Warby Parker was founded in 2010 by four friends – Neil Blumenthal, Andrew Hunt, David Gilboa, and Jeffrey Raider – who met while studying at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The idea for Warby Parker emerged from their own frustrating experiences trying to buy affordable prescription glasses.

The founders realized that the eyeglasses industry was dominated by a few large players that were able to charge extremely high prices due to a lack of competition. By cutting out the middlemen and designing and manufacturing their own frames in-house, Warby Parker could offer stylish prescription glasses starting at just $95 – a fraction of the price of equivalent frames on the market.

Despite initial skepticism from industry insiders, the concept for a fashionable and affordable eyewear brand resonated with consumers. Early funding came in the form of $120,000 from family and friends. Shortly after, Warby Parker caught the attention of venture capital investors and raised $2.5 million in seed funding.

Getting Off the Ground

In February 2010, the co-founders sketched out their first five frame styles and put them up on a basic website to gauge demand. They had come up with two key innovations: home try-on and a virtual fitting tool that allowed customers to upload a photo and virtually “try on” different frames to see what suited them best. This meant that buying eyeglasses online could now be easier and less risky than buying in-store.

The response from prospective customers was overwhelming – in the first few weeks, they received thousands of requests for home try-on kits. It was clear they were onto something big. After refining their offering based on user feedback from the beta test, Warby Parker officially launched to the public in February 2010.

Despite being a young startup lacking connections or reputation within the industry, Warby Parker negotiated deals directly with manufacturing partners to make their own frames. This required significant upfront capital investment, but allowed them to control costs and maintain the high quality standards set by their in-house design team.

Giving Back through Partnerships

Part of Warby Parker’s mission is to demonstrate that it’s possible for an eyewear brand to do good in the world while also designing affordable products. For every pair of glasses sold, the company distributes a pair to someone in need through their Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program.

The program partners with non-profits who organize eye exams and glasses distribution in underserved communities across over 50 countries. Over 8 million pairs have been distributed to date thanks to customers who choose Warby Parker.

The company is also a certified B Corporation (or B Corp), meaning they meet rigorous standards for social and environmental performance and transparency. Warby Parker publishes an annual report audited by B Lab, the non-profit behind the B Corp certification. This commitment to using business as a force for good is part of the company’s DNA.

Steady Expansion

In 2013, Warby Parker opened their first retail location in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood. This provided an opportunity to introduce customers to the brand in person and get real-time feedback on their products and experience.

They continued to open retail locations in select cities over the following years – which also served as sleek showrooms and eye exam offices staffed with in-house optometrists. For customers who lived further afield, the convenient at-home try on program made it easy to shop frames from anywhere without needing to visit an optical shop.

Warby Parker’s cool, Instagrammable store interiors featuring floor-to-ceiling mirrors, glass shelves holding frames and monochrome sculptures attracted plenty of walk-in customers curious about the buzzy young brand. Media outlets like Vogue, GQ and Fast Company started paying attention to the disruptive eyewear startup rapidly capturing market share thanks to their innovative business model.

Having started out only offering their own limited line of designer frames at one accessible price point, Warby Parker steadily expanded their range to offer contacts and prescription sunglasses too. They now design new styles each season in-house just like a traditional fashion label. There are also more prices tiers depending on frame materials from around $95 to $195.

Continued Growth

In 2020, Warby Parker surpassed $250 million in annual revenues, marking a major milestone. They’ve grown from those initial seed funding pitches to become one of the biggest brands disrupting a sector formerly dominated by just a handful of household names.

With millions of pairs sold to delighted customers, Warby Parker has carved out a niche delivering premium designer frames without the usual designer prices. They’ve lowered the barriers making prescription eyewear accessible to more people while refusing to compromise on quality or style.

Looking ahead, the company aims to further streamline manufacturing and increase their use of sustainable materials. Additional categories like blue light filtering and kids frames are also in the works to meet evolving consumer needs.

More retail locations are planned following successful openings in London (their first international store) as well as cities like Nashville, Dallas and New Orleans. However, Warby Parker remains committed to keeping the digital experience seamless for customers not located near any stores.

Behind the scenes, Warby Parker promotes positive social impact through initiatives like working towards carbon neutrality, using 100% renewable energy at their stores, and ensuring fair wages along their entire supply chain. Features like the Buy A Pair, Give A Pair program will continue to be integral because giving back never goes out of style.

The brand’s founding principles of value, vision and social innovation are what set them apart. By listening closely to what consumers want, Warby Parker has found a gap in the market for reasonably priced and socially conscious vision products.

Over a decade since those early sketches, the company is still as driven as ever to keep improving their customers’ experience and make quality eyewear more accessible. Thanks to support from loyal customers who love the mission, there is still so much opportunity ahead for the homegrown New York brand working to make vision care fair for all.