We recently had the chance to interview, Shu-Chu Yamaguchi, half of the husband and wife duo behind the charitable eyewear company, 141 Eyewear. As we mentioned in a post last week, the Yamaguchis have built 141 around the concept of donating one pair of eyeglasses to someone in need for every pair they sell.
NVG: How did you initially come up with the idea to base your eyewear business around giving to the less fortunate and what kind of obstacles have you faced putting such a unique business plan into action?
141: On a drive up to Seattle to visit Kyle’s cousins, who are both optometrists, we started discussing eyewear and all its elements. I’ve been in the optical field for over six years and Kyle was at Nike developing the hottest basketball shoes for the NBA’s top athletes. We decided to combine our passion for eyewear with our knowledge of how to build great products to start a new eyewear line; however, we didn’t want to just start any frame line, we wanted it to have meaning….and 141 was born.
During our business development, we had a chance to go on a mission trip with The Lions Club to Manzanillo, Mexico. During that entire trip we distributed thousands of recycled prescription glasses to the people there who could not afford it on their own.
That trip really opened our eyes and we thought, “why can’t we give people their exact prescriptions in new frames instead of used and recycled ones?” And this is how we really solidified the 141 (play on words, one for one) model.
Kyle and I faced many challenges. First and foremost, we had to figure out a way to get our brand out there. There are so many different brands/products out there, we wanted to create a business which offered a high-quality product and could help people at the same time.
In addition, the most rewarding part of our business has also been one of the most challenging…that being the giving aspect of 141. In order to hold a clinic, it requires a lot of moving parts to come together. You need the doctors, frames, lenses, finishing equipment, exam equipment, etc, etc, etc…at the same time, when we have been able to bring all of these elements together and actually give glasses to people in our own communities, it’s all worth the challenge and obstacles we encountered along the way!
NGV: How have you been donating eyewear to the less fortunate? Do you have any other partnerships with charitable organizations aside from OneSight?
141: Yes, our very first clinic happened even before we started selling. We had our first and only international clinic in southern Taiwan. My family is from there and there was a connection there with a doctor who actually went to Pacific University, so it worked out well.
We’ve held several smaller local clinics here in Oregon. We’re currently working with The Lions Club to give new eyewear to people who can’t afford eye care in Oregon. Some of our very own retailers hold their own clinics and we give to them as well.
NVG: How have you been able to utilize social media to convey what your company is about?
141: We’ve utilized Facebook a lot to tell our story. We’ve even asked our Facebook fans to provide their input on naming a frame color and giving us their opinion on a style. It’s been great.
We haven’t advertised so a lot of it has been through word of mouth and fashion/lifestyle bloggers. The Oregonian has written about us several times and we’ve had a chance to talk about our story to Kim Maus on her morning show. But, our story is best shared by the opticians in the optical stores. They tell our story and get our brand out there in front of their patients/consumers and the word spreads from there.
NVG: I noticed that all of your glasses are named after areas and streets in Portland. How has Portland helped influence your brand of eyewear?
Portland has really been our love story. The names are all based on elements of our relationship. We met at the optical shop that I was working at, which is right off of Everett (a frame name) and we moved in together on Lovejoy (another frame name). There are different pockets of Portland that are very unique to their district and have their own personalities. It’s great and very inspiring.