”SEE THINGS DIFFERENTLY”
Ballo is all about seeing things differently, doing things differently and making a difference in the process. With a mission to create and manufacture unique and sustainable unisex eyewear and accessories from recycled and upcycled materials. Ballo is breaking boundaries by creating a brand that reuses waste, plants trees, creates employment and makes the world a better place. With the increasing threat of Global Warming, Ballo is putting the planet before profit. And inspiring others to do the same and join the Ballo movement.
We dive a little deeper into what Ballo is all about. As well as catch-up with Ballo’s owner and change-maker in his own right, Alistair Barnes, to chat about all things Ballo, his inspiration behind this influential brand, how he finds the balance between the bottom line and being environmentally conscious and what his vision for the future is.
THE BALLO STORY
Since joining the circular movement in 2013, Ballo has been handcrafting unisex sunglasses from recycled and upcycled materials as well as eliminating waste and the continual use of resources. In 2016, Ballo expanded to making a range of other goods and products from sustainable fabrics and resources. Including their Slow Clothing range. Thereby always centring their initiatives around sustainability and being kind to the environment. As Ballo has grown, seeing and doing things differently to traditional business structures has always remained at the forefront of everything they do.
‘Seeing things differently is a challenge, but one that is at the core of everything we do’ – Alistair Barnes
By making use of recycled offcuts and other sustainable materials, hiring local talent instead of using automated machinery and putting the planet before profit. They are sending out a powerful message that sustainability and investing in people, rather than profit margins, is the true key to success. Therefore, at its core, Ballo is a brand that not only strives to produce high-quality handcrafted products and sunglasses their clients will love. But aims to inform, inspire and impact the world in a positive way.
We asked Alistair a couple of questions to find out exactly why he decided to start Ballo & what truly inspired him to build a whole business and brand around sustainability.
This might be a fairly simple question, but why did you decide to start Ballo?
It’s a funny story actually. When I was freelancing as a designer years ago, a friend of mine sent me an article about these super cool wooden sunglasses made by an American brand with a strong sustainability angle. They were amazing! So, I decided to reach out to the brand and then I started importing them. Not soon after that I saw these guys on Shark Tank. They were going on about how these “supposedly local and sustainable” sunglasses were imported from China at incredibly cheap prices before they were shipped out all over the world.
As you can imagine, I was dumbfounded and could no longer support an initiative that was misleading the public and abusing the very principles I stood for. So, of course, I started looking into how I could do it locally and authentically. Exactly the way I wanted to. I found an experienced engineer, sourced some wood and we started making the sunglasses I thought I was buying in the first place. And so, Ballo was born!
What initially inspired you to make sustainability & being kind to the environment a core focus of your business? Have you always been environmentally conscious?
The ‘sustainability seed’ was actually planted when I was quite young, believe it or not. My dad is originally from the US. So we used to go to Washington quite a lot when I was growing up. As it gets really cold there, he once decided to get us these super cool fleece jerseys. He then told us that they were made from recycled plastic bottles. It completely blew my mind in every single way!
Although I was only a kid, I remember thinking, how incredibly cool is that? How something so cool and amazing could be made from something so simple. I later learned that the brand was Patagonia. And from that very moment I was hooked. There was no turning back. That was all the proof I needed that this kind of stuff was possible and that it could be done. And that I wanted to be the one to do it!
DO GOOD, DO MORE & DO YOUR PART IN PRESERVING PLANET EARTH!
While traditional business structures champion profit maximization, with waste being a mere by-product of success. Ballo champions waste, but in the coolest possible way. They see materials like veneer and fabric offcuts, not as waste but as a treasure trove of creative inspiration and unlimited potential. By viewing waste differently, they not only put the planet before profit. But create cool, captivating and one-of-a-kind sunglasses and accessories in the process.
Here are just some of the incredible ways Ballo is doing their part in preserving planet earth & contributing to an eco-friendly and sustainable future:
- Ballo is Carbon Neutral. Thereby eliminating their carbon footprint by not contributing to the net release of harmful carbon dioxide into the environment through their manufacturing process.
- For each pair of sunglasses Ballo sells they plant a tree with GreenPop. This means that by purchasing a pair of Ballo sunglasses you not only get the benefit of having some super cool one-of-a-kind sunglasses. But make a positive contribution to the environment too. Now that’s what we call a win-win situation!
- At Ballo all products are designed and handmade locally in Cape Town. And are of the highest quality and craftmanship. By hiring a local team of passionate and dedicated talent instead of making use of automated machinery. Ballo not only aims to create additional employment. Which is one of the biggest problems faced in South Africa. But give local talent the opportunity to showcase their skills and championing them along the way. Thereby building a brand that people feel incredibly proud to be a part of. Ballo believes this personalised approach adds an extra special touch to every Ballo customer’s experience. As frames move from hand to hand, process to process, being refined and checked before they are set free into the world. It’s this passionate and dedicated approach that truly sets Ballo apart from all its competitors.
- Ballo makes use of upcycled and recycled materials to reduce and reuse waste. Thereby making a powerful positive contribution to protecting and preserving planet earth and investing in a long-term sustainable future.
As Ballo prides themselves on putting the planet before profit, we wanted to find out directly from Alistair how he finds the balance between the two. And what the major challenges in that have been for both him and Ballo. As well as what he thinks sets Ballo apart from other sunglass brands on the market and how people can play their part in being environmentally conscious.
We live in a corporate world that is dominated by profit margins & constant turnover. You’ve decided to take a stance with Ballo by doing things differently & putting the planet before profit – which is both admirable & inspirational! But, at the end of the day, a business has to make a profit to continue to be successful and keep people employed. How do you find the balance between managing Ballo’s strong sustainability focus versus its bottom line?
That has always been the challenge, finding the balance between the two. Particularly in the last few years. Especially hyper-locally as Ballo is a local Proudly South African brand. The recent draught in Cape Town had a massive impact on our business as a whole. As it affected our biggest market – tourists. That put a lot of stress on us business-wise. Especially because when we first started, Ballo was growing 300/400% year-on-year. Then we suddenly hit a wall. That was tough. So, right now we’re focussing on moving forward, keeping all our incredible employees employed and continuing to build a brand that we can be proud of and has a positive impact on the environment. All while becoming profitable again.
We’ve also looked at exporting our sunglasses and products into other countries. But the truth and hardship in that is that I don’t want to ship Ballo around the world and contribute to things neither I nor my company stands for. But, at the end of the day, who do I have more of a responsibility to, the planet or my employees? That’s the tough question. The cold hard truth is capitalism is obsessed with infinite growth. But how can there be infinite growth in a world with finite resources? It can’t. It will break. In fact, it is breaking right now. So, we just do the best we can and try to have a bit of fun along the way.
There is no denying the fact that in today’s crowded market-place clients have choice. In your opinion, what sets Ballo apart from all the other sunglass brands out there?
At Ballo we certainly differentiate ourselves from other brands in a few ways. First off, all our sunglasses are handmade. Most companies out there are using high tech, automated laser cutters. Ours are cast iron German machines from the 60s. Making all our sunglasses by hand not only means we have the opportunity to create more jobs. But no two Ballo sunglasses look exactly alike. How cool is that? When I’m showing someone our sunglasses, they’ll find their style and I’ll then pull out a few different options of that style. When each pair has slight variations, there’s always one that fits perfectly!
We also take great pride in operating in a circular economy and centring everything we do around sustainability. All the materials we use are therefore either recycled, upcycled or intercepted before it goes to waste. We then try to make our own waste and offcuts into other products like keyrings, card stands, earrings, hanging pots and things like that. If there is something that we absolutely can’t repurpose or recycle, we will then send it to a landfill. But that is our absolute last resort. In order to make up for that, we plant a tree for every pair of sunglasses we sell. Thereby bringing everything full circle. In addition, we pride ourselves on working and collaborating with local businesses and creatives. Thereby building a local proudly South African brand we can be proud of.
The threat of Global Warming is only increasing as time goes on & it’s important that we all step up & play our part in preserving planet earth. What practical things can people do daily to be kinder to the environment and contribute to a sustainable future?
Many people might not realise this, but YOU have REAL power in what you choose to buy. I therefore encourage people to buy local, vintage and second-hand wherever and whenever they can. Basically, the shorter the distance it takes for something to get from where they made it to you, the better. And I try to live by that as much as possible in my own daily life and what I choose to purchase.
BALLO USES SUSTAINABLE MATERIALS TO PRODUCE SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTS & SUNGLASSES THAT ARE HANDMADE, LOCAL & ONE-OF-A-KIND
Since the start Ballo has only made use of high quality, sustainably sourced materials to make all their products and sunglasses. This means that every ingredient, product and piece of material and machinery used in the manufacturing process is checked and re-checked. At its core, Ballo’s aim has always been to be as kind to the environment as possible. Zero waste production is another core principle that is at the forefront of Ballo’s mission. All materials used are therefore either more sustainably grown (hemp) or recycled (recycled paper). Or upcycled (offcuts/end-of-roll/waste materials from surrounding industries).
Clients can however rest assured that all products go through rigorous testing and tweaking before releasing them into the world. Thereby ensuring you get the very best handcrafted products and sunglasses on the market. All while benefiting the environment and making a positive contribution to preserving planet earth.
But what exactly is the design, inspiration and thought process that goes into creating a pair of unique Ballo sunglasses? Let’s find out from the man himself!
There is absolutely no denying the fact that Ballo’s sunglasses are truly one-of-a-kind. So, of course people want to know what is the thought process that goes into designing a pair of stylish unisex sunglasses? And where do you find your inspiration from?
Honestly, a lot of it is just checking out what people are wearing and loving at the moment, and then finding a cool way to put our own unique Ballo spin on it. The truth is, you can truly get inspiration from anywhere if you’re open to it. It goes without saying that nature is most definitely a big source of inspiration for our Ballo sunglasses. We’ve got a pair called the Olive, which is literally inspired by the shape of an olive.
Other than that, I find inspiration everywhere I go. We had a pair of sunglasses called the E-type, which was inspired by the classic Jaguar. One day I pulled up to our workshop and saw the car parked across the road. Long bonnet, clean lines, those headlights. It looked so good! And bam, that was the inspiration! Of course, you have to operate within certain constraints when you’re working with faces, but the potential and creative possibilities are truly endless. The other cool thing is, I can also prototype really fast. That gives me the opportunity and freedom to experiment with different ideas. Experimenting leads to uncharted territory, and there’s nothing cooler or more exciting than that!
Materials used to manufacture Ballo sunglasses include:
Ballo’s sunglasses are made from imbuia and cherry wood as well as cork and beautiful African fabric finishes.
- Wood Sunglasses – Eyewood
Ballo makes use of a unique combination of wood veneer offcuts. From local furniture producers, recycled paper and bio-resin to make their stylish and durable Eyewood. All Ballo’s wood frames come with high quality CR39 polarized/UV400 Revo mirror lenses and can be fit with your prescription. Not to mention that all Ballo Wood Sunglasses have a minimal impact on the environment. A swell as comes with a 1-year warranty against manufacturing faults.
- Cork Sunglasses
Any one of Ballo’s sunglass styles can be made into a cork frame. Thereby giving you a wide selection of styles to choose from. Besides having a minimal impact on the environment. Harvesting cork only requires extracting bark from a tree, which helps enhance the forest life cycle. It is also reusable, biodegradable, an excellent insulator as well as fire and water resistant. Making it a great sustainable eyewear choice.
- African Fabric Sunglasses
If you’re looking for something uniquely South African, Ballo’s range of African Fabric Sunglasses is perfect for you. African cotton fabrics are widely used for traditional South African clothing. At Ballo they use these authentic African fabric offcuts from surrounding businesses to make these unique African sunglasses. Their African fabric range is fitted with cork on the inside of the frame for a soft, comfortable feel. All frames also come with high quality CR39 lenses and can be fit with your prescription. There is absolutely no doubt that you will be setting quite a trendy statement with Ballo’s range of bold, beautiful and unique African Fabric Sunglasses.
- Slow Clothing
Appropriately named ‘ALL GOOD GOODS’, all Ballo’s Slow Clothing items are unisex and designed and made in Cape Town. Materials used to produce these cool clothing pieces are either more sustainably grown (hemp) or locally sourced from surrounding industries. In addition to making use of sustainable materials. Ballo also prides themselves on collaborating with local tailors and CMT’s to further support job creation and local talent development.
Some of the ALL GOOD GOODS Slow Clothing Ballo has to offer include hemp t-shirts, handwoven cotton towels, hemp shorts, T-Dresses, the Noragi and hemp hoodie shirts. Thereby offering something for everyone.
Now for the final question, what has been the biggest challenge & biggest reward to starting, running & growing Ballo?
The biggest challenge by far has been finding the balance between Ballo’s ethos of sustainability and its bottom line. As well as the unpredictability of the tourist market due to factors that are out of our control. But at the end of the day, I’m so incredibly proud of my team and what we’ve built thus far. The truth is, I’m not really looking to grow Ballo. Well, at least not in the traditional sense.
I want Ballo to improve its employees’ quality of life. And spread a positive and empowering message that might just help change or save the world. Ballo isn’t Patagonia. But if we’re demonstrating to the public and to other businesses and brands that a company can actually be run this way. That’s a win in my eyes! We’re not exactly shooting the lights out, but we’re learning as we go along. It’s exciting, it’s challenging, it’s entrepreneurship. And that is truly what it’s all about!
I must say, to this day the biggest reward is seeing someone wearing my product. It’s a feeling that’s pretty hard to describe. But WOW, I still get super excited every time I see someone rocking one of our Ballo shades. And I don’t think that will ever go away. I remember the first time I saw someone wearing my product. I went “Ballo Ballo Ballo” and they looked at me, smiled weirdly and then went on with their day. It was such a kick. Really satisfying! Therefore, the greatest reward is without a doubt seeing people love your product. And be a part of a brand and movement that is so close to your heart. There is nothing like it!
Where can you find a Ballo Store?
In addition to purchasing any of Ballo’s sunglasses and products online from their website and online store www.ballo.co.za , Ballo also has five main stores/locations in Cape Town:
BALLO WORKSHOP (SALES & REPAIRS)
- Location: 54 New Market Street, Woodstock, Cape Town
- Contact details: +27 (0)79 394 6572 | [email protected]
- Opening hours: Monday – Thursday 09:00-16:30 | Friday 09:00-14:30
BALLO @ THE V&A WATERSHED
- Location: V&A Waterfront, Dock Rd
- Opening hours: Every day 10am-6pm
- Location: Cnr Wale & Rose Street, Bo-Kaap
- Opening hours: Monday – Friday 09:00-17:00 | Saturday 09:00-15
ZEITZ MOCAA SHOP
- Location: Silo District, S Arm Road, V&A Waterfront
- Location: The Old Biscuit Mill, Albert Rd, Woodstock
- Opening hours: Saturday Market 9am-3pm