Pala moves to small batch production in Italy
We always look through the ‘people and planet’ lens for all our business decisions and consider how a change could enhance our social impact – or in the case of the planet, reduce our impact.
Most changes are in truth a series of tiny steps (think caterpillar tracks in the snow), but occasionally we take one giant ‘bound’ that really propels us forwards.
Our certification as a B Corp was one such leap, but then like the veritable wait at the bus stop another has pulled up right behind it! This one I’m calling an ‘autobus’ because that’s the word I’ve learnt on my Duolingo app in my attempt to improve speaking Italian (although after correctly translating the phrase ‘her daughter has a dolphin’ this morning I’m not sure how quickly I’m going to progress in conversational Italian!).
Introducing ‘Team Italia‘
Last year we focused on forging a new relationship with a family run eyewear business, in a small village in the Asti region of Northern Italy. The chief operators are a husband-and-wife team, Gabriele and Eleonora – and Gabriele’s father and sister are also involved, although you could argue that really, they’re a team of six if you include their five-year-old son and their dog, Sula.
In March 2020, just days before the first lockdown was announced, I managed to visit the family at their family home and workshop which has passed through the generations since 1850.
This first visit was all about chemistry and understanding the quality of their craft. We hit it off right from the start. Gabrielle and Eleonora are a young, passionate couple who enjoy life, and nothing seems to phase them. Yes, there was a small language issue (and they didn’t own a dolphin so I couldn’t find an angle for me to impress!) but it was easy enough to communicate and I was entirely comfortable that they were the right people to take Pala into this next phase. Aside from that, their 5-year-old also served me ice-cream during the meeting and that is a game changer in my book!
However, the decision to choose this family of artisans with a small workshop tucked away in the gently rolling Italian countryside, wasn’t just because of how I could make our production sound rustic, it was much more than that.
Why the move?
Up until now, the manufacturing of our frames has always been in China. We have always had a good relationship with the factory – which is ethically audited and anyone who has bought our frames will testify that the quality is incredibly high. However, there are some key environmental issues that have jarred with me about the set-up, and we’re now in a position to make a change, a ‘bounding’ change.
The obvious issue is flying our frames halfway around the world to land here in the UK. It felt unnecessary and whilst we offset our CO2 across areas of our business, if we don’t need to add to it in the first place, then that is a far better overall solution. So, all our bio-acetate frames from here on in will now travel overland to the UK from Italy. It feels like a good resolution.
The second issue is that working with factories in China you will often find the MOQ (minimum order quantities) are high. For most small businesses this means you have to commit to higher production volumes than you wish, which in turn can lead to over-stock. If we want to be doing our best for the planet, then we need to turn that whole equation on its head – which is where working with a small batch provider comes into play.
Thanks to our new Italian partners we can now source much smaller orders, as little as 30 pieces if we choose. This means we’re entering a far more sustainable world of small batch production where we only order what we need. We can look at the pace of which styles are selling and make more based on demand, to ensure no wastage.
It could mean that from time to time we sell out and there will be a delay for that frame to return, but hey, this is slow fashion in every sense, so waiting won’t do any harm and give our customers plenty of time to organise a receiving party for when the postman makes that monumental delivery.
So, there it is. In the words of Bananarama we’ll be ‘talking Italian’ here on in. There’s going to be plenty more coming from this direction as I will be wanting to go behind the scenes with the Marchese family to share more of this journey and our process with you.
Indeed, if you have any questions that you would like me to ask them, contact us as we’ll be interviewing them in the Spring and I’ll make sure we include them. I repeat though, I HAVE asked about dolphin ownership, so that’s one you can chalk off.
Ciao for now. John Pritchard, founder, Pala Eyewear
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