Named after two of novelist Jack Kerouac’s characters, Warby Parker is a company based in New York City that sells affordable, retro-inspired eyewear online. Formed by four friends who met at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Warby Parker was born out of the founders’ collective inclination for style, vintage collectibles, and making the world a better place.
Warby Parker was established with a rebellious objective in mind – to offer hip, high quality eyewear at a reasonable price. All of the company’s prescription glasses and shades cost only $95 apiece, and yet are manufactured in the same facilities as $500 designer frames. By creating its own designs and cutting out the middlemen, Warby Parker doesn’t have to pay licensing fees or mark up its prices.
“The optical industry is an oligopoly,” says co-founder Neil Blumenthal. “A few companies are making outrageous margins and screwing you and me.”
In addition, for every pair of eyewear it sells, Warby Parker provides funding and/or glasses to its non-profit partners, which in turn trains entrepreneurs in developing countries to start their own eyewear business and serve their local community. The products they sell are not Warby Parker designs, however. As co-founder David Gilboa explains, “The glasses are stylish here, but in most parts of the world people would be ridiculed for wearing them.”
Starting out with 27 styles, Warby Parker now offers more than 80 looks for men and women. Shoppers can see which designs suit them the best by visiting a showroom, uploading their photo to the Warby Parker website for a virtual try-on experience, or through the company’s Home Try-On Program. With the Home Try-On Program, customers get to select any five pairs of glasses, shipped to them for free, and try them out for five days.
On creating change in the eyewear industry, Gilboa says, “What we need to do is really educate consumers so that they understand that there’s really no fundamental reason why glasses need to be expensive.”