What do you look for in a pair of eyeglasses? Is it a brand name that resonates with your values? A stylish frame that matches your personality? Or do you look for the best value that you can find, favoring bargain frames over designer ones?
Since early 2010, the New York-based entrepreneurs at Warby Parker have been providing customers with the best of all three worlds, offering stylish, cost-effective eyewear with a socially conscious brand — for every pair of frames you buy, they donate one pair of prescription eyeglasses to someone who would otherwise be unable to afford them, which by their estimate is one billion people, about 15 percent of the world’s entire population.
The business started when the four co-founders got together and realized that eyeglasses are just too darn expensive. An average pair of designer frames sells for about $250 — a price that is determined more by the few companies actually behind the design and manufacturing of the frames than by the brand-name companies who contract out design and manufacturing services rather than producing their own frames.
Warby Parker sells eyeglasses for a flat $95, which includes lenses. They design their own frames, manufacture them using the same industry-grade materials as the giants dominating the market, and sell only online, which keeps their costs down, and allows them to sell fashionable frames for a fraction of the average price.
One of the questions probably burning in your mind is, “But how am I supposed to decide on frames if I can’t try them on?” Warby Parker thought of that too, and offers free shipping both ways on up to 5 frames for you to try on at home for 5 days.
This is great news for the optically challenged among us, but it’s even better news for the one billion people across the world whose eyesight is so poor it keeps them from working. In addition to donating glasses to the impoverished, Warby Parker also partners with non-profit organizations such as VisionSpring to expand their reach, and trains “low-income entrepreneurs in developing countries to start their own businesses selling glasses.”
These entrepreneurs sell glasses they would otherwise be unable to sell to people who would otherwise be unable to buy them. Many of these people can’t work because their eyesight is so bad. By Warby Parker’s estimate, “glasses can increase one’s productivity by 20 percent,” which means that they’re not only giving glasses to the needy — they’re also giving jobs, or at least the potential for work.
To date, Warby Parker has distributed over 85,000 pairs of glasses across the globe. Every purchase furthers their cause, and gets us a little closer to seeing the world through new lenses.
Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education where she writes about education, online colleges, etc. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.