Third year’s the charm for cult-favorite eyewear brand Warby Parker. With news that industry heavyweight Millard Drexler, CEO of J.Crew, is backing the New York startup as an investor (at a time when the brand is making major moves in the retail arena), suddenly all eyes are watching.
The e-commerce company began dealing in well-designed, low-cost glasses — or what they call the “ultimate fashion accessory” — to fill a demand in the market. And the company’s growth (American Express is also a new investor) has proved exciting to follow. To find out what all this really means, we turned to co-founder David Gilboa in an exclusive interview.
DuJour: How did your relationship with Millard Drexler begin?
David Gilboa: We first met Mickey a couple years ago through our friends at Partners & Spade, and he has served as a great mentor since then. We grab lunch with him every few weeks to catch up and chat about everything from how to find the best talent to how we’re thinking about our retail strategy. He consistently provides us thoughtful and extremely practical advice.
DuJour: In what ways will we see this new partnership manifest?
DG: There is no official relationship between J.Crew and Warby Parker, [but] we’ll continue to rely on Mickey as an advisor and are thrilled that he now has an ownership stake in the company.
DuJour: You’ve mentioned the importance of being intentional about getting specific expertise on board. Can you speak more about AmEx’s role?
DG: AmEx has built its brand around customer service and innovation, which are also two pillars of our brand. We established a relationship with Ed Gilligan, the Vice Chairman of AmEx, and have been blown away by how forward-looking Ed and his executives are. We are excited that they are sponsoring the Warby Parker Class Trip (the yellow schoolbus we turned into a beautiful mobile store currently touring the country), and that we are partnering with them on their Sync program where AmEx card members can receive discounts by using social media, and future marketing initiatives.
DuJour: Since WP’s start, did you foresee the site expanding from an e-commerce platform into a lifestyle brand — like the recent comparisons to Tory Burch?
DG: We have always thought of ourself as a lifestyle brand first. We use technology and e-commerce as a way to cut out a lot of the infrastructure and capital required to have a nationwide presence, but we are 100 percent focused on building a brand that stands for beautiful design, unbeatable service and doing good… all at a great price point.
DuJour: 2013 looks like it’s going to be huge for WP. What plans are currently in the works?
DG: We are introducing new products on a monthly basis — including our newest Hayworth collection featuring Japanese titanium and French non-rocking hinges. We are testing different marketing channels, including our first TV commercial. And we will be opening our first flagship store in SoHo in New York in a beautiful space on Greene and Prince. We are growing faster than we ever imagined but will continue to stay true to what has brought us success to date — extreme focus on providing products and experiences that our customers want.