Benjamin Franklin, one of the shapers and signers of the Declaration of Independence, was also an inventor of many products we still use today, including the bifocals. (Franklin called them "double spectacles.") Rather than patent and sell his discoveries off, however, Franklin chose to use his inventions to help others.
Helping others is the same idea friends Mohsin Momin and Azim Karedia had in mind when they created Benji Frank, an eyewear line designed to be both hip and helpful.
"We wanted to do something with a social mission attached," said Momin. "We wanted to make philanthropy a part of our business."
Benji Frank is barely a month old, but the idea for the business was conceived about a year and a half ago. Momin, 26, found himself drawn to the eyewear industry on the heels of his fiancée, who is studying to become an optometrist, while Karedia, 27, felt compelled to join the business after his grandfather went blind due to cataracts.
"When you lose your sight at that age, it's really difficult," Momin said of Karedia's nearly 90-year-old grandfather.
The pair shortened their eyewear brand's name into a marketable moniker, and aimed for a collection of glasses and sunglasses that are fashionably vintage. Then they decided to extend the historical connections even farther.
"We wanted to name [our glasses] after great inventors," Momin said, "starting with the presidents."
The "Truman" is mighty similar to the rounded frames our 33rd President wore, with added whimsy in colors of Light Tortoise or Black Marble. Whereas the "Lincoln" horn-rimmed glasses are sturdy and round, just the type the level-headed Commander in Chief might have donned when signing executive orders.
Is it any surprise that The Kennedy is named for a pair of slick sunglasses?
The company's website declares that 285 million people are "visually impaired," and just as Franklin used his inventions to serve the greater good, for every pair of glasses sold, Benji Frank offers to provide glasses or cataract surgery -- buyer's choice. In addition to that mission, named "One Story, One Vision" on the site, every pair of Benji Frank frames stays close to its advertised $100 price tag, even though they say they use top-of-the-line Japanese or Italian acetate, the same used by high-fashion brands. Buyers can enjoy the $100 price tag because of the duo's direct manufacturer deal; they buy directly from an overseas manufacturer, then buyers purchase their glasses of choice directly from the Benji Frank website.
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Buyers can choose between two types of lenses: polycarbonate or high index. The first are shatter-resistant and protect from harmful UV rays; the second, for just $30 more, are thinner and more ideal for those who require stronger prescriptions. Sunglasses are made with Carl Zeiss Vision lenses, offering a shatter-resistant, sun-resistant, blur-resistant alternative to your prescriptive peepers.
Benji Franks offers two options: the "Try 5 Program" and "Virtual Try-On" to undecided buyers; in the first, customers can pick five frames they like and have them delivered -- for free -- to their homes to try on, sans lenses. When a customer has found a frame that fits his or her face and lifestyle just right, he or she mails all five back and receives the chosen pair weeks later. With the second, potential buyers upload their photos to the site, pick an interesting pair and immediately see what he or she would look like with them on. (For a quick giggle, click the "Frame Fit Benji" link and see Franklin try on different glasses.)
"We're trying to bring the eyeglass store to you."
Benji Frank is strictly online at the moment, but they're working on partnering with local boutiques and the Galleria to place their glasses in stores. Like fashion lines, they want to begin releasing spring and fall collections, changing their styles as trends change. In the future, Benji Frank will add more glasses, named after more inventors, to its inventory.