Theme: Sustainable Design
When one reads the Ballo website, there’s something unexpected that stands out: “Every product is surrounded by laughter and handled with love.” This Cape Town brand of unisex sunglasses and other ethically produced goods is very much focused on people and the environment. “Each pair of eyewear goes through 23 processes,” says Alistair Barnes, who founded the company seven years ago and opted to use second- or third-hand cast-iron German machinery from the 1960s over high-tech automation and laser-cutting. “These machines are operated by hand, so humans are essential to the process.”
Besides an unwavering commitment to the 14 people with whom he works, Barnes has remained true to his ideal of “putting the planet before profits” by only using materials that are sustainable, recycled and up-cycled. Ballo eyewear, which also includes optical frames that can be fitted with prescription lenses, comes in a range of styles, with 20 different shapes, but it’s what the frames are made of that gives eco-warriors all the good vibes. There are cork options and wood choices (walnut, imbuia and cherry wood), made with offcuts from local furniture producers, and combined with recycled paper laminated together with bio resin. Then there’s the option of hemp fabric or offcuts of African-print cotton as a final surface layer, adding colour and pattern to these shades.
“This circular economy,” says Barnes, “means not letting a material have a singular purpose. If it can be repurposed and turned into a product again, and given another life so that it doesn’t end up as waste, then we keep that material working, while reducing our footprint.” As a carbon-neutral enterprise, Ballo promises to plant a tree through Greenpop with every pair of sunglasses purchased. In addition, the offcuts of its own production are used to make one-off items such as laptop stands, key rings, flower pots and earrings, aiming for zero waste production in its studio. “We’re helping open people’s minds to doing things differently,” Barnes says of his stance against following traditional business models, “because capitalist and consumerist models haven’t worked.”
Even Ballo’s packaging is carefully thought through. “The sunglass cases are made from fabric offcuts and the boxes are made from recycled board and paper,” he explains of the stylish protective covers. “We’ve tried to make them objects that people will hold onto, even if they use them for jewellery or pencils. We’ve considered every aspect of what we put into the world.”
Ballo has a retail space at Watershed and Bo-Op in Cape Town, and its studio (open by appointment during Covid-19 lockdown) is located at 54 New Market Street in Woodstock. It is currently producing face masks made from high-quality fabric offcuts and, with each purchase made, it donates a mask to those in need.
100 Beautiful Things is presented by the V&A Waterfront in celebration of South Africa’s creativity, compassion, ingenuity and resilience. Every week we will be showcasing five amazingly beautiful creative things that make us proud. It is curated in partnership with Platform Creative.