In an effort to shop from socially-conscious brands this holiday season, I came across an interesting startup that caught my eye. Two Blind Brothers is a cause-driven clothing brand that sells luxury causal wear and gives 100% of its net profits to medical research to cure blindness. Read on.
The line was founded by Bradford and Bryan Manning, two brothers affected by a macular degeneration disease known as Stargardt. The disease causes progressive damage to the center retina causing a loss of central vision. The National Eye Institute estimates that one in 10,000 people are affected by the disease.
Since being diagnosed at age six, both brothers have progressively lost their central vision and have learned Braille to help manage their condition. Even being diagnosed so young and having to adjust to life with a visual impairment so early in life, the brothers never let it bring them down, they said. With encouragement from their parents, they have taken on every challenge not only with a great sense of humor, but with grit and intelligence. The two are very mobile despite the partial loss of their vision and manage to stay ahead even in an increasingly visual world of smartphones.
"This cause is very close to us," said co-founder Bradford Manning. "We have been lucky to have each other and been able to thrive despite the visual impairment. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many who have Stargardt and other similar disabilities. My brother and I were inspired to take action to help raise awareness and funds for vital research."
People affected with blindness experience much of the world through their fingers and the brothers bring that same emphasis and attention to the fabrics it uses at Two Blind Brothers. Based on the fact that the brothers tend to purchase their outfits based on how they feel rather than look, they focus on crafting the most comfortable casual wear. Manufactured in the heart of New York City, the luxury shirts come in a variety of colors and lengths for men and women and feature a braille metal tag that reads "brother." The tagline for the brand is "Feel the Difference" which plays on the softness of the fabric while also reminding the customer of the difference they are making with this purchase.
"That's why the touch and feel of our shirts is so important to us, knowing that the sense of touch is so important in the blind community," Bradford added. "We must have felt 100 samples before deciding on the softest possible fabric for our line. "
Creating the brand is a way for the brothers to give back in a more significant way. Bradford currently sits on the board of the Foundation for Fighting Blindness and Bryan is also actively involved with the Foundation.
"We get messages from people sharing their own stories about living with visual impairment, and that's what really makes it all worth it," said Bryan. "Neither of us are taking a salary from the sales of the products. We are truly doing this to make a difference in these people's lives. It really touches us when we hear these stories."
"I was lucky that I had my older brother to guide me through the struggles that come with being visually impaired," Bryan, 25, said of his older brother Bradford, 31.
"The Foundation for Fighting Blindness is a source of hope to the many that weren't as lucky as I was to have a built-in support system. They do incredible work and we are very excited to be helping with funding for research."
"It's not a question of the science; the science is there," Brad adds. "It's a question of funding. We've come so far with gene therapy and stem-cell research, we just need to cross the finish line."
For more information on their journey and how you can help in their efforts to cure blindness, this video can be viewed.
Photos provided by Two Blind Brothers.