Startup Spotlight: Panda

06/29/2014 7:00 PM

06/29/2014 5:15 PM

PANDA

Operational headquarters: Miami

Concept: Panda produces high-end sunglasses hand-crafted from sustainable bamboo sourced from China and then hand-crafted in a wood shop. For every pair sold, Panda provides the Gift of Vision to someone in need.

Story: Panda was founded by a group of friends who had attended Georgetown University together. Reunited by an idea to revolutionize the ethical and social impact of sunglasses, they combined their backgrounds, experiences and passions into a singular mission. From day one, Panda’s goal was to fill a void in conscious capitalism: a trail-blazing fashion accessories company that offers innovative sunglasses, said Vincent Ko, Panda’s founder. “We wanted to build a business where the product’s design is just as important as the product’s ethical, environmental and social impact,” said Vincent Ko, Panda’s founder. “For every Panda purchase, a person in need is given a free eye exam and eyewear.”

To meet growing demand for its sunglasses, which float on the water and retail for about $120, Panda started developing business relationships with retailers located in beach communities such as Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach. Today, more than 100 retailers are selling the Panda sunglasses. In South Florida, these include Shade Boutique at the Intercontinental Hotel Miami, Sole on the Ocean store on Collins Avenue, and Miami Blues in Pompano Beach.

Launched: 2011

Management team: Vincent Ko, Founder and Head of Development; Nitu Patel, Vice President of Business Development.

No. of employees: 5

Website: WearPanda.com

Financing: Panda was jump-started in 2011 by 300 supporters who contributed $20,000 on Kickstarter.com, the world's largest funding platform for creative projects. The business’s 2013 revenue was $350,000, and revenues have increased by about 20 percent since the brand began to grow its presence in the Southern Florida region.

Recent milestones reached: When Panda took off, the company worked with the TOMA Foundation, a small nonprofit group in Austin, Texas. In April, Panda launched a new partnership with Optometry Giving Sight to help provide on a larger scale the Gift of Vision to people in need from around the world and help train and establish eyecare centers globally. The company is approaching 7,000 Gifts of Vision delivered. Panda participated in COAST, which debuted in Miami and has become one of the largest trade shows in America today, and showcased its sunglasses to 500 retailers .

Biggest startup challenge: Within the first six months of being in business, Panda’s sunglasses started selling in Nordstrom and Urban Outfitters’ Anthropology. “We tried to grow way too fast and were unable to meet the production delivery schedule to meet their demand. We learned a big lesson from that experience. Sometimes you have to evaluate whether you are ready to take on a big opportunity. If we would have been fully prepared at that time, we could have established a long-lasting business partnership with the two retailers,” said Ko.

Next steps: Expanding the brand in the South Florida market and penetrating new markets in coastal regions.

Strategy for next steps: “We’ve joined shared workspace Pipeline Brickell, which has allowed us to make new business connections and familiarize ourselves with Miami’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. We are also continuing to meet and introduce our lines of sunglasses to new retailers to carry our brand,” said Ko.

“We are focusing on working with smaller partners to help educate customers about our product and brand, rather than pursuing mass distribution. For example, the U.S. Men's Soccer team recently wore our sunglasses,” Ko said. “We are a young company and need partners to help us share our message.”

Nancy Dahlberg

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