You don’t have to look any further than the success of Warby Parker to understand why the $102 billion eyewear industry was ripe for disruption. When the company launched in 2010, the typical pair of glasses from LensCrafters cost nearly $250, according to Consumer Reports , with designer spex running into the many hundreds of dollars. It didn’t help that a single manufacturer—Italy-based Luxottica—had a virtual lock on the market, owning the vast majority of the brands sold in stores and doctors’ offices.
Warby Parker changed all that, pioneering online sales for prescription glasses, with a starting price of $95 for frames and lenses. What’s more, they’d ship you a box of frames to try on at home. The internet went wild, and since then, innovations in the eyeglass market have continued at a dizzying pace. Here are just a few of the companies advancing the industry with new materials, improved processes and—like Warby Parker, which donates a pair of glasses for every one sold—a commitment to making good vision available to everyone, regardless of resources.
DIFF Charitable Eyewear, founded in 2014, puts its mission right in its name. The California-based company, which sells fashion sunglasses for $85, partners with nonprofits in Africa and other communities in need to provide vision care, and has given away more than 150,000 pairs of reading glasses through its BOGO model.
Santiago, Chile-based Karun is taking on another aspect of the eyeglass industry: environmental impact. The company works with fishermen along the Chilean coast to gather old fishing nets, which it upcycles into a handsome line eyeglass frames. Each style in the “Seven Seas” collection is named for a different body of water—a reminder of the company’s stated goal of reducing some of the 8 million tons of plastic dumped into the world’s oceans each year.
Sustainability is also front and center at WeWood, which makes frames from an even more surprising material: cotton. The Italian company, best known for wood wristwatches, combines wood pulp with natural cotton to create lightweight eyeglass and sunglass frames. For every WeWood product purchased, the company plants a tree. According to its website, WeWood’s reforestation program has funded the planting of 442,246 trees in the U.S., South America, and Africa since 2010, and is aiming for a goal of 1 million trees by 2020.