Tala LED: The startup having a lightbulb moment

The prevailing image of energy-saving lightbulbs is one of winding fluorescent lamps that take five minutes to warm up before emitting a garish office-like white light. The only other option for low-energy lighting has been eye-popping ultra-bright LED spotlights, which have quickly gone out of fashion in contemporary interior design. Neither system has been able to emulate the look and resulting warm light of a traditional tungsten filament bulb. Until now that is.

“The lighting industry has been approaching the problem in the wrong way,” says Josh Ward, co-founder of London-based lighting firm Tala LED, whose bulbs use 90 per cent less energy than a traditional bulb and last for 10 years. “Most companies are just trying to pump out as much light as possible for as little energy. The fact that a lot of people prioritise aesthetics over saving energy has long been ignored.”

Eastern influence

tala ledIt was something that Ward first noticed in 2012 while studying carbon management at Edinburgh University. With graduation on the horizon, he and three friends began to consider launching their own business based around renewables.

They came across a new lighting technology developed in Japan that—despite having the appearance and glow of traditional wire-based tungsten filaments—comprised strips of tiny low-energy LEDs. A six-watt bulb made this way has the power of a traditional 60-watt bulb, massively lowering energy use and costs for running the lights.

It appeared that the current crop of light bulbs weren’t making the most of the technology available; instead using standard bulb shapes and emitting light that doesn’t fully match the warmth of filament lighting. In other words, there was considerable scope for something a lot better.

The team spent a year travelling to factories in China and speaking to lighting experts and academics before perfecting and testing their product. Each light features a wire-like strip inside the bulb, which is made by attaching 40 tiny blue and red LEDs onto a length of artificial sapphire. The strip is then coated in phosphor to create the yellow glow. The result is a low-energy bulb that perfectly replicates the warm light that they were working towards.

Making the switch

Rather than housing the LEDs in a standard lightbulb, they opted for ornate blown-glass bulbs—the type that have become emblematic of the modern urban aesthetic found across New York and London. The bulbs are brazenly premium, with the smallest retailing at £13 ($18), the larger at £39 ($54), sold in London’s high-end interior stores, including Heal’s SCP and The Conran Shop. In fact, big deals with retailers have pulled in nearly £500,000 ($693,000) since the company launched in March 2015. Sales in Europe and North America are next.

The high-quality, low-energy, long-lasting and seemingly traditional-looking light bulbs have found an enthusiastic base of early adopters, largely professionals working in the lighting and design industries. It was this that drove early sales and has been instrumental in convincing retailers to stock the bulbs. Now the founders want to find a broader market.

This story was originally published by our friends at Courier.