There’s a new eyewear company that combines my love of all things glasses with my strong desire to make my every purchase count on an ethical and global scale. I don’t have very much money, so when I buy something, I want to be sure that it’s going to have as many positive effects as it possibly can on me and the rest of the world.
Dhruv Jagasia comes from an eyewear family and knew at 15 that he would use his father’s industry leverage to help people access affordable glasses, particularly those who are less privileged. After finishing school at Rutgers, he started Dharma Eyewear Co., an independent glasses company that was created with the idea of balancing out a nearly monopolized industry while upholding the idea that everyone should be able to see the world.
That’s why Dharma Co. partnered with Optometry Giving Sight. OGS is an organization comprised of, well, optometrists who travel around the world offering vision tests and correction. In some countries, anyone who is unable to see well is placed into a school for the blind, regardless of the type of correction they need. These people may only need glasses to become a fully functioning member of their community, but without glasses, they are basically disabled. Optometry Giving Sight only takes 15% of their donations for administrative and other costs, a full 85% of donations goes directly to eye and vision care projects.
But back to Dharma Co.
They introduced me to a word that I’d never seen before: Luxxotica. Luxxotica, I have since learned, is an Italian eyewear company that controls 80% of the eyewear industry, including the manufacturing, distribution, and retail sects of everything glasses. They own everything from Lenscrafters to Dolce & Gabbana’s eyewear brand. This includes things like Glasses.com, Pearl Vision, Sunglass Hut, Ray-Ban… Luxxotica even has their hands in the production of Google Glasses.
With that much vertical integration, it makes you wonder why middle class people are paying upwards of $400 for a pair of prescription glasses, doesn’t it? If there’s no middleman, and this is the largest eyewear company on earth, I’d love to know why a pair of metal-frame Ray-Bans can be priced at $225 without prescription lenses…?
So thanks, Dharma Co., for that little lesson in global capitalism.
I asked Dharma Co. about the companies they cooperate with – were they owned by Luxxotica?
“Our manufacturer is not owned by Luxottica. In fact, our company has an ownership stake in the factory that we use to produce our eyewear products.”
Of course they do.
Dharma Co. Glasses Review: Narmada Frames
The crew at Dharma Co. encouraged me to try a pair of their glasses. They are a brand new company and getting the word out about their brand is not only great for a budding ethical business, but we’ve learned it also has great benefits for the rest of the world. Don’t forgot Dhruv’s mission: to make glasses accessible.
Fortunately, Dharma Co. wants it to be accessible to everyone – that includes those of us who have a choice when it comes to which glasses to purchase. We could purchase from one of the many brands under a billions-of-dollars eyewear giant, or grab a highly-accessible pair of glasses from Dharma Co. for right around $99.
That was the price of the Narmada glasses I chose after using the Dharma Co. app to virtually try on every pair they had. I was impressed with the app, it recognized my face really well and even showed me the sides of the glasses when I turned my head. I decided on the Narmada frames, which definitely qualify as classics with a twist.
They’re a little bit wayfarer, a little bit spectacle, and a little bit rock & roll – well, technically this Narmada style is called “Seaside Coffee.”
I love glasses with a masculine feel, but I couldn’t resist the baby blue backing that covers the entire inside of the glasses. The outer frame is a subtle tortoiseshell that looks like a dark, opaque black/brown from even a short distance. The baby blue is somewhat visible when they’re being worn, but is even difficult to photograph. It’s mostly just my little secret until I take them off.
These frames of these glasses are a little bit smaller than I typically shoot for – I love an oversized pair of wayfarers, I can’t lie. At first, I was a little bit intimidated by the size, but after wearing them for a few weeks, I have to say that they’ve grown on me. I particularly like the way they look with a high top knot and strong brows.
The Narmada glasses are much more of an accessory than my other glasses because of how stylized they are. The designers at Dharma Co. clearly march to the beat of their own drums, and it pays off by creating glasses that can’t be found in other places. For instance, there are curves and corners on these frames, two colors, and hardware accents. It takes a lot to pack that list into a pair of glasses that don’t really stand out at first glance. It’s the second look that really makes you say “Oh, snap!”
$99 isn’t the cheapest price I’ve seen for glasses, though these look and feel much nicer than many of the less expensive glasses I’ve seen. Nevertheless, I wanted to ask how they settled upon the price for their glasses.
“We aim to provide the best pair of glasses that you can buy for under $100. If you go to an optical store, you’ll easily pay over $200. And if you pay less, our bet is that you’re not getting the quality you need. We think $99 is a fair price for high quality lenses and frames that will last. Anything less than that, and it doesn’t make business sense for us, since we use the highest quality materials in our frames and lenses. Any more, and it’s not competitive enough with optical stores. That’s why we think $99 is the magic number.”
They’re right – many people I know spent over $200 on their first pair of glasses (some people over $400… for glasses! Why!?) and ended up regretting spending that huge amount on something they could have gotten somewhere else at better quality for much less.
Lastly, I have one more thing to gush about: the glasses case.
You can see the closed case at the top of this post, but spoiler alert – it’s a triangle. And it is very slick.
It comes with a standard cleaning cloth that is generally okay at its job. Though I have to say, as much as I love the case, I have to wonder how much they cost, aka how much of the $99 price is paying for this case.
…this case that I love.
Other favorite glasses from Dharma Co.:
Anyway, while I didn’t get to order through the site, using Dharma Co.’s app was really easy and fun. You actually can purchase through the app, right from the try-on screen with your face on it. You can also compare frames to one another, seeing side-by-side which ones is best for you. Seriously, the app is pretty great!
One thing I noticed that was different about this brand was the need to submit your glasses prescription. Apparently, this is standard procedure for the purchase of glasses in New York, though it isn’t that way here in Washington. Be sure you have a scanned copy ready to upload with your order, or email to Dharma Co. They’ll also accept faxes and scans from your optometrist, if they can send it directly.
These glasses are definitely my “nice glasses,” and I’m totally looking at spending the $99 to get a pair of prescription sunglasses from Dharma Co. as well. Specifically, the Bombay sunglasses in Lakshmi Gold. I fell in love with them when I first saw them, and then validated my love through the try-on app. They must be mine!
I like knowing that my money (my not-very-much money) is going towards a punk rock prescription eyewear company that is actively fighting big business, and helping to deliver vision-enabling tools to other countries that need it.
Bonus! Dharma Co. is running a giveaway:
Right now through July 22, you can upload a selfie with the Dharma Co. app and add the hashtag #visionbeyondsight and be entered to win your favorite pair! Here’s my entry featuring my favorite Bombay sunglasses. Good luck!