Over the last couple of years, we have seen a boom in the growth of local business. And what I find most interesting is the growth, especially with small artisanal businesses, that place a focus on creating the best quality products in a niche market.
It seems to have become a norm to go to a small specialised shop that produces one item of great quality. From alcohol to socks, gone are the days of the one-stop-shop and mass production. This trend seems to have been led by the ‘love of local’ attitude, that has always been a part of South Africa’s identity. With this supportive attitude, comes the aspect of encouraging local entrepreneurs to support their community, rather than importing from countries that mass manufacture.
I founded my own company, Ballo, five years ago in Woodstock. We create hand crafted, sustainable wooden sunglasses. I decided to go the local route, creating a product of a high-quality standard, rather than source cheaper goods from overseas.
That’s not to say that manufacturing locally has been easy, but it was something I felt strongly about and has formed the foundation of my brand.
Boosting your local economy
I wanted to start a company that improved the local economy by creating job opportunities, and this is one of the main pros of manufacturing locally. You get to know the faces behind the product and it gives your business a personality and a story to tell. My general guiding business focus is “principles before profits”, I love that to make more sunglasses I have to employ more people.
Local production is important to me because it creates jobs. We live in a country with one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. Unemployment is the reason we have high crime rates, but instead of creating jobs most businesses choose to automate, compounding the problem.
Using local waste materials from other industries to make sunglasses also doesn’t require the shipment of raw materials across oceans. The 50 000 freight-liners in the ocean produce triple the amount of greenhouse gasses than all the cars in the world, I don’t want to add to that.
The only negative aspect of employing local staff rather than outsourcing to overseas manufacturers is the cost of wages, but on the other hand it also eliminated import costs.
Service and adaptability
Manufacturing locally also increases the quality of service and dealing with smaller quantities of product allows adaptability. For example, if a client requests a bespoke item it is easier to meet their requirements. Our range comes in different shapes and sizes with locally inspired prints, which means that every pair is different. I also get to be a part of the creative process from start to finish.
This isn’t really an option when you mass produce. Finding a reliable manufacturer can also be a nightmare. I love getting to oversee every aspect of the process to guarantee a high standard of quality.
With the rise of the environmentally conscious consumer, came the increased need for people to buy items that are not only great quality, but also sustainable. I came up with an idea, to design and create a pair of sunglasses that are unique and sustainable. We do this by using completely recycled and upcycled materials for the frames.
Our glasses are made from locally sourced wood veneer offcuts, recycled paper and tree sap bio-resin that are pressed, cut and shaped by hand. The workshop uses no water during the production process, and minimal electricity, using a few yet, highly skilled staff and almost entirely recycled and upcycled materials.
With a passion to “see things differently”, I was determined to break down what people see as acceptable forms of production, I wanted to lead by example.
Something that is very close to my heart is giving back; Ballo sponsors the South African Eco Film Festival, that is geared towards showcasing films that introduce sustainable living choices and world issues alike. My vision is for Ballo to be an anti-fashion or ethical fashion brand- trying to educate consumers as a part of a slow-sales process. Sustainability is not something I focus on for PR reasons, it’s something that I live and feel. I feel a responsibility to this planet. I am not trying to exploit a trend, I actually care and consider the impact on the environment that every business decision has.
We are always on the lookout for new ways in which to help give back to the earth and to help educate people on making the right choices for the planet.
Each pair of Ballo sunglasses is individually handcrafted. We can produce up to 50 pairs of sunglasses a day and every single pair goes through a series of 22 design processes requiring a huge amount of precision and detail. This is one of the limiting factors that need to be considered when manufacturing locally, especially by hand. When outsourcing to countries that mass manufacture, the product turnover is a lot higher and standard is consistent; although quality might not be as good.
When it comes to handmade items, there is always room for mistakes which mean that quality control has to be a priority. For us it is the last step before the frames are laser etched with branding and beautiful packaging. The brand’s attention to detail is unparalleled throughout the process.
Although manufacturing in a country like China is more efficient and standardised it decreases the value proposition when it comes retail prices. People like to buy a product with a story, a product that they know was made by hand and with attention to the smallest of details.
A couple of years ago no one seemed to take notice of the process, cheaper was better and people weren’t willing to pay more for well-made items over their cheaper counterparts. That has now changed, although the production might be slower when it is done by hand, it has a large impact on the price point which evens the playing field.
Check out all the products and news online at www.ballo.co.za or pop in to the store and try some on for yourself. Bo Op, 102 Wale Street, Bo Kaap, Cape Town.
Follow Ballo on social media: