SA company making sunglasses from recycled waste materials

In another case of waste materials used to make new, alternative products, a small-scale manufacturer in Cape Town is turning recycled paper and off-cut timber into varieties of wooden sunglasses.

Ballo frames are sun-glass frames handmade in Woodstock, Cape Town, from a unique combination of recycled paper and off-cut timber, which are then laminated together with a bio resin.

According to the company’s website, this material gives the frames durability and allows any pair of the handmade sunglasses to be fit with prescription lenses. Each pair is finished off with either off-cut timber, up cycled Denim, ShweShwe—a printed dyed cotton fabric widely used for traditional South African clothing—or domestic Buffalo horn.

Ballo handmade sunglasses ©Sarah Isaacs

“Here’s something that’s normally made by machines,” Cape Town-based designer and founder of Ballo, Alistair Barnes, said to BBC, “and it’s being made by humans and out of natural materials.” 

Barnes abandoned the American brand of shades he had been distributing in South Africa to embark on the journey of creating a range of locally made wooden eyewear with an industrial designer in Kuils River.

He started producing the wooden sunglasses, or eyewood as he calls them, in early 2013 by combining 25 processes, the result of 6 months of research, to produce each frame. The combination of craftsmanship and natural materials which makes each pair unique is accomplished by hand or a hand operated machines.

“The creative process basically revolves a lot around seeing raw materials I can get locally and sustainably,” Barnes said, “so a lot of it is local waste materials from other industries, like the wood is off-cuts from furniture producers.”

His impulse to go local was driven by a desire to help create jobs in South Africa, and to celebrate South African craftsmanship and design while taking an environmentally friendly approach.

The eye wear company also possesses a mobile store, which runs around different festivals promoting their unique sunglasses. And there are now more than 10 styles in Ballo’s range, including retro silhouettes, contemporary contours and a selection of special editions.

“So consumers come into our shop, a lot of the time are struck by how different it is,” Barnes said, “they’re like “what’s going on here, why are you hanging up old pieces of wood around in your shop,” and for me it’s all part of telling a story like, what we’re trying to do is approach business differently.”