These Sweet Shades Protect Your Peepers — and the Planet

With Bajío Sunglasses, performance–eyewear industry vet Al Perkinson aims to make an impact far beyond your face.

bajio
Bajio

This story is part of Gear Patrol’s continuing look at different approaches to sustainability, leading up to Earth Day on April 22nd.

Al Perkinson’s shoulder-length white hair and goatee (pictured above) give him the air of a beach bum who’s struck up a conversation while waiting for his piña colada. Our Zoom call has bridged the frosty late winter of the Northeast and the sunny, 80-degree climes of New Smyrna Beach, Florida, where he resides. Breaking the ice, I joke that I’ve all but forgotten what sandal weather feels like. Reaching down, he plucks a black flip-flop from his foot and holds it up. “Every day,” he responds with a grin.

We’re supposed to be chatting about his nascent performance eyewear brand, Bajío Sunglasses, but five minutes in, we’re off track, waxing poetic about legendary anglers we both admire, the value of a good liberal arts education and right- versus left-brained thinking. With his soft Southern accent and Dude-like vibe, Perkinson’s not what I’d expected from a venerated 60-something CEO, but exactly what I’d hoped for.

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Bajío shades are optimized for anglers but suit a variety of outdoor activities.
Bajio

As the marketing wizard behind Costa Del Mar Sunglasses from 2005 to 2016, Perkinson championed conservation initiatives, sustainable materials and funding for fisheries research. An avid angler himself, he hoped to win the hearts of aquatic enthusiasts seeking a company that cared about their communities, not just their credit card numbers, and it worked: Costa grew 20 percent annually for over a decade.

But when French eyewear titan Essilor acquired the brand for $270 million in 2013, the mood started getting more corporate. Three years later, the artistic nonconformist who idolizes Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard left in search of new opportunities. Then, after tilting at windmills for Simms, Orvis and Huk Gear, he had a realization.

“I was trying to take other people’s companies and turn them into the brands I thought they should be,” he observes. “It just wasn’t working. So we decided to start our own.” In 2020, he and his wife, Marg, quietly hatched Bajío.

bajio sunglasses
The frames are formed largely from plant-based polymers while the cases are made from cactus dried in the Mexican sun.
Bajio

Bajío (pronounced Bah-Hee-Oh) is a Spanish word that translates to “the shallows,” essentially the area where the land and sea meet. These fragile intertidal zones are a critical habitat for a wide variety of ocean fish — and the perfect name for his new eyewear company.

“The only thing that matters is what we care about and what we love,” Perkinson explains. “We only need a set of beliefs that serve as a vision of the brand.”

Toward that end, Bajío has focused on preserving these vibrant ecosystems, crystalized in the “Bajío Odyssey,” a concerted conservation plan extending to Belize, Abaco, Fiji, Myanmar, the Seychelles, Sudan and beyond. Budgeting over $1 million toward the five-year initiative, Bajío aims to build a global community of people motivated by common values.

“Marg and I started Bajío so that we’d have an economic engine to fund the mission we’ve pursued for the past 15 to 20 years,” he tells me in an email. “We are fighting like hell to make sure that Bajío succeeds so that our vision comes to fruition. The better our company does, the more we can contribute to the cause and the bigger a difference we can make. That’s the motivation.”

bajio sunglasses
To raise funds for ongoing beachfront cleanup efforts, Bajío offers apparel emblazoned with an iconic rooster mural from Xcalak, Mexico.
Bajio
bajio profile
This T-shirt costs $33, with $10 going directly toward the cause. Grab one here
Bajio

One Odyssey mission has already taken hold. Last year, Bajío started working with the community of Xcalak, a village on the southern tip of Mexico’s Quintana Roo. Xcalak is on the bucket list for many saltwater anglers, owing to its pristine flats full of bonefish, snook and permit. But in recent years, the beaches have become awash in garbage; a plastic tide barrages them almost daily.

“I am a huge believer in attitude. Yeah, there are a lot of problems. If you address them with hope, you’ve got a chance.”

Bajío has already invested $10,000 and helped to orchestrate the clearing of some 12,000 meters of beachfront in Xcalak. But the trash keeps materializing, and so too must the work. To help support the ongoing efforts, Bajío offers T-shirts and hats emblazoned with artwork from Xcalak. According to the company website, $10 from every sale goes to the rehabilitation project there. Perkinson reports they’ve managed to offset roughly $3,000 through the sale of these items so far.

This is the essence of the philosophy that Perkinson developed during his time at Costa. The approach, he tells me, is closer to that of a cultural anthropologist than a modern marketeer.

“You connect, you give, you share,” he says. “You join the community instead of targeting it.”

But building a brand this way in 2022 must be done with care. Greenwashing has become a significant problem in the outdoors industry. Snazzy marketing, cinematic promotional videos and websites plastered with promises are sometimes nothing more than façades carefully constructed to obscure the scale of damage done to the environment.

bajio sunglasses
Bajío’s proprietary lens tech helps anglers better see what’s underwater while blocking harmful blue light from the sun.
Bajio

Perkinson is adamant that every step of Bajío’s manufacturing process prioritizes sustainability. All packaging comes from recycled paper materials and — through a partnership with EcoEnclose — it’s biodegradable as well. The frames are formed largely from plant-based polymers while the cases are made from cactus dried in the Mexican sun. And the company is carbon neutral, a standard currently reached through the purchasing of carbon offsets.

“There are no perfect solutions, only trade-offs,” Perkinson admits. “But we’re trying, and we are working within our values.”

The catch? The product is excellent. I’ve wear-tested a pair of Bajío Bonevilles on several multiday fishing trips. They’re lightweight and comfortable, they stay put, they offer incredible clarity on and off the water and, at $249, they are priced to compete with other high-end polarized performance sunglasses.

At barely two years old, Bajío still has to prove whether it can actualize its ideals. And yet, it already projects urgency and audacity — part magnum opus, part middle finger to an industry consumed by consumption.

“I am a huge believer in attitude,” Perkinson concludes. “Yeah, there are a lot of problems. If you address them with hope, you’ve got a chance.”

Cervantes once wrote: “Too much sanity may be madness, and maddest of all is to see life as it is and not as it should be." Perkinson clearly sees the latter, and he’s pursuing it — in flip-flops and a great pair of shades.

Superior Sunnies

Bajío’s lineup is sharper than your typical technical shades. “We wanted to combine style and function,” says Perkinson. “Frames aren’t just lens holders.”

The brand’s proprietary lens technology focuses on two important facets of life on the water. The first is contrast — most important for anglers — which, alongside polarization, allows the wearer to perceive underwater items with more clarity.

The second is blocking blue light, the biggest source of which is the sun. Blue light has been found to put more stress on eyes than other wavelengths and can even inhibit the production of melatonin and disrupt Circadian rhythms.

So before your next outdoors or aquatic adventure, give these three pairs a look.

Caballo

bajio sunglasses
Bajio

Crafted with durable bio-based nylon, this extra-large frame employs flexible, grippy contact points on the nose and temples to keep the glasses comfortably in place.

Price: $199 (poly lenses); $249 (glass lenses)

SHOP NOW

Roca

bajio sunglasses
Bajio

This modern, oversized frame provides complete coverage via vented side shields, reducing glare off the water and overall light intrusion without fogging up.

Price: $199 (poly lenses); $249 (glass lenses)

SHOP NOW

Chelem

bajio sunglasses
Bajio

Like its siblings, the stylish, medium-sized Chelem boasts polarized, color-enhancing lenses to filter out blue light and better define colors and shapes in the water.

Price: $199 (poly lenses); $249 (glass lenses)

SHOP NOW

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