Whether you have lost a pair of glasses or haven't bothered to renew your subscription in a few years, the costs associated with a new pair is a likely deterrent for imminent action.
For Neil Blumenthal, Andrew Hunt, Jeffrey Raider and David Gilboa—who met at the Wharton School while pursuing their MBAs in the fall of 2008—commiserating over spectacle expenses led to the concept of Warby Parker.
“We couldn't figure out why a pair of glasses cost more than an iPhone. From that point on we began to ask ourselves whether there was something that could be done about it," says Blumenthal.
Warby Parker addresses two problems. First, the expense of glasses in the United States, and second, the fact that a large percentage of the world's population does not have access to glasses, despite the fact that they were invented eight hundred years ago.
Warby Parker crafts high quality glasses which include anti-reflective prescription lenses, for $95. Designing their own eyewear allows the company to avoid middlemen—licensing companies who add to the total cost of any transaction—and selling the product directly to customers through their website—instead of through traditional channels of manufacturing— allow Warby Parker to offer a lower price tag to their customers.
"We're excited to disrupt an industry that has been overcharging customers for decades, and we're excited to make people happy with an excellent product and incredible customer service," says Blumenthal.
Warby Parker also developed a one-for-one matching program with VisionSpring and has distributed approximately 250,000 pairs of glasses to individuals across the globe who otherwise did not have access to prescription glasses or could not afford them. According to Blumenthal, "We believe that businesses should be stakeholder-centric, not shareholder-centric, and that the private sector should solve problems instead of creating them."
The distinguishing element of VisionSpring's program with Warby Parker focuses on creating sustainable small businesses through training local, low-income entrepreneurs to fit clients for glasses. VisionSpring's training program lasts several months and involves a significant amount of hands-on, apprentice-like training. In addition, a major component focuses on how to re-introduce this new entrepreneur to his or her community as an expert in giving vision screenings and selling glasses. For those requiring more comprehensive treatment such as cataract surgery, Warby Parker provides trained optometrists.
Even in impoverished communities, Warby Parker has found that fashion plays a role in what people choose to wear and how. Recognizing the impact of aesthetics, outreach is conducted in an effort to talk to people, observe what’s being worn in nearby areas, and design according to their tastes and wants. "In Bangladesh, citizens loved metal wire frames in a gold-plated or gunmetal-plated style—whereas in parts of Latin America, they preferred styles more comparable to what you’d find in New York or Los Angeles" says Blumenthal.
Warby Parker provides an interactive "Virtual Try-On" tool via their website, but customers may also choose to have five pairs shipped to them, free of change, for a hands-on trial. For consumers in the United States, Warby Parker's signature style draws a lot of inspiration from the aesthetic of the 1940s and 1950s—"particularly the glasses that our grandparents wore. We've tried to stay true to that classic American heritage while updating styles with modern color treatments and patterns." On behalf of all four founders, the social mission of the organization was inspired by their parent's generation, a generation that came of age in the 1960s and participated in a climate of social change.
"Hiring people who are motivated by core values makes it very easy to create a socially-conscious company that is stakeholder-centric—in which we consider our customers, our employees, the environment, and the community at large with every decision we make," Blumenthal says, crediting the strength and success of Warby Parker to its values-based leadership model.
In the next few months, Warby Parker will launch their first flagship store in Soho, NY, and will introduce a line of progressives. Also, in collaboration with Pencils of Promise, (an organization that builds schools and increases educational opportunities in developing countries) they plan on showcasing a capsule collection.
"Because they're such a prominent part of a person's daily presentation, eyeglasses can be a terrific advocacy tool. Thirty dollars from each $95 sale of Pencils of Promise eyewear will go directly toward supporting that organization’s operations."
For more information on Warby Parker
Please visit http://www.warbyparker.com/
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