All Eyes on Philanthropy: Warby Parker Hits a Donation Milestone

In three years, the retail startup has donated 500,000 pairs of glasses through its partnerships

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Warby Parker's Holiday Spectacle Bazaar Launch Party
Brian Ach / Getty Images

Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal at Warby Parker's Holiday Spectacle Bazaar launch party on November 29, 2011 in New York City.

The house that built Warby Parker attracted the right buzz from the the right places like a lightning rod less than a year after Wharton School of Business classmates Andy Hunt, Neil Blumenthal, David Gilboa and Jeff Raider’s Yuengling-fueled brainchild was born. Warby Parker’s near-immediate praise for its high-design, $95 philanthropic web-only eyewear catalyzed its rise to become the first successful online glasses store. Conceived over “four pints of Yuengling at the Roosevelt Pub in Philadelphia” in November 2008, the middle man-free, carbon-neutral eyeglass start-up was founded mostly to circumvent the unavoidably pricey consequences that losing one’s glasses entails.

Nearly five years after that trip to the bar, Warby Parker has hit a deeply personal milestone–a total 500,000 pairs of glasses distributed through their Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program and an updated Do Good website that places full focus on their charitable aims. The initiative works with companies like VisionSpring to donate one pair of glasses to someone in need for every pair Warby Parker sells. It’s a concept that echoes TOMS’ one-for-one mode, but it adds in an element of sustainability. VisionSpring creates jobs and trains low-income entrepreneurs to start their own businesses.

(MORE: Warby Parker and the Man of Steel Team Up to Give Everyone 20/20 Vision)

For a deeply trendy company that sells prescription monocles, hits up locales like Miami Beach and the Standard Hotel, and owes its name to a Jack Kerouac archive at the New York Public Library (the names Zagg Parker and Warby Pepper appeared in his journal), no-nonsense prices and consumer-positive practices abound where frivolity and beatnik-like indifference would be expected. Warby Parker’s short history is long on achievements, both whimsical (a 25th Where’s Waldo? anniversary-inspired frame) and meaningful (collaborations include Pencils of Promise and Invisible Children).

As the company continues to grow their business and charitable wings—a partnership with as well as additional retail stores within and outside of the NY area are in the works—we look at some of Warby Parker’s biggest milestones:

December 1, 2009: 10,000 pairs of glasses are delivered to Neil Blumenthal’s Philadelphia apartment.

Man of Steel Chamberlain Glasses

Courtesy of Warby Parker

Warby Parker’s Chamberlain frames, the fastest-selling design, were from their collaboration with Man of Steel.

February 10, 2010: Warby Parker’s website launches, marking the company’s official “birth.”

February 16, 2010: The first pair of Warby Parker glasses, the Willoughby model in Tennessee Whiskey coloring, are sold. This also marks the first pair of frames donated. One day later, the home try-on program is suspended due to unanticipated demand.

(WATCH: Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa, the Visionaries of Warby Parker)

January 16, 2011: A New York Times article about the then 18-man operation becomes the second most-emailed article for that week and inundates the fledgling company.

May 14, 2011: Warby earns B Corp status, which indicates the highest level of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

June 29, 2011: The first Warby Parker sunglass line debuts. Prescription-lens sunglasses follow on April 26, 2012.

January 24, 2012: Warby releases its first annual report, a good-natured look at its biggest hits and milestones of the year. Stats found on and off the report include the quickest selling out frame (Chamberlain from the Man of Steel tie-in colkection), the most popular color that’s not black or tortoise (Striped Sassafras), the most tried on frame (Crane Whiskey Tortoise), and the best seller of all time (Bensen Whiskey Tortoise).

September 17, 2012: The first Warby Parker television ad airs; it’s a multimedia spot that mixes collage, live-action and animation.

April 13, 2013: Soho’s permanent Warby Parker flagship store opens. Previously, the owners had opened temporary pop-ups, annexes and showrooms, a similar move made by other online-to-brick-and-mortar stores. In addition to showcasing the frames, the store also offers eye exams.

July 9, 2013: Warby Parker revamps their Do Good website after their landmark 500,000th pair of sunglasses is donated through Buy a Pair, Give a Pair.