Interview with entrepreneur, Ed Bird

Devon-based entrepreneur, Ed Bird, opens up on his secrets to kickstarting his new sustainable business idea, Bird Sunglasses.

Could I be an entrepreneur?

I can’t even spell the word, let alone say it comfortably. It takes a while to form the word in my mouth. En-trep-ren-eur.

I’m waiting for Ed to arrive. He’s running a few minutes late and gives me time to ponder about his recent success and whether I could ever achieve that. An entrepreneur? It sounds so adventurous, so special.

Yet, when he arrives at the interview, greeting me with a friendly smile, I soon get wrapped up in his story of how he broke into the world of start-ups…

How did you begin your career as an entrepreneur?

I certainly didn’t follow a very normal route. In fact, I never went to University. I’ve always loved art and at 16 decided to head to art college, with the plan to then do a degree in graphic design. But life took a slightly different turn and I ended up being offered a chef apprenticeship. For six years I worked in that business and even though I made it to head chef, I knew it wasn’t the job for me.

I love being creative with my hands, working with teams of people, but the job also needs to help people, otherwise I just feel unsatisfied. For the last seven years I’ve been Directing an education based charity in Exeter, ICE. And on the side I’ve been experimenting with lots of different business ideas.

Where did the idea for wooden sunglasses come from?

I had a couple of business ideas; carbon offsetting mobile phone apps, products for drummers (I’m a drummer myself), and although I was pushing doors, none of the ideas were really going anywhere.

Then my wife and I took a month’s road trip across the US and while there I managed to get through a couple of pairs of sunglasses. When we got home I began to play with the idea of creating longer-lasting sunglasses, that would be unique and sustainable.

My dad is a carpenter and I’ve grown up surrounded by things being made from wood, so I began to do some research and found that it was a growing market.

Founder Ed Bird

How did it get from an idea to an actual product?

I began to share the idea with my family and close friends. Everyone I spoke to responded really well to it. That boosted my confidence and fired me up to continue.

I spent about four months researching, sending a tonne of emails and contacting manufacturers. I then began the branding process with my brothers. Attention to detail is really important to me, so we spent a lot of time making sure at every level the sunglasses would be perfect.

I then spent another eight months working on the prototype. Many didn’t work, but it was an amazing feeling when I finally got a pair that were right.

It’s taken two years to get to where I am today, just about to launch my e-commerce website. That’s two years of a lot of hard work and grit determination.

Bird Table

Did you have a lot of support around you?

Yes, that’s been amazing. My wife was the one that came up with the line, ‘Share Your Sun’ and has helped with lots of the content writing. Two of my brothers and my brother-in-law have given branding, design, marketing and PR support. It’s pretty much been a family affair.

And I’ve been overwhelmed by the support from friends giving photography and modelling for free.

I’ve also made use of local services. Exeter library has a Fab Lab, set-up to let anyone in the community experiment with making things. A lot of my initial prototypes for previous business ideas began in the Fab Lab.

Are the sunglasses completely sustainable?

It’s not perfect, but it’s as close as we can get. We’ve found manufacturers in China, Italy and the UK that can show their whole supply line and we’re working with only sustainable materials.

All our products are shipped by air freight, on passenger flights that are already travelling rather than the more economical, but fuel-heavy ships. And we’re offsetting all of the travel through our partnership with SolarAid.

Our Featherlight range are made from bamboo and are 100% biodegradable (apart from the lenses & hinges). The Multiply range are made from beech plywood and again are 100% biodegradable. The Strata range are a mix of wood and aluminum. It’s 50% biodegradable and 50% recyclable.

Wren model

We’ll be sending every pair of sunglasses out with information on how to dispose of them when they reach the end of their life. We’ll also offer an incentive to send them back to us and we’ll either repair them or recycle them and they’ll get 50% off the next pair.

Why the partnership with SolarAid?

I wanted my business to give something back and I knew SolarAid had already partnered with other companies. When we came up with the ‘Share Your Sun’ line it fitted perfectly with the aim of SolarAid to provide solar light to remote communities across the globe.

I bought a few of their lights and when the package arrived it included a handwritten letter. That was a cool touch, I knew I wanted to work with them. I was extremely fortunate to be given an opportunity to pitch to them and they took me up on the partnership.

What I really love about SolarAid, is it’s not handing out aid. They work a lot with schools and communities to encourage families to stop buying kerosene and instead buy a solar light. In many cases they have to convince people to trust the solar technology.

The money that pays for the solar light, is then reinvested back into the community.

The problem with kerosene lamps is that they emit a poor source of light, along with toxic black smoke, use up 15% of a family’s income and are the cause of horrific burns, often on children. Families can save up to £145 over three years through buying a safe, clean and affordable solar light. Now one pair of sunglasses, pays for one solar light. I love it!

Solar Aid
Has your faith impacted what you’re doing?

Definitely, yes.

I really hold onto the idea of being a good steward of both my time, money and talents. I believe that’s what God calls us to be. I like the fact that I’ve taken more time to create something that’s using God’s creation, won’t add to landfill and is ultimately helping people in need.

Would you have said this is your calling?

I think living out your calling is about using your talents. I’m good at being creative, working with my hands and putting together teams. Over the years I’ve applied that to being a head chef, a musician, working in a band, directing an education charity and now in this new enterprise.

For me, as long as I’m using the gifts God has given me, and helping people, I’m living out my calling.

What top tips would you give to someone with a start-up idea?
  1. Don’t measure yourself against anyone else and don’t think, how can I compete?
  2. Follow the idea and see where it leads you.
  3. Not every idea will be a success, but don’t give up.
  4. Surround yourself with wise people and ask for lots of feedback.
  5. Don’t put limits on yourself, but be wise with your time.
  6. Make deadlines and stick to them
Lastly, we send around 600 volunteers overseas with Tearfund every year. Why should they pack a pair of Bird Sunglasses, rather than another brand?

Bird Sunglasses are light to pack, hardy and easily repairable as they’re made of wood.

But ultimately I think it’s all around knowing the brand that you’re wearing and not buying into something that doesn’t ultimately do good for others. Make sure you know the supply chain for everything you buy.  

There’s a complete monopoly on the sunglasses market, nearly 95% is owned by one company, Luxottica. That doesn’t inspire me at all. I feel like David up against Goliath.  

Instead of buying from a giant, buy a pair of Birds that are completely unique, no pair is identical and everything from the frame to the case, to the strap can be returned back to nature or recycled.

Plus you’ll know that a solar light is heading to a country that you could be volunteering in.

Find out more about overseas volunteering opportunities with Tearfund

    Thanks Ed, you’re a real inspiration!