I recently had the opportunity to interview Neil Blumenthal, one of the founders of Warby Parker.
Andrew Hodges: By offering low-cost boutique-quality glasses directly to consumers, Warby Parker has created a unique niche in the eyewear industry. What led to this idea for a new kind of eyewear company?
Neil Blumenthal: Andy, Dave, Jeff and I were tired of paying $400+ for new glasses every time we scratched a lens or misplaced a pair. Andy had the great idea to sell glasses online, which enabled us to bypass the middlemen (the optical shops and large licensing companies) that charge outrageous amounts for frames and lenses. And, I had experience designing and manufacturing frames from my days at VisionSpring, a non-profit social enterprise that distributes eyeglasses to people in need throughout the world. We set out to transform the optical industry by providing the vintage-inspired, boutique-quality frames we love, at a revolutionary price point.
Hodges: What was the inspiration for the designs in the current Warby Parker eyewear collection?
Blumenthal: All four of us have been lifelong glasses wearers with an eye toward larger, classic shapes and vintage frames. Our first collection is inspired by our lives as recent students at The Wharton School and our time as New Yorkers. The brand is both classically Ivy League and urban hip. Many of the frames are named after literary figures, including the Huxley (Aldous Leonard Huxley) and the Roark (protagonist in the Fountainhead). The name “Warby Parker” actually comes from two characters found in Jack Kerouac’s unpublished journals, Warby Pepper and Zagg Parker.
Hodges: Some potential customers have expressed frustration about delays because of the short supply of frames. Were you surprised by the level of demand, and has the company taken measures to address the supply issue?
Blumenthal: We thought our idea would resonate with our friends, but we had no idea that it would resonate with so many people so quickly. While it was exciting that so many people from all of the country and world were interested in our eyewear, we felt terrible that we couldn’t provide everyone with glasses right away. The four of us would literally stay up all night writing emails to apologize to customers. Thankfully, we’ve now been able to produce additional frames and we are almost through the waitlist that grew during the weeks that we sold out of frames. We’ve now tripled the team’s size and are working hard to quickly produce as many frames as possible.
Hodges: Does Warby Parker have any immediate plans to broaden its collection? Should we expect any new designs or a wider range of sizes?
Blumenthal: Yes, we’re currently designing some great new frames in different colors and sizes. Our new collection will be available in October.
Hodges: Many Men’s Flair readers live overseas. Has the company considered making eyeglasses available for orders and shipping outside the United States?
Blumenthal: Absolutely! We’re working on it as we speak.
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