By Grace Austin
In the trendy world of designer eyeglasses and corporate do-gooding, there has been a convergence of companies offering stylish glasses and touting “buy a pair give a pair” philosophies (when a customer buys a pair of glasses, someone less fortunate receives a pair). The phenomenon continues to grow as more and more companies find the benefits of tying philanthropy with profits.
Warby Parker, based in New York, is by far the most famous, at least in the fashion world, of the philanthropic eyeglass companies. The company, named after Jack Kerouac characters, feels faintly hipster-esque, with their fashion week pop-up shops, monocle (albeit tongue-in-cheek) offerings, and literary-sounding spectacle names like the Tennessee Whiskey.
Initially co-founders Andy Hunt and Neil Blumenthal founded Restoring Vision, “one of the largest nonprofit eyewear distribution companies,” laying the groundwork for their current business and its do-good philosophy. Later they started Warby Parker with two other Wharton School students, Jeffrey Raider and David Gilboa. The company now works with nonprofits like VisionSpring.com to deliver glasses to those in need.
One of Warby Parker’s selling points is their $95 price point—a feat they say is possible by “cutting out the middleman.” The company also allows for home try-ons (something which sets it apart from its competitors), and has recently began purveying sunglasses.
The original “buy a pair, give a pair” eyeglass company, 141 Eyewear, was founded in May 2009 by Portland couple Kyle Yamaguchi and Shu-Chu Wu. Yamaguchi previously worked at Nike while Wu was an optician. Their two worlds converged when they founded 141 Eyewear.
“We didn’t just want to start any frame line. We wanted it to have meaning. We tried to figure out how we could give back and build a possible company,” says Yamaguchi.
While the company does not hawk Preston and Ainsworths like its competitor Warby Parker, 141 Eyewear’s hipster spin also comes from its names: all the glasses are named after Portland streets significant in their relationship. And 141 Eyewear, just like the others, also has a tagline. In this case, the polysemous “one four one.”
Established in late 2010, Moraleyes adheres to the same sales philosophy, donating a pair of reading glasses to its nonprofit partner, New Eyes, for every pair sold. In Moraleyes’ brief history, the company has already donated over 18,600 reading glasses.
“There’s a growing enthusiasm for our cause and products. We’re receiving notes and emails of support from all over the country,” says CEO Joseph Sacks. The company recently donated more than 3,000 pairs to New Eyes for the Needy.
The one-for-one business model isn’t new though. Toms Shoes, founded by Blake Mycoskie, has given away more than one million pairs since 2006. The “One Laptop Per Child” project, founded at MIT, was also a brief example of the idea.
“We were inspired by what Toms was doing—that’s the source of inspiration that first got us thinking about it,” says Yamaguchi.
To Sacks, these actions represent trends in the business world towards more philanthropic efforts.
“The growth of Moraleyes is representative of the growth of charitable giving within the business world at large,” says Sacks. “We’re seeing more companies choose to give back. We’re excited about what this expansion means not only for our company and contributions to New Eyes for the Needy, but for other socially responsible businesses as well.”
In the coming months, New Eyes will distribute the donated glasses to individuals around the world who lack access to vision care and correction.
“Vision loss is often a part of the aging process, and it’s easy to take our everyday access to vision correction for granted,” says Sara Levit, Moraleyes’ creative director. “By donating reading glasses, we alleviate vision-related job loss and sustain literacy in underserved communities around the world.”