“Kids eyewear represented a chance for a creative outlet”
Husband and wife team Ben and Laura Harrison on launching the brand Jonas Paul Eyewear for their hipster son
01 We started our careers in the creative industry. Eyewear design was not on our radar.
We ran a website template hosting company, designing websites for photography industry clients.
Our son, Jonas Paul, was born in March 2013. He was born with Peter’s Anomaly – a rare eye disease, which meant that his corneas were cloudy at birth. At that point our lives took a 180-degree turn. Having a son who was potentially blind was a very challenging moment for us.
02 We met with doctors at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center, and they informed us that Jonas Paul did have potential for sight.
They talked about surgical options, including corneal transplants and iridotomy. When we found out that he had the potential for sight, we started to think about eyewear options for kids, and concluded that the choices were lacking. We could find options that had an athletic look, and plenty of cartoonish colourful frames, but little that offered a more adult refined aesthetic, with colours to match. We wanted Jonas Paul to have the opportunity to be a handsome, hipster kid.
The experience gave us the nudge that we needed to change our careers. Kids eyewear represented a chance for a creative outlet, while enabling us to make a difference for parents like us with kids who have any level of visual impairment.
"We wanted Jonas Paul to have the opportunity to be a handsome, hipster kid"
03 Early on we knew that we wanted the business to have a social dimension.
We felt that while Jonas Paul had access to great doctors in the US, as parents we felt helpless – and we realised that a lot of parents in different parts of the world must feel the same. We felt that if we could help those kids in whatever way, that would be a big part of building the business.
We established Buy sight, give sight as a company ethos, which meant a commitment to donate a percentage of the proceeds from every pair of spectacles we sold. We wanted to take a dual approach – supporting eye health through the funding of vitamin A supplementation treatment, and vision correction through eyewear donation.
We work with CBM International, based in Germany, on vitamin A distribution and distributing glasses, and we also work with other organisations such as Vitamin Angels. We have worked with river blindness charities too.
04 Coming from a non-optical background, we think we bring something different to the sector.
We knew from the beginning what we wanted to achieve – the types of frames, the aesthetic – and to be honest it came together easily. We feel like, as creatives from another sector, we had the vision needed, and knew how to create the brand.
We approached the project by asking an important question: ‘Why can’t kids get excited about wearing spectacles?’ We wanted them to feel confident and excited about wearing their glasses, particularly at school.
05 The process of developing and refining our eyewear collection for kids was a learning curve.
For example, to get the length of the sides of the spectacles right was a big step. Spectacle design often gets this wrong – and on our first attempt we had this problem.
We engaged in a constant conversation with opticians dispensing our glasses, seeking feedback and using it. You have to stay humble and encourage people to call out the flaws on your products. It is hard to not take it personally, but typically the feedback is coming from a good place. Opticians simply want to fit people well.
06 Through a start-up accelerator programme, we gained amazing mentors.
These are people who are looking to give back to the next generation in the industry.
We were part of a start-up accelerator that was focused on social enterprises, called Praxis, based in New York City. Lasting six months, we were grouped with other businesses with social impact credentials. At the finale we delivered a pitch on Jonas Paul Eyewear to 90 investors. From that pitch, we ended up meeting Cliff Bartow, former chief executive of LensCrafters. He is an amazing man who still wants to be involved and help companies grow. We also were able to meet and work with Joel Sodano, senior vice president of merchandising at Luxottica Retail.
07 Corporate social responsibility is of growing importance to consumers, particularly millennial mums.
Our market research shows that parents now actively look for options that demonstrate that their purchase has a social impact.
When working with manufacturers on the Jonas Paul supply chain we would like to take the same approach. Finding companies who share this vision is difficult, but in five years’ time we think it will be easier. Consumer desire is driving this change.