With Benefits: Warby Parker

With Benefits is a series featuring for-benefit companies — for-profit models that inherently benefit social causes — written by Janette Crawford, founder of the consistently excellent ethical fashion daily Fashion Loves People.

It’s no wonder Warby Parker has garnered so much attention since its launch last February — the brand sells stylish, prescription eyeglasses for only $95 a pop.

But, maybe even cooler than its killer-deal-factor, is that for each pair sold Warby Parker donates a pair of eyeglasses to someone in need. To date, that’s almost 10,000 pairs.

The Founders

“Andy, Dave, Jeff and I set out to radically transform the optical industry,” says co-founder Neil Blumenthal. “We thought it was crazy that glasses cost more than an iPhone, despite being invented 700 years earlier.

“We’ve been successful in reducing pricing from $400+ to $95 without sacrificing quality. However, we recognize that there are many people that still cannot afford $95.”

Neil, who spent five years working for VisionSpring, a nonprofit that was the first to produce reading glasses for people living on less than $4 a day, says that there are 500 million people who need glasses but don’t have access to them, which significantly impacts their ability to earn a living and provide for their families.

“I had countless opportunities to see the power of a pair of glasses to transform someone’s life,” he says. [ed note: pun intended?]

Restoring Vision

For the delivery of their donated pairs, Warby Parker has teamed up with nonprofit Restoring Vision, an organization Neil first connected with through his previous gig.

“They are best at what they do — getting large quantities of new glasses to those who can immediately dispense them to people in need,” he says. “Imagine the eye care version of Doctors without Borders.”.

The donated glasses aren’t Warby Parker originals, but they are brand new, and paid for with a cash donation made by WP.

“While at VisionSpring, I observed that even the most impoverished and remote villages have social hierarchy that is, in many ways, linked to appearance. We wanted to ensure that those in need had the glasses they required and the dignity to wear them,” Neil says.

He says that the WP team plans to get more involved in the process of donating glasses later this year, engaging both their employees and their customers.

“I remember the first time that I directly helped a young lady obtain her first pair of glasses in a small town in El Salvador and her ear-to-ear smile when she realized that she could finally see,” he says. “It was one of those moments that change the trajectory of your life. Our hope is that we can provide similar experiences to others to inspire them to have a positive impact.”

Middlemen Are So 2009

Understandably, WP’s incredibly affordable pricing has led people to ask, “But how?”

According to the brand’s site, the high price of most designer frames is due to middemen, and not the actual materials or fabrication. By selling everything direct, WP is able to substantially cut the cost of their glasses, without sacrificing quality.

As for materials and labor, the frames are made from a proprietary cellulose (naturally derived) acetate that is produced by a family-owned Italian company. Prescription lenses are edged and inserted into the frames in New York, and Neil has personally visited many of the frame manufacturers WP works with.

Also, all shipping – there and back – is 100% free, including receiving and returning home try-ons (which you can order up to three pairs at a time).

Truly, the brand is an all-around beautiful case of concept innovation, and how employing best-practices and educating consumers along the way benefits everyone involved.

And did I mention they offer a monocle?

All frames shown are available at WarbyParker.com for $95 a piece.

About the author:

Janette Crawford is a blogger, journalist and copywriter, focusing on stories about good design with a good backstory. She writes about ethical fashion (that loves you back) at FashionLovesPeople.com and supports indie artists of all kinds through her day job at Storenvy.com. If you sign up for Janette’s RSS feed and follow her on Twitter, Flickr and Vimeo, she’ll love you forever.