As reported in AP News,
Bradford and Bryan Manning broke into a market in the fashion industry often overlooked: the blind. The glitz of fast fashion doesn’t work. So what are the blind looking for in their clothing selection?
The brothers discovered the answers from their personal experience with Stargardt disease, a rare disorder that progressively causes vision loss. Their moment of inspiration struck when the pair were clothing shopping together at Bloomingdales. When they separated to shop, they reunited only to find themselves holding the exact same t-shirt. They shared the sentiment: soft! They had an idea.
Bryan explained to AP,
“It was the feel of it. It felt so soft and comfortable that we both keyed up on it, and then we had this idea, ‘Well what if we could take this sense of touch to a different place, make super comfortable clothing, and turn over the profits to researchers at work on eye diseases?’”
The Blindness Diagnosis
Bradford, 35, and Bryan, 30, had a life time learning to live with blindness after the rare eye disease slowly took away their sight. Brad received his diagnosis when he was just 7, when a doctor spotted the cause of his declining vision.
At the time, they were told the rare disease was untreatable. Bryan said the medical advice essentially went, “Take him home, get him a magnifier and maybe teach him Braille, and good luck.”
is a rare genetic disease that effects the retina, a region of the eye that senses light. The disease usually begins its characteristic gradual vision loss in childhood. Other symptoms include hazy spots in the center of the eye, color blindness, loss of peripheral vision, sensitivity to light, and difficulty adjusting to changed light. As the disease progresses, some patients will experience total loss of vision, but most will peter off around 200/20. While there is no treatment, there are treatment recommendations to maintain good health.
The brothers, in their 30s, continued on to pursue high functioning careers, and maintained their peripheral vision when the disease eased its pace. However, while the rare disorder has trials and research going on for several gene and drug therapies, there is currently no cure.
A Leap of Faith
They had accepted the condition as fate until in 2016 they were inspired by news of a juvenile eye disease that had hit the jackpot. They had a gene therapy set to go on the market and give these kids their sight back. Bryan said to AP,
“It was mind boggling to us,” Bryan said. “Our whole lives they were like, `Oh, a cure is down the line, a cure is down the line.’ This one isn’t for us, but it is happening, and the Foundation Fighting Blindness kicked this off with just a tiny charitable gift to this brilliant researcher.”
They thought, maybe, if they put in the work to do that for Stargardt, they could get their vision back too. For a rare disease to get research though, people need to find funding- often the patients or family members themselves. So in 2016, they quit their current jobs- Brad at an investment firm and Bryan in software- and set to work becoming their own hope.
Two Blind Brothers Find A Niche
The brothers had stumbled upon their own trendy niche and were set to take off. They decidedly made thoughtful choices while building their brand. They printed Braille on the garments to inform wearers of the color of the shirts, and had them created and manufactured mostly by visually impaired and blind people.
The company distributes their clothing through their famous mystery box- the companies characteristic sale of boxes packed with unknown articles of the coziest of clothing. They made hoodies, socks, t-shirts, beanies, and polos, all made out of a soft mix of cotton, bamboo, and spandex.
A large premise of the company is based on trust. When you search the website
the FAQ section includes: What are you going to get? They write simply, you’ll love it.
Why should someone get a more expensive box? It’ll be great,
they promise. Unlike a traditional clothing company, the point isn’t aesthetics, so the clothes aren’t sold that way.
The boxes, with prices ranging from just $30 up to $200 took off on the internet. Joining the trend of unboxing videos, they diverge from the classic videos that focus on the aesthetic. Instead, many recipients are blindfolded, emphasizing the great sensational pleasure instead from the new clothing.
There’s also the option to buy pieces like a typical online domain, which features each item individually with a description and picture of the product.
And They’re Off!
The clothing line caught the eye of the famous, including an endorsement by Ellen DeGeneres of $30,000 with a Shutterfly check, and shout outs from celebrities including Ice-T and Richard Branson.
Through their success, they’ve dedicated 100% of their profits, a whopping $700,000, to the Foundation Fighting Blindness
which conducts research on the retina. They changed their lives, careers, and goals in a mission to bring goodness and awareness. Their websites writes,
“When someone shops blind, they prove something remarkable. They prove that genuine trust is real.”