Cali Life Co. is a high-quality, eco-friendly accessory brand to use in everyday life, for sunny days in California to sophisticated events and everything in between! The sunglasses and watches are created by artists in limited editions to keep uniqueness swirling. These wooden flawless collections are FDA Certified Sustainable Woods, plant-based PVC-free plastic – no chipping or fading, but extremely lightweight & comfortable! The raw beauty of wood is Cali Life Co.
We interview Nina and Rafa, the artists behind Cali Life Co. With their sustainable wooden accessories, they want to make your perspective a unique form of art. Humble, persistent and hard-workers, they launched knowing that “like most small businesses, it’s impossible to compete with the world’s top brands”. And so they don’t. Instead, they compete with themselves, every day, to bring you sustainable wooden accessories that you will wear for many years to come.
Hope you enjoy their story as much as we did!!
Hi Nina and Rafael, could you please explain what is your background and how did you come up with starting a business of eco-friendly sunglasses?
We really wanted to design a product that people actually use every day, something they just can’t live without! Here in San Diego, we have over 300 sunny days a year, so sunglasses were somewhat of an obvious choice. As far as the eco-friendly aspect, I began learning about environmental issues while working as an Organic Farmer up in Northern California about 14 years ago. Since then, I made choices like commuting by bicycle and growing my own food to reduce my carbon footprint. Starting a business, it just made sense to continue the efforts and source materials we can feel good about!
What is the mission behind Cali Life Co?
Our mission is fairly simple. To design high-quality, eco-friendly items that people use every day.
What makes Cali Life Co. sunglasses different from other brands?
Cali Life Co. was created by artists, and we incorporate art into everything we produce. As kids, we used to draw on everything and the world was our canvas. Growing up we are taught to “mature” and move on from our child-like natural selves. Cali Life Co. brings some of that magic back into being an adult. We are able to incorporate art with elegant sophistication. Office and Wedding Approved!
The sunglasses are stylish and eco-friendly. What about the quality of the lenses?
Lenses are the most important part of a good pair of sunglasses, so we spare no expense in sourcing the best! Every pair features Polarized/UV400 lenses. Non-UV400 lenses actually cause more damage to your eyes than wearing nothing at all. It’s not only your eyes but the skin around your eyes that is very vulnerable to sun damage and overexposure can have lasting negative effects on ocular health. We don’t make our customers choose, every pair has UV400 Protection which blocks 99-100% of the sun’s harmful rays. Polarization is another key feature. Although it doesn’t protect your eyes, it does reduce glare off roads, water and other reflective surfaces.
Tell us about your collections. Why did you decide to make limited editions?
Everything we make is designed and crafted in small batches, so technically everything is limited edition! We do however re-introduce our best sellers as much as we can! Since we are still a small business, our production doesn’t look anything like our big box competitors. With so many varieties it’s difficult keeping up as we are constantly selling out! Our regular customers know this, so when they see something they like, even if they don’t necessarily need a pair that day, they make the purchase.
What kind of clients you have and how do they appreciate your products?
I have to brag about this one, we have amazing customers! They trust us as a brand and they trust our products. Every order is hand-packed in the house and not by a large distribution centre, so it arrives with a sense of warmth, like a gift from a family member. Our customers always tell us they get lots of compliments, people love items that are unique! They also love how lightweight everything is, comfortability for us is just as important as style.
How does the creative process look like for each collection? (design, production process, materials used for the frames, where the sunnies are these actually produced)
We are very particular of what materials are used and have committed to using only FDA Certified Sustainable Woods. This means they can only be harvested in certain places and certain times of the year. We also use Acetate which is a plant-based PVC-free plastic that is biodegradable and hypoallergenic. It’s actually made from wood and cotton pulp. The great thing about designing products with acetate is the colours are mixed with the material before it’s moulded, so you always have minor variations making everything even more unique! Since the colours are inside the material, they never chip or fade, and Acetate is quite flexible so we can adjust them as time goes on. The frames are produced in various places depending on where the wood is sourced. We do try to reduce our footprint in that sense, by networking with different facilities in close proximation to where the wood comes from.
What kind of packaging do you use for your products?
Recycled of course!!
So all together, what is the positive impact on the environment Cali Life Co. is making?
We are very considerate of what materials we use. For example, we use a lot of bamboo which is the fastest growing plant on the planet. It can grow up to 4 inches per day and is very sustainable. We avoid using harmful plastics which has a huge positive impact and use biodegradable plastics for our intermediate collection. Cali Life Co. really focuses on quality, avoiding the “Fast Fashion” phenomenon that has had detrimental effects on our environment.
We can see you also have started with wood watches. Is this your new exciting adventure and when can we expect a launch of the full collections?
We’ve actually had wood watches since the beginning, although we just recently started to really invest in them to compete with other watch brands. Wood watches are a bit of a fad, but what we love is that it’s simple ingredients. Sort of like the best foods you should eat. Leather, rubber, and other common materials used for watches have a much larger footprint. People love how lightweight and naturally elegant they are! We just released a new design with a combination of ZebraWood and Black Sandalwood that is really striking and so far a huge hit!
You are based in California, how does a social entrepreneurial venture look like there? Do you feel there’s a change happening in the US?
Since we started in 2015, we have seen nearly a hundred small businesses come and go. California is a bittersweet sort of place. Everyone wants to come here, but few have what it truly takes to endure the intense living expenses and competition. San Diego specifically is a tourist city, so if you can develop products at a price point that accommodates that clientele, you definitely have a shot! The real trick is to develop points of sale you can sustain. Retail space is almost impossible to afford unless you have a large initial investment. Luckily there is an up-and-coming trend of markets and artisan stores that provide an opportunity for people just starting up.
Is there any advice you’d like to give to other businesses trying to make a difference for good?
You have to be persistent, you have to have a good product that people can afford, and you have to work well with others to be successful! Retail can bring out the best and the worst in people, so you have to take each day in stride. There will be days you just wish you had a boss and a predictable income! And other days you will feel on top of the world, but you still need to be humble and considerate of your company and customers needs. I’m so grateful we came up with something that we can stand behind, something we can believe in. Because when the bad days come, we know deep down we are still on the right track.
If you could write a message on a big wall that the entire world could read, what would it say?
Honestly, I would probably say something like “F$%& IT!” but that probably wouldn’t go far in the public eye! I think people get to be afraid to make mistakes so they don’t try new things. “You will fail, you will fall, but you will also get up, keep going, and you will surprise yourself along the way!”
Finally, where can we find Cali Life Co.? Shops, online, worldwide…?
Our website is a great start! www.calilifeco.com is where you can find all our products and reach out to contact us any time! On Instagram @calilifeco we have over 200K followers which have been an incredible grassroots achievement for our brand! We are primarily located in San Diego, with 3 weekly market locations and 4 store locations which are all listed on our website here. We are always looking for new opportunities and appreciate any store suggestions/contacts! Thanks for reading!
Is there any other similar brand you know or are curious about? Comment below, and we will make it happen!