After working and helping to grow Costa Del Mar sunglasses into a recognized worldwide brand, Al Perkinson recently founded Bajío, his own line of shades that cater to boaters and anglers. Al is one of those guys who is really well-regarded in the marine world, because he’s living what he’s selling. We recently caught up with him to find out how he’s doing with Bajío.
After working in the sunglass industry for so many years, what made you decide to start Bajío?
Our goal is to use business for good. We saw an opportunity to create a new sunglass brand that would enable us to do that, and so we went for it! We also saw a need within the fishing and boating community for an independent brand with a priority on customer service and product innovation. All of the other major sunglass brands are now owned by large, multinational corporations. Anglers and boaters are a very small part of their business and so they’re typically not willing to invest and innovate.
How has your own experience on the water shaped how you make your sunglasses?
The needs we uncover through our firsthand experiences are the starting points in product development. We then take those ideas to our designers and lens developers who make products that address those needs. We then test and learn until the final product is formed. It’s one of the reasons that the company behind the product is so important. We are plugged into the community and understand their needs. And we are users ourselves. Brands created in a design studio in New York or LA don’t have that same connection and insight.
What sets Bajío apart for boaters and anglers?
There are three key things that make Bajío different: One, we have developed a truly revolutionary lens that reduces blue light. This makes things exceptionally clear and enables you to see deeper into the water column. Two, we have a strong focus on sustainability. Our case is made of cactus leather. Our packaging is made from recycled paper. Our frames are made of 65 percent plant-based material. And we have been carbon neutral since inception. Three, we are independent and employee-owned. This creates a sense of ownership among our team that elevates performance, especially in customer service.
You’ve been very active in conservation for a long time. What does Bajío bring to the table in terms of contributing to the protection of our shared resources?
Our name means “the shallows” in Spanish because that’s where we want to make a difference. The shallows are the nursery, where the young are born and raised before heading out to sea. Their health determines the future of our oceans. They impact all types of fishing. For offshore, it’s where baitfish live. For flats anglers, it’s home to amazing gamefish, like tarpon, permit and bonefish. And for commercial fishermen, it’s home to crabs, lobsters, and line-caught fish. So, we should all have an interest in protecting the shallows. And because the shallows are the part of the ocean closest to shore, they feel the impact of land-based pollution issues most intensely. They need our help more than any other zone.
In addition to the shallows, our future also depends on our youth. So we’re also doing what we can to make fishing and boating appealing to the next generation in hopes that we can bring them to the sport and to the fight to protect it.
I remember going to the Galapagos with you in a previous life. Where have you taken Bajío lately and where do you want to go next?
That was an awesome trip! We have an ambitious travel schedule with Bajío. Over the coming years, we envision visiting the flats throughout the US and the world in order to rally folks to get involved in their protection. We’ve been in business for just 12 months, so our list is not terribly long at this point, but have already made a good start. Internationally, we’ve made multiple trips to the Yucatan of Mexico and to Honduras. Domestically, we’ve visited the grass flats of Charleston, the Florida Keys and the Texas coast. In each place, we’ve started projects that we hope will build into a global movement.
When you’re not on an extreme adventure somewhere around the world, what’s a typical day for you on the water?
When we left Florida a few years ago and moved to Montana, we had to sell our flats boat and our bay boat. Now that we’re back, we’re in the market for new ones! Marg [my wife] and I picked up two fishing kayaks a couple years ago, and so they are our primary fishing boats for now. We love peddling them all through the creeks and rivers around New Smyrna, and we do it regularly. We’re also lucky to live in the best fishing state in America and so mini adventures close to home abound.
What’s the next step for Bajío in 2022?
We spent our first year developing and launching our brand and getting all aspects of the business up and running. The results exceeded expectations by a wide margin. For 2022, we’ve doubled the size of our product line, doubled the size of our production facility, and built a distribution network that includes about 600 specialty retailers across the country. So, 2022 will be a year to build our tribe, stabilize the operation, grow revenue, and expand on investments in our mission.