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Sure, they sell a centuries-old product, but Warby Parker couldn’t have existed any time but now. Founded by Wharton Business School classmates Neil Blumenthal, David Gilboa, Jeffrey Raider, and Andrew Hunt, the two-year-old eyewear brand is a true of-the-moment mix of philanthropy, fashion, e-commerce, and social-media marketing. Without much in the way of brick-and-mortar placement, they've managed to get its specs on the noses of hipsters and squares alike by leveraging low prices, solid quality, and a promise to donate a pair of eyeglasses to someone in need for every pair sold. That, and its sunnies look totally cute on us, too.
We went over to Warby Parker's nearby offices and had Blumenthal and Gilboa show us their wares, discuss how the bold brand came to be, explain the dress code for a business unlike any other, and offer some recommendations for those who want to follow in their stylish footsteps.
Neil Blumenthal: “Before Warby Parker, I was the director of VisionSpring, a non-profit dedicated to reducing poverty by training entrepreneurs in developing countries to sell high-quality, low-cost eyewear. It was a true education in design, sourcing, and distribution, as well as the importance of distributing eyewear to those in need. It also affected my perspective on retail. It seemed completely crazy to me that a nice pair of glasses cost more than an iPhone! Eyewear is a form of personal expression that should be accessible to all. Griping about it to a couple of friends over beers actually planted the seeds for Warby Parker.”
David Gilboa: “Both of my parents are doctors. Growing up, I always thought I’d be one, too, so I majored in Bioengineering, did pre-med classes, even took the MCAT — but then changed my mind. I still wanted to help people, but thought I could do it through an organization instead. So, I did consulting and finance, then went back to school at Wharton, where I met my co-founders. We all thought the price of eyeglasses was insane and that we could create an organization that had a positive impact on that.”
Neil: “Our offices are on the fifth floor of the Puck Building (where, incidentally, I had my Bar Mitzvah!). It has this terrific Romanesque Revival façade with funny, golden statues of Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream on it (they kind of look like leprechauns from a distance). It’s a landmark building with a lot of history behind it — a great match for us.”
David: “The first thing we did when we moved here was knock down all the walls to create an open plan. We wanted a layout that fostered transparency and openness — an environment that encouraged collaboration and free-flowing ideation.”
Neil: “Warby Parker exists within a couple of industries at the same time, and each one of those industries has a different dress code. I’m not really sure which industry I’m in, but, hopefully, I’ve found a uniform that works equally well in the eyewear, fashion, tech, and social-enterprise worlds.”
David: “Working in fashion, anything goes — people wear outrageous things just to stand out. I tend to keep things pretty clean and simple — unless a costume party is involved. In my previous jobs, everyone looked as though they’d strolled right out of the Banana Republic or a Brooks Brothers' catalog. You went with either business casual or business formal, depending on the occasion. Now, I have a lot more freedom to wear whatever I want. Most days, that means jeans, sneakers, and a button-down or T-shirt (and glasses, of course).”
Easy On The Eyes
Neil: “Having grown up in New York City, I always walked everywhere — so, a comfortable pair of sneakers is a top requirement. Other than that, I just try to follow the Holden Caulfield rule: 'Don’t be a phony.' It’s how I try to dress and how I try to run our company. Oh, and for big meetings, I sport my usual office getup, but with a ‘Blue Steel’ expression.”
David: “When it comes to personal presentation, I follow two guidelines: Be professional and don’t take yourself too seriously. Luckily, my mom still picks out my clothes (kidding...sort of). Actually, when I’m putting together a wardrobe, I like to think of James Dean and his simple, classic, understated style… oh, and Donald Duck, because he doesn't wear pants. But seriously, my off-duty and big-meeting looks are one and the same — I just make sure to shave for the latter. Hopefully, that won't ever have to change.”
Neil: “Well, if all goes well I’ll be rocking a three-piece suit made entirely of diamonds. Kidding! Honestly, the way I dress is a reflection of who I am and, no matter what happens career-wise, I’ll still be the same person — so I can’t see it changing.”
Neil: “Buy clothes that fit well. Too many people wear pants or shirts that are overly tight, and it’s hard to be productive if you’re cutting off circulation to your limbs. The same principle goes for overly baggy clothes. Start with a foundation of classic, good-quality staples, and build from there.”
David: “Yes, and opt for simple, classic pieces, and use accessories to add a dose of individualism to your look.”
Levi's Stock Workshirt, $58, available at Levi.com.
Levi's 520 Extreme Taper Pants, $58, available at Levi.com.
Levi's Proper Workshirt, $58, available at Levi.com.
Levi's 511 Skinny Sta-Prest Pants, $78, available at Levi.com.
Photographed by Maia Harms, Hair by Bryan Feiss, Makeup by Tiffany Patton.