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Warby Parker’s affordable, vintage-inspired eyewear

November 9, 2010 | 10:00 am

Fillmore 203-Dark Tort Crystal 02 
If you’re one of the millions of people in America who wears some sort of corrective eyewear to drive, read, watch a movie or simply tie your own shoe, you know how expensive a pair of new frames and lenses can be, even with insurance.

Enter Warby Parker, a New York City based eyewear company launched last February by four Wharton graduates who besides being good “drinking buddies” in business school, had an idea for an affordable and socially conscious line of eyeglasses that was, well -– visionary.

Dave Gilboa, Neil Blumenthal, Jeff Raider and Andy Hunt created Warby Parker (names taken from Colton 604-orange 02 characters in Jack Kerouac books) to offer fashionable optical frames, plus prescription lenses for under $100. “We thought that if we were able to bypass the major manufacturers who make eyewear and get materials straight from the source, we could offer eyewear at a much lower price point than is currently out there,” says Blumenthal, who spent several years working in the optical industry and learning about the manufacturing process as well as the additional (and often unnecessary) costs tacked onto eyewear, making glasses plus lenses cost upward of $350. He also has an obsession with optical lenses as a fashion statement and plays a key role in designing the look of the frames –- ironically, he is the only one of the four partners who doesn’t need corrective lenses to see, though it doesn’t stop him from wearing the vintage-inspired frames with non-prescription lenses. On the day I visited their Union Square studio and office in Manhattan, Blumenthal was wearing a pair of “Fillmore” frames in a sleek tortoise acetate.

The collection of 27 frames is sold on their website and displayed in a few select U.S. stores (Perrish Trust in San Francisco and hopefully soon, Steven Alan) where customers can try on styles to see what they like, then place an order with their prescription, online. There is also a feature on the site where you can upload a picture of yourself and “try on” different styles to see what best fits your face shape. If you’re still not settled on frames, Warby Parker ships five styles of your choice to try on in person, so that you can select the perfect pair. Shipping back and forth is free.

Huxley 200-Dark Tortoise 02 Because the eyewear company circumvents the major optical manufacturers who produce most eyewear brands out there from Ralph Lauren to Prada and Chanel, their costs stay low. From order time to delivery, glasses take about 10 days to arrive, with assembly done in China and the prescription, anti-glare lenses put in at a New York optical lab.

The total cost is $95 and for every pair bought, the company gives a pair to someone in need of glasses. Working with organizations such as restoringvision.org and supplying local eye clinics with glasses that are distributed throughout the U.S., Africa, South America and South Asia. “We are conscious that the style of eyewear should fit the culture and aesthetic of the country in which they are being distributed,” says Blumenthal, meaning that the over-sized fashion-forward frames that may make sense in certain areas don’t translate around the globe. The frames distributed are generally metal and simple in design, but of course, with prescription lenses.

In addition to the 27 styles, there is also a monocle in the collection for anyone who really wants to make a style statement with their eyewear. And at these prices, you can probably have the monocle as well as a couple pairs of proper glasses.

-- Melissa Magsaysay

Photos: Top: Fillmore frames, middle: Colton frames, bottom: Huxley frames, all from Warby Parker/Warby Parker

 

 

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