Neil takes a radically new approach to the design, manufacturing and sale of eyewear, providing those who love glasses with high-quality, affordable alternatives, and those without access, a chance to see, and earn a living through distribution.
“It’s not just about giving them away, it’s about creating sustainable solutions that foster economic development.”
Despite not having spent his childhood dreaming of eyewear design, Neil Blumenthal says he’s “one of those guys that always said, ‘I want to change the world.’” As one of the four co-founders of Warby Parker, he has — by drastically altering the retail eyewear industry. The company also increased common knowledge of the luxury industry by being a leader in a new industry: young companies that bring high-quality products directly to customers at a fraction of the cost.
Warby Parker achieves this feat through a process that’s beautiful in its simplicity. Neil explains, “through the Internet we’re able to bypass all the middle men, bypass the licensing companies, bypass the optical retailers.” Knowing this, “suddenly the light bulbs started going off,” and Neil was able to create a product that, at $95, costs roughly one fifth what eyeglasses usually do. Customers can order test pairs from the website or use facial recognition software to find the frames that are right for them with ease, and because of their value, often end up purchasing multiple pairs. Considering the versatility and affordability of such a system, it’s no wonder Warby Parker hit its first-year sales targets in just three weeks.
But Warby Parker wasn’t Neil’s first experience in providing affordable glasses. Even before he met his co-founders (and his wife, the designer behind the jewelry line Rachel Leigh) at Wharton, he served as the Director of VisionSpring for five years. There he helped expand the nonprofit’s reach worldwide, empowering female entrepreneurs in impoverished countries with eyeglasses they could sell in their own communities. This access to vision improvement allows a 35% increase in productivity, furthering the ability of these local economies to thrive more self-sufficiently.
When Neil left VisionSpring for his MBA, he took away more than just the knowledge that manufacturing glasses was far cheaper than any luxury brand would want you to know — he also carried with him the mission to make a difference through accessible vision services. At its very foundation, Warby Parker makes more than just great frames; using a one-for-one model, each pair that is purchased allows one pair to be donated. Feeling good about doing good has never looked better.