Based in Washington, DC, Panda is a sunglass company founded by Georgetown University friends Vincent Ko, Michael Mills, and Luke Lagera in the fall of 2011. Panda makes quality eyewear handcrafted from sustainable bamboo and recycled polycarbonates. All pairs are water-resistant, comes with polarized lenses, and even float. The young entrepreneurs were inspired by TOMS Shoes to start their company; in addition to producing eco-friendly sunnies, Panda donates an eye exam and a pair of prescription glasses to someone in need for every pair they sell through partner organization the Tribal Outreach Medical Assistance (TOMA) Foundation.
Panda got its start on popular crowd-funding platform Kickstarter. According to co-founder Ko, their campaign allowed them to begin production, as well as gave them plenty of much needed publicity. Panda secured many of its initial retailers and partners through Kickstarter, which Ko says levels the playing field for fledgling entrepreneurs.
Today, just six months after launching, Panda’s frames are sold at well-known retailers such as Nordstrom and Urban Outfitters. The company’s founders aren’t just riding the green trend, though – they’re in it for the long haul. “Consumers aren’t stupid,” says Ko. “They know when something’s authentic. And if you’re going to go try to start-up a social venture, you have to do it end-to-end – with everything from messaging to packaging.” Panda’s founders are aware that they still have much to learn and don’t try to hide it – in fact, they keep their customers updated on their progress through their newsletter.
When asked if he had any advice for other young ‘treps who wish to launch their own startup, Ko recommends starting now, saying, “There is no better time than in your early 20s or mid-20s to start a business because at worst you’ll just end up where you started – having learned from the experience, of course.”