Ballo's local labour of love

At least 25 processes go into creating each pair of Ballo's wooden sunglasses, all carried out by hand or hand-operated machines in Woodstock, Cape Town.

In early 2013 Cape Town-based designer Alistair 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. After a six-month period of research and development with an industrial designer in Kuils River Barnes’ brand, Ballo, was born with its original “eyewood” range.

Ballo holds firmly to its credo that all its products be made from scratch on South African soil with an environmentally friendly approach to design.

The frames are made by hand in a Woodstock workshop from off-cuts of wood veneers sourced from local furniture makers, laminated together with a robust material made out of recycled paper.

At least 25 processes go into creating each frame, all carried out by hand or hand-operated machines.

There are now more than 10 styles in Ballo’s range, including retro silhouettes, contemporary contours and a selection of special editions. Barnes uses three standard woods – imbuia, walnut and cherry – and two tones of 100 per cent polarised lenses. Every frame can also be fitted with the wearer’s prescription.

For Barnes the impulse to go local was driven by a desire to help create jobs in South Africa, and to celebrate South African craftsmanship and design.

In 2014 Barnes teamed up with local artist and designer Atang Tshikare to create the first batch of a limited-edition range called “Artist Eyewood Project”, in which the wooden frames are etched with the artist’s custom design.

Ballo has also released a distinctive range of frames made from Mozambican ShweShwe fabric, a global first, and upcycled old denim jeans. There are also prototypes frames in horn and cork rubber.