fixed period of time and from that we can work out a cost per patient.
This cost is then subtracted from the sale of our sunglasses. This enables us to provide a sustainable, long term solution.
Our first joint project is the creation of a new Vision Centre at the Chinsali Hospital in the Muchinga Province in Zambia which serves a population of more than 800,000. Aside from the building, refurbishment and initial kitting out we are covering all the technical equipment stock and consumables for the first 3 years of operation. We hope for completion in early 2017.
PALA takes and interesting approach to making the bags that the glasses are shipped in. Can you talk more about that interesting process of what PALA does with plastic bags?
Yes. You never know who you might bump into and a few years back I was introduced to Jib Hagan who runs a charity called Care4basket based in Ghana that make baskets woven from recycled plastic waste.
The plastic we use comes from two sources. One source is discarded plastic carrier bags that are collected, washed, cut, twisted and then woven.
We also work with a plastic bag manufacturer in Accra, Ghana, re-using the plastic waste material from their manufacturing process.
From our own weaving process, we collect our plastic waste and return that back into the process.
Traditionally the weavers have used straw as their material, however the seasonal availability of the raw material means that they have only been able to effectively work for 3-4 months per year. By using waste plastic, they are not just combatting an environmental issue, they are able to weave all year round which means a more regular income throughout the year.
PALA is a brand new social enterprise, so your vision may change over time, but at this point what is your vision for PALA (no pun intended 🙂
I love a pun, so I’ll be using that one in the future – thanks. In the short term it is about bringing awareness of our brand to our ‘twenty-something’ target audience, getting sunglasses into their hands so that they can learn the story and quite literally feel for themselves the quality of the product. We look for these very people to ultimately become our advocates and spread the word. Social media is such a key marketing strategy of any brand nowadays, and I think more so for social enterprise brands where the ongoing stories of the positive effects can be told and shared.
For Pala it is really important that we provide visibility on how people are benefitting from the gift of giving, and we intend to increase our content around this subject matter. We want to connect people with our movement and understand the simplicity of what can be achieved virtue of buying our sunglasses, hence our motto ‘Wear. Love. Give’.
Once we’ve managed to establish ourselves as an eyewear brand, then there are a number of opportunities to expand our offering. A natural development will be to move into prescription frames and we are looking at the potential of working with selected talent to design a diffusion line for our brand. But, we’re not going to run before we can walk!
What is some simple advice you can give to an aspiring social entrepreneur that would help them take the leap into social entrepreneurship?
When taking that initial leap, don’t panic. You’ll be surprised who is out there and help often seems to be only a short distance away.
There always seems to be someone who knows someone and people are keen to help where they can, and I think particularly more so when there is a social mission at the heart of it.
Whatever you choose to do, you have to be passionate about it. There is no easy path to success and the late hours working, the working through the weekend, feels a lot easier when fueled by the belief in what you are trying to achieve.
Whatever market you intend to enter and whatever that product may be, it has to challenge to be the best in market irrespective of the social cause behind it. For Pala, the sunglasses market is an incredibly competitive industry and so we differentiate ourselves by offering a quality of frame and materials that are often less than half the price our competitors. You have to be right on the money in terms of the styles too. The fashion industry is incredibly fast-moving one, particularly with our target audience and you can’t afford to be left behind!