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August 12, 2013 9:54 AM   Subscribe

Behind the scenes at Warby Parker, the "Warby Parker of Glasses" for the post-wealth generation.
posted by Potomac Avenue (53 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
I am fascinated by Warby Parker; but alas, they do not offer the try-on-at-home option here in Canada.
posted by Kitteh at 9:56 AM on August 12, 2013


Nor, alas, do they offer progressives.
posted by yoink at 9:58 AM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


This whole time I thought their name was Warbly, like the sound of a bird song.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:04 AM on August 12, 2013


In addition to squeezing the business, a price tag of $45 was “too low” to be seen as credible to customers

Was it Estee Lauder or Coco Chanel who said, when questions why a perfume line wasn't selling, said it "wasn't expensive enough", doubled the price, and watch sales soar?
posted by The Whelk at 10:06 AM on August 12, 2013


So they give away a free pair in the developing world for every pair sold? Isn't that just driving what local opticians exist out of business and creating a weird, creepy, foreign-aid dominated model, as Toms is critcized for doing? If they want to help people so much, why not found some eye clinics and train some opticians and create some jobs in poor places, instead of just airlifting in glasses? I mean, why be the Toms of glasses when you could help create the SAWA or Oliberte of glasses?

Also, the woman who used to sell me glasses lost her job because the place she had worked for fifteen years had to scale back so much due to internet competition.
posted by Frowner at 10:10 AM on August 12, 2013


Nor, alas, do they offer progressives.
You can buy the frames and then have some outfit like Four Eyes do your progressives. Worked for me.
posted by uraniumwilly at 10:11 AM on August 12, 2013


I had no idea that their competition was one giant conglomerate. Maybe I'll have to try them for my next pair of glasses.
posted by immlass at 10:13 AM on August 12, 2013


Yeah, I feel bad for the local eye stores. But good god do they inflate prices. A couple years back I bought a nice pair of glasses which ended up ~$600. I paid, but walked out feeling like I was ripped off. I'd rather get 3 pairs for $200 each and have them last longer.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 10:13 AM on August 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


With Zenni around, I really can't see spending $95 on glasses anymore. My last dozen pairs have all cost me less than $30, lenses included. The focus on Warby has also struck me as strange, since it's not the first with the business model and not even close to the cheapest. Just goes to show what a little PR can do for a company.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:19 AM on August 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


My optometrists don't seem to have much of a problem with my buying eyeglasses online. I pay standard, non-discounted rates for exams and figure if they don't charge enough for those to keep their offices open, that's not my problem. I simply can't afford to pay, literally, an order of magnitude more for my eyeglasses so that I can have the warm glow of supporting a local business. What I save on frames and lenses I spend on more frequent eye exams -- there's no reason to put them off when I know I'm not going to be out most of a month's pay on the whole shebang.

And all that only applies to local stores. I'm sure as hell not going to feel bad about not buying from Luxottica.
posted by asperity at 10:20 AM on August 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


That New York Magazine article was crazy snide.
posted by the jam at 10:27 AM on August 12, 2013


The focus on Warby has also struck me as strange, since it's not the first with the business model and not even close to the cheapest.

Did they start the whole home try-on thing? That makes a huge difference to me. 90% of the frames I like on the shelf look like crap on my face, and the only way I can figure out what will work is to try them on...
posted by mr_roboto at 10:36 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


They have some interesting styles and I'm certainly going to be looking at their site next time I want frames. I cringe when I look at frame prices in my optician.
posted by arcticseal at 10:38 AM on August 12, 2013


Warby Parker just hit on an excellent formula, maybe by accident.

They are a post-brand brand

They have a Wes Anderson character sounding name that just may be an actual person. You can imagine this totally cool Warby Parker person as someone who is totally dedicated to glasses Curation, and just happens to sell them.It isn't about money, it is about love of finely crafted glasses.

Warby scours estate sales and local glasses artisans for just the right pieces to add to his or her collection. When you get a pair of glasses from Warby you are not just getting glasses, you are getting a lifestyle. In some small way, you become Warby.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:41 AM on August 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


Also, the woman who used to sell me glasses lost her job because the place she had worked for fifteen years had to scale back so much due to internet competition.

I'm continually surprised anyone survived Lenscrafters. It's almost entirely due to employer vision plans - I broke my glasses recently, and it was a 10 day turnaround at an optical shop that honored my eyecare plan. Well, I couldn't wait that long.

Lenscrafters had it ready in an hour, with anti-glare coating and high index lenses. Without the vision plan discount, the prices were within $30 of each other.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:41 AM on August 12, 2013


Warby Parker is an amalgam of two Jack Kerouac characters

I think they mean anagram and I think they mean "A Wry Bra Perk"
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:44 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think I've mentioned this before, but my optician's shop LIED to me when I asked for my prescription and pupil distance--told me that it was illegal for them to give me the pupil distance. (This AFTER I'd already bought a pair of glasses from them--I was interested in buying a pair online as a backup.) Obviously they're terrified of what online glasses sales will do to their business, but lying is also going to kill their business--I won't be going back there anytime soon.
posted by dlugoczaj at 10:49 AM on August 12, 2013


I was happier this morning, before I had read the phrase "post-wealth millenial set". What does that even mean.

What with all the stuff going on at the Warby Parker offices—the Lunch Roulettes and Instagram Photo Walks, the earnest philosophies and rococo marketing ventures, the pop-up store in a yurt, the map of places to read in downtown New York, the blog with reading recommendations and “style stories” about their friendly and good-looking staff—it’s easy to forget that the whole point of the company is to sell glasses. The kind people wear in order to see. That’s it. Glasses.

In addition to squeezing the business, a price tag of $45 was “too low” to be seen as credible to customers, according to Raju. “It would have put [Warby Parker] in a category I believed they did not want to be in. There are many companies selling cheap eyeglasses. Anyone can go on the Internet and buy two pairs for $99. But there is a perception among customers that the quality is not as good.”

This is exactly why their strategy works so well, why they get fashion more than companies that price their glasses cheaper. I'm not just buying glasses - I'm buying a way of life, and a philosophy of design and marketing and approach to business, and I'm also buying a pricepoint. But still, not like those designer brands. I'm buying into the knowledge that they know I'm buying into the knowledge that they're savvy about this stuff, and that this awareness translates to well-made products as well. They do it all in a way that comes off as not trying too hard. Mostly I trust that this balance and control over their image means balance and control in other areas, which is borne out by them thinking a lot about great design when it comes to their products as well. I'm told that Zenni is perfectly fine, but it's missing that narrative and particular aesthetic/lifestyle focus, and all of that subtext might actually matter for something that you're going to wear on your face every day. And $95 is perfectly comfortable for the iPad-owning "stuff white people like" 25-34 demographic with expendable income to not have to think too much about the purchase.
posted by naju at 10:50 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Warby Parker Coney Island dance battle.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:55 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


They are a post-brand brand

Great Eastern Cutlery pocket knives are like this - they have old-timey sub-brands: Northfield Un-X-ld, Tidioute, Farm and Field, and the knives themselves are absolutely perfect old-style slip-joint pocket knives; knives meant for whittling and yard work rather than combat-ops. They're mostly modeled on traditional pocketknife styles from the time before swiss army knives and then "tactical folders" took over, and the marketing material and packaging has a distinct 19th C. flavor without being all steampunk about it.

Beautifully made in a small shop in Pennsylvania, production limited to 75 units a day, poor selling models "retired" and new ones introduced to take their place yearly, each model available in one of a dozen or more different variations.

Around $100 each. Not bad for what is almost certainly a unique luxury item (you're unlikely to meet someone with one just like it, unless you're a hard core knife collector).

Etsy is likewise full of these post-brand brands - you can find everything from messenger bags to perfume handcrafted by intense enthusiasts on a small scale.

I don't know if this is going to save manufacturing as viable career, or is just the daisies growing over its grave.

I like my pocketknife in any event.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:00 AM on August 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


Best Made as well

Check this out. It comes so close to parody. They would have us believe this dude hand carves these axes in some garage in Brooklyn. He didn't want to make axes, Axes are in his DNA. The axe life chose him.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:08 AM on August 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


But their chosen demographic is as fickle as it is desirable. “Two years ago, when someone asked if my glasses were Warby Parker, it was typically a stylish British woman or an actor/ironic bike messenger/model,” says a young entrepreneur who was tipped off to Warby Parker glasses by a friend at Harvard Business School. “Now it tends to be bros in Bears jerseys on the subway.”

The killer, he says, was when the cashier at Costco struck up a conversation about the frames he was wearing. “He said he had the same ones at home, and did I like the ones he was wearing currently?” he says, sighing. “I haven’t worn them since.”


Whew, good thing I don't give a fuck about who thinks my glasses are cool so I can keep enjoying my perfectly good selection of cheap online glasses from places that aren't completely insufferable.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:15 AM on August 12, 2013 [15 favorites]


Choosing glasses 5 pairs at a time?

When I'm in the optician, it takes me about 60 seconds to try 5 frames.
Hell, I might even try the same frame in 5 different colors.

I can't imagine picking glasses online.

But, I suppose one of the advantages of the price point is you can get a few pairs, so you're not trying to match one frame for every situation.
posted by madajb at 11:18 AM on August 12, 2013


You can choose 5 pairs to try on, they send them to you for free and then send them back and buy the one you like. Then when you tell them you have a really bad astigmatism they tell you to fuck off but up until that its pretty convenient.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:20 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Best Made as well

Not featured in their axe commercial: anyone actually using the axe.

Though my favorite product from Best Made is the $310 untreated pine boards that you can assemble into a chair.
posted by ghharr at 11:21 AM on August 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think the Best Made axes are more of a marketing gimmick for the bags and the (incredibly overpriced) mass-market French pocketknives the site also sells.

This is the real deal.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:28 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


My last dozen pairs have all cost me less than $30, lenses included. The focus on Warby has also struck me as strange, since it's not the first with the business model and not even close to the cheapest. Just goes to show what a little PR can do for a company.

Your last dozen pairs? I think this points to a big shift in how glasses are perceived. When I was little and my vision changed constantly, I got new glasses once a year, but that was because my eyes were rapidly worsening. My parents got new glasses once every five or maybe seven years, because their prescriptions were stable. While of course you didn't want incredibly dated frames, you bought them on the assumption that you'd have them for a while.

I change my glasses more often than any of my friends and feel like a frivolous spendthrift because I get new ones every eighteen months to two years - now I feel in some ways a little better that other people out there must be changing it up far more often.

Still....it seems like expensive glasses from a local shop would be much more affordable (thereby keeping some fucking money in the community and getting the multiplier effect instead of sending it all away to Warby-Parker-Etsy-Tweeville where someone who went to Choate will spend it all on cocaine, artisanal pickles and vintage bow ties) if folks did not expect/were not expected to have new ones virtually constantly.
posted by Frowner at 11:29 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Check this out. It comes so close to parody.

I love when real life out-Portlandias Portlandia. "We've not only made a tool, we've crafted a belief system in this object."
posted by naju at 11:32 AM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


The problem with focusing on Warby Vs Local Glasses Shops is that most local folks carry name brands which are all made by the same company, Luxxotica, that owns Pearl AND Lenscrafters. So they're screwed unless the customers settle for the cheapest pairs, which don't have that much of a markup. Warby was built (cleverly) to go after the manufacturing, way more than the retail element.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:37 AM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Still....it seems like expensive glasses from a local shop would be much more affordable (thereby keeping some fucking money in the community and getting the multiplier effect instead of sending it all away to Warby-Parker-Etsy-Tweeville where someone who went to Choate will spend it all on cocaine, artisanal pickles and vintage bow ties) if folks did not expect/were not expected to have new ones virtually constantly.

This is leaving aside those of us, however, who can't afford to buy a pair for $300 all at once, have no vision plan, and if those break, we can't drive or carry out basic daily functioning. I buy several pairs at once from Zenni and have the peace of mind that I have spares, I have prescription sunglasses (!!!), and being able to have different styles is just bonus.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:38 AM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Your last dozen pairs? I think this points to a big shift in how glasses are perceived.

I wish. I have a pretty unstable scrip, and started ordering from Zenni when they first came to market here. I order two pairs each time - daily and back up. Because I am super blind and having a pair break means chaos and havoc. If I could get pairs at the local shop for less than $600/each lens ($1200 a pair!), I would. I so so would. It's been absolutely amazing not to have the wrong scrip in my glasses just because I can't afford a new pair.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:44 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]



This is leaving aside those of us, however, who can't afford to buy a pair for $300 all at once, have no vision plan, and if those break, we can't drive or carry out basic daily functioning. I buy several pairs at once from Zenni and have the peace of mind that I have spares, I have prescription sunglasses (!!!), and being able to have different styles is just bonus.


Yeah, sort of. And yet I feel the rhetoric around "but what about poor people if they can't buy $30 glasses" basically just defers and masks economic inequality. (My family never had any kind of 'vision plan', by the way - and we all have terrible astigmatism so our lenses are really expensive. I can't buy my glasses cheaply even online since my prescription is so weird.) We just enter a sort of concentration-of-wealth/shoe event horizon situation where all the jobs are elsewhere or else they're shitty, so we have to scrabble to get even the cheap glasses because the money just flows on out of our communities into the pockets of good old Daddy Warbybucks and we're all working as fulfillment specialists for Amazon and scrambling desperately to buy the cheapest toilet paper online for home delivery.

Of course, everyone should buy the glasses that they can afford - but I remember back in the day, when I used to run events with sliding scale admission and there'd always be a bunch of people who were "too broke" to pay, even though they always had enough money for beer and trendy clothes and so on. I tend to feel that there's a lot of us who make the choice to prioritize cheap-and-multiple fast fashion - and the fact that there are plenty of people who genuinely can't afford anything besides H&M doesn't change that.
posted by Frowner at 11:47 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


If I could get pairs at the local shop for less than $600/each lens ($1200 a pair!)

We must have evil mirror universe prescriptions - yours is too expensive to buy local and mine is too weird to buy online. (Although mine run in the ~$500 range, mercifully.)
posted by Frowner at 11:49 AM on August 12, 2013


We must have evil mirror universe prescriptions - yours is too expensive to buy local and mine is too weird to buy online. (Although mine run in the ~$500 range, mercifully.)

May they never combine forces.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:53 AM on August 12, 2013


I've bought my last three pairs of glasses from Warby Parker. Before that, I tried some of the cheaper options--Zenni, $39 Dollar Glasses--and I just couldn't see through them. Everything was blurry. Sent the same prescription to WP and they worked just fine. I have no idea why. I'm not an optician, and I really don't understand what Warby Parker does differently with their lenses that the others didn't do. But I like their styles, I can see through their lenses, and they are still loads cheaper than what I used to pay in stores. Happy customer all around.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:07 PM on August 12, 2013


is this where I admit that I've been buying warby parker glasses for 2 years?

Among my cohort, mostly in their late 20's in financial or tech services in NYC, I know 5-6 other people who wear Warby Parker glasses. We all went to them initially becuase of the charity angle, and stuck with them because, hey they look neat, are cheap and have good service.

And if that makes me a sucker for their marketing, then so be it. I hope this company sticks around for a while- I'd be happy to keep buying my glasses there, and to keep recommending them.
posted by larthegreat at 12:14 PM on August 12, 2013


I tried Warby Parker - even went to the Puck Office to try them on in person- but didn't love them enough so I went with Moscot instead. (This is after my wife made me toss my Zenni glasses for being too ugly). The Moscot's are a big hit with everyone except my 8 year old niece who thinks I look like a square in them.
posted by yeti at 12:32 PM on August 12, 2013


I got my last pair of glasses at Costco because I was wary of having Zenni make my first pair of progressives and my optician's office was going to charge me $300 just for the lenses (plus whatever super expensive luxotica frames I picked.) In addition, the glasses fitter in my awesome ophthalmologist's office is kinda a dick so I don't want to support him.

I picked the most expensive frames Costco had ($95!) and the lenses were less than $100. I get a lot of compliments on these frames.

I haven't tried Warby Parkers because none of their frame shapes appeal to me. (and now that I have progressives....)
posted by vespabelle at 1:25 PM on August 12, 2013


I've found the Warby Parker glasses to have, on average, shorter temples and earpieces than other glasses I've tried. Which is frustrating, but as I have a large head, not surprising.
posted by NationalKato at 1:52 PM on August 12, 2013


The killer, he says, was when the cashier at Costco struck up a conversation about the frames he was wearing. “He said he had the same ones at home, and did I like the ones he was wearing currently?” he says, sighing. “I haven’t worn them since.”

Ha ha, fucking die. Oh, god, please let this be parody.

Please.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 2:10 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


As a person who wears glasses daily, I am glad to have the option of online retailers. Maybe I am just an insufferable hipster, but I own more than one pair of shoes, and shoes are far less noticeable than glasses. It's nice to have a choice: a backup pair for doing outdoor labor, a pair of prescription sunglasses to keep my eyes healthy, and a slightly less plasticky nerdy pair for days when I need to dress up a bit more. I couldn't afford this at $500/pair back in the day, and I am happy that I have the option now.

The reason we ever paid $500/pair for two pieces of plastic and the wire to hold them in place was Luxottica, which pretty much has a monopoly on the whole local business and has put a stranglehold on the price. The markup is obscene, and I do not agree that I'm morally responsible for paying it.
posted by aabbbiee at 2:39 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


OK, I just bought a pair of Warby Parker glasses on Saturday. They haven't arrived yet, but I'm pretty pleased that even paying extra for thinner lenses, I'm only out $125.

I was crushed, CRUSHED, that the sunglasses are only available to -7.0. Stupid eyes, preventing me from having cheap, awesome movie star sunglasses AND being able to see out of them.
posted by maryr at 3:14 PM on August 12, 2013


On the one hand, I don't want everything to go online. We need places.

On the other hand...I've had a great experience with Warby Parker. I am SUPER picky about glasses, since I wear the same pair basically every single day for like three years. It seems soooo hard to find eyewear that exists somewhere in the middle ground between "here's some metal and plastic we found on the sidewalk and hit a little" and "HIP-ASS CAT-EYE AVIATOR UNISEX CAT HIP AQUAMARINE TAPERED FIFTIES VINTAGE SPEX". I did the little try-five-pairs thing with Warby Parker; tried on four that looked pretty expectedly lackluster and then! a fifth pair that was so perfect it kind of made me want to do myself for a second (or two). $95 seems to me like a very competitive price for attractive prescription eyewear. /not a shill
posted by threeants at 4:35 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've found the Warby Parker glasses to have, on average, shorter temples and earpieces than other glasses I've tried.

I just did the home try-on for their sunglasses and that was my experience. All but one pair felt like putting on a pair of kids' glasses.
posted by zsazsa at 5:50 PM on August 12, 2013


But their chosen demographic is as fickle as it is desirable. “Two years ago, when someone asked if my glasses were Warby Parker, it was typically a stylish British woman or an actor/ironic bike messenger/model,” says a young entrepreneur who was tipped off to Warby Parker glasses by a friend at Harvard Business School. “Now it tends to be bros in Bears jerseys on the subway.”

The killer, he says, was when the cashier at Costco struck up a conversation about the frames he was wearing. “He said he had the same ones at home, and did I like the ones he was wearing currently?” he says, sighing. “I haven’t worn them since.”


Truly spoken like someone who cares more about fashion than style. You, sir, are doing it wrong.

"Oh no, the poors complimented me on my spectacles! Have them destroyed AT ONCE!"

Also, what the crap is an "ironic bike messenger?" I mean, bike messenger is a job. You either are a bike messenger or you aren't. Are these people pretending to be bike messengers to mock real bike messengers or something? And if that is the case, why would you care about what they think of your glasses? Do you really need the validation of people who suck?

(for the record - frames purchased on eBay, lenses provided by Eyeglass Lens Direct, who have done me right numerous times. I simply must have my saddle bridge.)
posted by louche mustachio at 6:10 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I just bought a pair of frames from them. I go to a great optometrist and optician, but the frames they have are hideous. I got plain lenses in them, though (which gave me a 10% discount) because it just feels wrong to not have a professional fit them to my face and make sure they're all as they should be.

I'm going to feel a bit awkward bringing in the frames to the optician's, though. Yeah, so, I've been cheating on you on-line, but we're still cool, right?
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:26 PM on August 12, 2013


What does it mean that they "carry feed bags to restaurants with $24 entrées"? Is that explained somewhere in the article and I missed it?
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:29 PM on August 12, 2013


Oh, ha, never mind. I guess it's a "FEED bag." Tsk tsk, bad copyeditor.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:30 PM on August 12, 2013


I will not be buying progressive lenses even if I can get cheap lenses from another company, or whenever Warby Parker sells them (which they apparently plan to, soon enough). You can't be carefully fitted for those online, exactly, and that matters. I don't wanna feel more woozy for longer than necessary after a new prescription, much less woozy until my next check-up.

A good pair of frames should last you more than a few years anyway, if you're careful and look for quality rather than cheapness. (I had someone jog over my Oakley Muffler frames, after they fell out off my pocket during a crazy rainy half-marathon. One ear piece was sticking straight up, practically. I'm still wearing them now, nearly three year later.)
posted by raysmj at 9:38 PM on August 12, 2013


For those who aren't aware of the Luxottica near-monopoly (like I wasn't until a few months ago) here is a "60 Minutes" video piece on it.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 1:52 AM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


raysmj: "I will not be buying progressive lenses even if I can get cheap lenses from another company, or whenever Warby Parker sells them (which they apparently plan to, soon enough). You can't be carefully fitted for those online, exactly, and that matters. I don't wanna feel more woozy for longer than necessary after a new prescription, much less woozy until my next check-up. "

Could you expand on that? I've thought about ordering glasses online, but I've entered the progressive lens years, so if there's an issue with fitting… On the other hand, as far as I remember the fitting sessions for the two pairs I've gotten so far have been pretty minimal. "How do those feel" and then the fitter checks that they're level and the earpieces sit comfortably on my ears. What sorts of problems have people had with online progressives?

Y'know, this getting older business sucks. (On the other hand, "Consider the alternative," my mother used to — and can no longer — say.)
posted by Lexica at 9:26 PM on August 13, 2013


Lexica, I believe the "fitting" part of progressive lenses is less about the frames and mroe about the lenses. That is, once you have a frame you like, they need to measure where that frame lines up with your pupils and such.

Someone please correct me if I am wrong!
posted by maryr at 8:09 AM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, what the crap is an "ironic bike messenger?"

They ride "bikes" and bring you "messages."
posted by yoink at 9:29 AM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


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