To coincide with the launch of a new limited-edition collection, Warby Parker is making a donation to The Girlgaze Project, a multimedia platform created to support women in creative roles.
In collaboration with fashion photographer Amanda de Cadenet, Warby Parker is releasing three new styles of glasses, each designed in part by de Cadenet, who also works as a writer and runs her own production company. In addition, she’s the founder of Girlgaze, which runs a charitable program that raises grant money for women in the arts.
Warby Parker considers itself a do-good retailer already: The company’s “buy a pair, give a pair” program donates the equivalent number of pairs sold monthly to a network of charities that train people in developing countries to give eye exams and sell glasses. Warby Parker declined to share how much money it donated to Girlgaze or other charity groups, however.
Through its series of designer collaborations, the company wants to simultaneously expand its reach as an activist brand by partnering with outside organizations, while building buzz around new products.
“Every time we do a new collaboration, we ask ourselves a few questions: Is this authentic to Warby Parker, does it touch on something that people are talking about, and does it do good in the world?” said Neil Blumenthal, co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker. “In this case, what we’re doing is supporting Girlgaze and its mission to support women in front of and behind the camera.”
Glasses from Warby Parker x Amanda de Cadenet
According to Blumenthal, the motivation of its collaborations is to connect with customers on a level beyond basic retail, as well as push the brand’s design offerings forward. Warby Parker — which was valued at $1.2 billion after its last round of funding in 2015 — has so far donated 2 million pairs of glasses to its “buy a pair, give a pair” program. Its collaboration with de Cadenet adds three new frames to its collection for a limited time, as well as donates Warby Parker’s money towards a new organization.
For the brand, teaming up with others helps achieve its activist goals. Blumenthal said the goal is to seek out those who help boost the brand’s social impact.
“It pushes us to go a little bit further on both the design and impact sides than we would have been able to go by ourselves,” he said.
In the past, Warby Parker has collaborated with names like Tyler Oakley, Leith Clark, Darcel, Kill Screen, Jason Polan, Man of Steel, Karlie Kloss and Cooper Hewitt on both limited-edition and permanent collections. Each new pair of glasses was accompanied by a new philanthropic effort. The Cooper Hewitt collaboration included a Warby Parker donation to the DesignPrep program, along with a month-long public course for high school students at the Cooper Hewitt Design Center in Harlem. When Warby Parker partnered with model Karlie Kloss on a line of aviator sunglasses, it simultaneously teamed up with Edible Schoolyard NYC to set up a donation to benefit community farm stands.
The brand, which is a certified b corps, is part of a new class of modern retailers who understand that customers today vote with their dollars and are more inclined to put their money toward brands they can feel good about.
“If you’re building a brand today, you have to figure out the values of your customer and how you can align with them,” said Brooke Blashill, svp and director of Boutique@Ogilvy. “Honesty, quality and value are what people care about. We’re moving to a position where people look at something that’s beautifully designed, and if they’re not doing social good in the community, then the fact that it’s beautiful doesn’t matter as much.”
Collaboration, for fashion brands, is nothing new. According to Larry Vincent, chief branding officer at UTA Branding Studio, collaborations are “a classic case of transferring or ‘borrowing’ equity from one brand to fuel another.”
Blumenthal believes that Warby Parker’s approach to collaborations takes it a step beyond driving sales.
“Collaborations tend to want to get press and drive some sales, or reinvigorate a stale brand,” he said. “I don’t know if they’re using them to expand beyond the comfort zones of their internal teams. If collaborations aren’t multidimensional, they fall flat.”