words Lee Taylor
When Colin Balls began his quest to set up an ethical eyewear brand he was pretty much out on his own. After an industrial injury he needed a way to earn a living. Being a carpenter by trade he loved the natural look of wood and settled on the idea of creating spectacles and sunglasses with bamboo arms and recycled plastic frames.
With little or no marketing budget he managed to get his specs seen by a few music stars via the Brits Music Awards. They helped cast a light onto the product by wearing them at events and in the media. Colin Leslie Eyewear was born. I spoke to Colin on his whirlwind adventure, the importance of being sustainable and how he sees the future.
Where did you learn to design spectacles?
My design ideas for spectacles come from wearing them from a young age. And like all fashion they tend to repeat or do full circle over the years. I have just added a more modern but ethical look to an existing fashion trend.
Why did you want to set up your own eyewear design company?
I started Colin Leslie literally by accident. I have been a site carpenter for more than 40 years and due to work injury, I was thinking I needed to think of a way to earn a living just in case I was unable to continue working on the building sites in years to come.
You were very early on using both bamboo and recycled plastic. How did it feel to be such an early pioneer?
When I started the Colin Leslie brand, I wanted something that would be unique and stand out alone against other eyewear brands. I was very fortunate that it was in the right place at the right time.
Did you encounter scepticism about your business idea?
My business idea got many compliments as a game changer, especially how different the bamboo changed a classic style of sunglasses into a an elegant all occasion accessory.
How did you decide on bamboo for the arms?
Being a carpenter for many years and loving the look of a natural wood finish, bamboo seemed to be the obvious choice to add the look of elegance.
Why is the production of bamboo so important as a crop?
Bamboo is a very strong and fast-growing grass. It can grow up to 30cm a day. This makes it a perfect material to work with and fast and easily replaced because of its growth rate. Bamboo as a product is very versatile. In ethical fashion bamboo is already being used in lots of different forms including making clothing from bamboo stranding, things like T-shirts and underwear etc.
How did you source your materials such as the bamboo and the recycled acetate?
The companies that we use sourced the bamboo. We at Colin Leslie only use reputable established businesses in Asia.
Style wise – what influenced you in your design?
The Colin Leslie research team are always looking at the latest styles in fashion and work along the ideas of what would look good with that certain on fashion trend. Luckily enough all of the Colin Leslie styles are timeless and go well with all looks Emo, Geeky on trend or fashionistas.
How did your close association with certain celebrities come about?
Over the past 9 years that Colin Leslie has been around. We have been very fortunate to have met so many celebrities that love the ethical or the bamboo story behind Colin Leslie. I was personally introduced to the celebrities from various events that the Colin Leslie brand had been involved with such as the Brits in 2013.
Did you see the effect from this in sales?
Yes of course, especially due to the Brits Awards 2013. The Colin Leslie brand was launched internationally making sales across the globe. Because the Brits Awards was broadcasted all over the world and picked up by all forms of media telling the world what was in that years gifting bags.
What about the future? Do you think we are all now taking sustainability more seriously?
More and more high street stores are becoming ethically and sustainable minded. It is just going to take some time to convert.
What plans to you have for the future?
Colin Leslie plans are to keep producing unique eyewear. But who really knows what is just around the corner? Maybe a bamboo clothing line or bamboo watches.
You can get a special discount of 20% on all ranges. Just use CLE20 on check out. You can find out more and see the range at www.colinleslieeyewear.co.uk