How Warby Parker Caught Our Eye

“Sit further away from the TV”

When the monarch of all medlar-ing, my mother, found out I had trouble with a test at school, she breathed a sigh of relief upon realization it was just an eye exam.  The campaign for coolest kid began with a pair of gold rimmed, pink leopard frames, that squished my face, my lack of nose bridge going unacknowledged. I wore these frames for years, refusing to replace them in favor of contact lenses.  

Looking back, there were two major factors in that decision.  The first being that glasses were less of an accessory and more a function of necessity.  I am deemed legally blind, and without eyesight assistance, much of what I do each day would be impacted.  The second factor is embedded in the cost of glasses.  

My lenses used to run anywhere from $200, plus $150 to thin out the weight, another $50 to help with the glare, leaving me with little interest in what the frames looked like.  Until Warby Parker came into view.  Founded in 2010 by four students at Wharton, the premise was affordable, stylish eyewear that bought into the ease of online shopping.  

The path to affordability came in part from the vertical integration of designs, materials, production, and distribution. The eyewear industry was so heavily dominated and littered with intermediaries taking their own markups, that the same glasses the founders originally pitched to price at $45 a pair  could end up in consumers' hands at $500 a pop. 

Originally, customers could only access frames via Warby Parker’s “Home Try-On” program, which allowed eager clients to have a few frames sent to them before making a decision.  Being a proud New Yorker, I frequented their headquarters which also dubbed as a try-on showroom for some time.  More and more consumer brands have begun digitally, but then find IRL expansion pays itself back with in-person customer acquisition.  This past month, Warby Parker opened their 75th brick and mortar store.  

The medlare looks at Warby Parker not only as a pioneer of the direct-to-consumer model, but also as a company focused on doing a few things exceptionally well.  While it has continued to maintain a base pricing of $95 a pair, we're excited to see where they take our sight next.

for more highlights on Warby Parker:  NPR’s “How I Built This with Neil Blumenthal” and this article on disruption