2024 is looking bigger and brighter than ever for sports eyewear brand Panda Optics as its new goggle opens up the slopes for the snow crowd and more cyclists come on board thanks to its sunglasses.
A shining example of what a small business can achieve in a market long dominated by global giants, that Panda is a UK-based operation makes it even more of a rarity.
With every adult snow goggle, wearers receive a polarised lens that reduces glare and links magnetically to the frame, as well as one for low light so they are covered for all conditions from a sunny day to a whiteout.
Founded by former ski instructor and “gear nerd” Oliver Heath eight years ago, it was his conviction about the importance of using a polarised lens – so skiers and boarders can see and judge terrain more clearly – that kickstarted the enterprise.
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“Vision is the key to being safe and aware on the slopes, but there’s no such thing as a one-lens wonder and polarised googles weren’t common so it often meant buying standard ones with an additional lens at an extortionate price,” Heath explains.
“Then lenses often get damaged over a winter, so someone could end up spending a large amount.
“That set me on a mission to find manufacturers and discover true cost of polarised and non-polarised. The difference proved to be minimal and what I had been paying for was a hard-to-justify ‘premium’.”
To disrupt the old order meant innovation, manufacturing from scratch and delivering lower cost options – a mountain to climb business wise.
Today Panda’s products are designed and made in China according to Heath’s technical wish list, followed by fulfilment in the UK.
Turnover is forecast for £300,000 in 20026/27, while development has taken £50,000 of private funding so far.
Sales are primarily online and through small, independent retailers. The snow goggles range includes the Diablo (£94) – offering a google that’s under £100 is key objective for Panda, bestseller Cobalt (£122), the Cub for kids with a silicone-lined strap ensuring it stays put on helmets and, just out, its upgraded Dual Vision (£160).
Resetting the balance between frame and lens, this can be used with either a Toric lens, which mimics the curve of the retina, or a cylindrical one.
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“Reduced moulding on the frame contributes to a 20 per cent increase in the field of vision without adding to the goggle size and the lens is secure and swift to change,” Heath explains.
Aware of the risks for a UK startup in this market, he has deliberately pursued a slow growth strategy.
The client base he has built is stable, centred in Europe and Japan and formed of both recreational and competition snow sports customers who are unswayed by fashion and prize products that enhance their performance.
Underpinning that is a canny commercial model comprising multiple partnerships and sponsorships.
“We focus on getting our products to the right people working with ski schools, academies and companies within the industry, their authentic, expert endorsements really resonate,” adds Heath.
Now however he is considering seeking some £100,000 of external investment to boost Panda’s marketing, distribution and new product development, potentially from an angel with retail chain experience.
Further applications for Panda’s technology in cycling, such as mountain biking, also beckon.
“It’s time to get into bigger sports retailers as an emerging brand,” says Heath. “More is our mantra.”
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