Both VisionSpring and Warby Parker have been inspired to disrupt the status quo in the fields of eyewear and vision—one from a non-profit perspective, and the other from a for-profit perspective. The result of this meeting of minds has been two distinct models with a common goal. VisionSpring, founded by Jordan Kassalow, is disrupting a lack of awareness—and a lack of an eyewear market—in developing countries. Warby Parker, co-founded by Neil Blumenthal, Dave Gilboa, Andy Hunt and Jeff Raider, is disrupting the American eyewear industry. The two outfits have worked together since 2010 to address the global issue of vision impairment in innovative and thoughtful ways.
In 2002, Neil Blumenthal had recently graduated from college and was interning at the International Crisis Group. Though engaged by policy work, the experience left him interested in investigating more direct ways to effect change. A family friend introduced him to Jordan Kassalow, an optometrist and the founder of the Global Health Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. Neil and Jordan met at Jordan’s practice on the Upper East Side and started talking.
A year prior, Jordan had co-founded what would become VisionSpring, a social enterprise devoted to the charitable distribution of high-end reading glasses. While in school, Jordan had joined an organization to deliver eye care to under-served people around the world. During a trip to Mexico, he met a blind seven-year-old boy, and as he engaged with the child, Jordan realized that the little boy wasn’t blind at all—but, rather, needed a strong pair of glasses. The simple intervention left a strong impression on Jordan, who became driven to address the need for readily available eyewear in underserved communities across the globe. He began developing VisionSpring while working at a foreign policy think tank, and it was this story that he shared with Neil.
After five years at VisionSpring, Neil went on to pursue an MBA at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, but his nonprofit work wasn’t forgotten. When the idea for Warby Parker was hatched, Neil brought Jordan in as an early advisor, and VisionSpring as a partner.
Warby Parker launched nearly four years ago with the goal of selling stylish, high-quality, affordable eyewear—and, for every pair purchased, distributing a pair to someone in need. By circumventing traditional channels and selling glasses directly through their website, Warby Parker was able to offer designer eyewear at a fraction of the going price. In spring of 2013, the company celebrated a milestone of 500,000 pairs of glasses distributed. They also expanded their retail vision to include brick-and-mortar stores.