My son Peter returned from his Oxford year abroad with his glasses in pieces. Time for a new pair! But he did not want those boring ones for sale at the neighborhood optometrist. As befitted his globetrotting scholar persona, my boy wanted a stylish pair of peepers.
Most of the world’s glasses are now made by the Italian conglomerate Luxottica (http://www.luxottica.com). This corporation not only controls 80% of the world’s major eyewear brands, but also owns retailers such as LensCrafters and even the vision care insurance company EyeMed Vision Care. Luxottica has been accused of using its monopoly to unfairly hike the prices of its brands, which include Ray-Ban and Armani. (Arends, Brett. “Are Designer Sunglasses Worth the Price?” June 22, 2010, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704518904575365362932852610.html)
Yet Luxottica now has a competitor. Warby Parker (http://www.warbyparker.com) was founded in 2010 by University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School classmates Jeffrey Raider, Andrew Hunt, Neil Blumenthal and David Gilboa. These gents aimed to provide stylish eyewear for reasonable prices by designing the frames in-house and then selling directly to the customer over the web or in their own stores, without middle-man markups. Many of their frames cost only $95 and none are over $150. In a charity bonus, for every pair that they sell, Warby Parker donates a pair of glasses to non-profit organizations like Vision Spring (http://visionspring.org).
Peter admires the vintage-inspired design of Warby Parker glasses, and so he visited the site and uploaded his picture to virtually try on the frames. He chose five and had them delivered via the site’s “Home Try-On” feature, which allows customers to sample frames for seven days and then return them at no charge. It turned out that his virtual selections didn’t suit him in real life, so he visited Warby Parker’s Los Angeles store for his final selection. Still, his experience shows that it is now possible to purchase an accessory as unique as prescription eyeglasses entirely over the web.