Research shows your brain’s internal clock runs more slowly as you age – which means the pace of life appears to speed up. I am therefore gratuitously stealing that nugget of insight and applying it to another year of running Pala as an independent, ethical brand. Time is flying. The wheels are turning faster. Case in point, I had my first experience of RSI this year which I can only put down to my right thumb succumbing to an extra million or two clicks on my laptop.
Looking back over 2019 it has been a busy year with a veritable smorgasbord of ups and downs that you would expect running any small business. We kicked off the year in great style as one of the first ten brands to be awarded the Eco Age brand mark – we were delighted with that, a platform and team of innovators that we admire, and they have continued to support us throughout the year. Indeed, a shout to the many platforms, stockists, creatives and influencers that have supported us with some knock-out content this year!
Rebecca – who had run and transformed our social so successfully in the 12 months prior – took up my offer to promote her to running the entire marketing function of the business. It’s surprising where the promise of yet another pair of sunglasses can get you. Immediately she was tasked to arrange our campaign shoot in Lanzarote at the beginning of March. We wanted the shoot to be a celebration of the great outdoors and the volcanic landscapes of this great location provided the perfect backdrop for a shoot. We had a small team working with our incredible photographer, Felicia, for the first time alongside two personable and versatile models. The results showed. We gelled really well and got exactly what we wanted from the shoot by capturing our sunglasses in their natural habitat outdoors. My big learning is to ensure I don’t accidentally book an Airbnb in the middle of a nudist resort for future shoots.
In March we launched a new film created by our friends at Heist. Wealth Not A Waste was filmed on location in Ghana and across our local town of Brighton and follows the story of Jib Hagan. Jib runs the NGO we partner with, Care4basket, in Ghana and his passion for recycling plastic and how this is leading to change for the weaving communities that we work with in Bolgatanga deserved to be shared with you all. It’s a powerful film, which even found itself selected for the internationally renowned Norwich Film Festival. Well, Stephen Fry had to judge it, so that’s good enough for me. It also prompted my Oscar moment later in the year when having played the film to an audience I was presenting to, I got a touch emotional and found myself simply being unable to speak for a good 30-40 seconds after playing it for fear of ‘ugly crying’ in front of the audience. Quite a moment!
On the 4th of April we launched our brand new 2019 collection. For Pala this was a transitional year in the sense that we were starting to use recycled frames and testing bio acetate frames from a new supplier. As well as evolving some of our classic designs, we also had some beautiful colourways coming through and some new shapes to play with.
Around this time we also launched our crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, which was principally to bring more awareness to Pala in the USA which is an important market for us. This turned out to be a far bigger beast to manage than I initially had thought. Despite bringing in a 3rd party to help with our comms strategy and taking advice from a ‘crowdfunding sage’ the experience was tough. Fashion as a category struggles on Crowdfunding platforms unless there is a technical innovation that separates you from the rest (and of course that also depends on how much you are looking to raise). You have to show momentum from the start. We had some fantastic perks and personalised frames, but the reality was that there wasn’t that USP to drive the momentum. You also need to have a huge audience to begin with. As an exercise the team learned a lot from it, however given the amount of time, money and effort that was put into, on balance it would be something that would have made more sense a few years on, when we would have had a greater community.
Spring saw us continuing to reach out to stockists. As a key part of our growth with sunglasses often needing to be tried on before purchase, we need to nurture our relationships with as many stockists as possible to give you all that opportunity. We continue to grow in the UK, but we are also mindful of reaching out towards the southern hemisphere – Australia, New Zealand and the US sunbelt. Off to Honolulu? No problem, shop at our stockist there in Sharks Cove.
A memorable month in May saw Pala win our very first award. We won in the category of ‘Brand That Gives Back’ at the Be The Change Awards as hosted by the hardworking Ethical Hour. It came as a genuine surprise – a meaningful accolade as it was judged by a respected panel from the ethical community and reaffirmed that one of the core missions of our brand was successfully landing.
Summer saw the arrival of young Julian from Austria, a one-month Erasmus placement through a business school based out there. It was new experience for us as much as him, and found that for one month of my life I had to shift from appearing organised to being organised. We threw him in at the deep end he got involved with all areas of the business, our analytics, social, filming, blogging, polishing my trainers and sales. You know you student is doing well, when during a one-day festival we were running a Pala stand at, I went to grab lunch for us and by the time I got back he had sold double what I had done in the previous hour! Festivals are good for getting our sunglasses out there to you and we ventured to Valley Fest in Bristol – a great family festival and a good opportunity to speak with customers and get feedback on the product which I rarely get otherwise. Throw in a little bit of singing, dancing and pie in the evenings and you can’t go wrong.
You still with me or did you get bored a few paragraphs back? August saw us move to a new warehouse. After previously not finding the right fit for us, this will be our third in three years. It’s not a decision I take lightly, not least because of the upheaval of moving everything across and the cost that comes with that and the potential disruption to orders. Fortunately, it has all gone pretty smoothly and we’re settling into the new process and looking forward.
Later that month I joined the School Climate Strike in Brighton. It was quite an experience, estimated to be around 8,000 people – the largest gathering out of London. It was very important for me to be there as I very much feel my generation is responsible for the future of those children and I wanted to know that they had my support. And the following month we found our hard work to be an ethical brand get recognised again as in November we won our second award of 2019, Accessory Brand of the Year at the Sustainable Lifestyle Awards. This meant a great deal for the team here. The judging panel was extensive and across all areas of fashion industry and well-respected names from familiar businesses and platforms. Again, it provides further acknowledgement that we are heading down the right path.
We also launched a collaboration with Lifelabs.io – I’ll be honest I have very little knowledge of crypto currency, but this collaboration made absolute sense. Lifelabs.io are all about getting behind ‘good business’ and through them we launched two projects on the website in which anyone with crypto currency could get help provide for a school screening programme in Ethiopia and wells for our weaving communities in Bolgatanga. If unlike me, you know what the heck this crypto stuff is all about and your virtual wallet is full of Bitcoin and the like, then do head over and take a look. This is the season of giving after all!
…and now as I write this *cough* succinct summary of the year in December, I now find myself planning very much for 2020. First up on the agenda is our photoshoot in Feb, and then there are a number of partnerships I am looking at for the year coming and 2021. In particular I am excited about our new collection launching in March. For the first time I really feel there is a Pala identity attached to the new set of styles, and we’ve stepped up again in our quality, with every single one of our new frames being crafted from plant based bio-acetate (oil free) with polarised lenses to boot. I am also speaking with Terracycle with a view to bringing a more circular element to our customer offering later in 2020 as well as a few other things nicely bubbling.
Arguably the most exciting piece is the introduction of a new member of the team, Izzy, who will be Account and Communications Manager for Pala. It will be a multi-functional role and both Rebecca and I have no doubt that she will take to it like a duck to water. For me personally, it will be a huge benefit. If I reflect on this year with any constructive criticism, it is that I spread myself over too many parts of the business and think that lack of focus impacted on opportunities – I’m sure it’s a common problem for many a small business looking to grow. For 2020 I will have that time and space now to get that focus back and I can’t wait to begin engaging the creative side of my brain again.
That’s all for now. If you’ve read this far, then I doff my hat to you. Thank you! Indeed thanks to all of you, customers, stockists, partners, advisors, freelancers, my investor, the team around me – all who contributed to a memorable year for me an Pala in so many ways.
Happy New Year!
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