We're excited to announce a collaboration with NYC-based t-shirt line Two Blind Brothers on a shopping event at our TriBeCa store this week, giving back to the organization and shining our spotlight on their philanthropic, and very personal, endeavour. Both brothers have Stargardt's, an incurable disease that eventually leads to near or full blindness. They decided to fight back against blindness, starting Two Blind Brothers, a basics-meets-luxe t-shirt line where the focus is on fabrics and their feel. Neither brother currently takes a salary from the company, so they're able to donate 100% of proceeds towards fighting blindness. Read on to learn more, and stop by OTTE TriBeCa at 37 North Moore this Thursday from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. to meet the brothers and shop the line!
Both of you have full-time careers outside of Two Blind Brothers. What made you decide to start your own company to support research, as opposed to volunteering or working for another? Great question. We do volunteer a lot of time with existing charities in this space. In particular, we serve in various roles at the Foundation Fighting Blindness. They have a 40 year track record funding research in this space, and we leverage their expertise when we choose research to fund. We started our clothing line because we couldn't find a clothing brand that reflected what we care about when we shop for clothes. We wanted to make the best fitting and feeling clothing possible, but more so, we care about giving a voice to visual disability.
How did you settle on designing and selling clothing as a way to raise money for macular degeneration and blindness research? Bryan and I were shopping at a big department store, and we lost each other in the store. After 30 minutes, we found each other and coincidentally, we had purchased the same exact shirt. We realized that we picked out the same shirt because we obsess over comfort and the feeling of the fabric. When you have poor eyesight, it's one of the primary methods of evaluating quality. This prompted the idea to start the clothing line. We've committed to donating 100% of the proceeds because we would rather help cure these diseases than put another dollar in our pockets.
Your design and production is all done in New York. Is that something that was important to you when getting started, or did things just come together that way? It's much more difficult to control quality and the production process when the facilities are far away or overseas. We monitor our production in NYC on a daily basis. The quality is so important to us and our brand that we didn't want to take any shortcuts.
What are some of your goals for Two Blind Brothers? Do you have plans to expand the line past t-shirts? The #1 goal is to fund research to cure blindness. We do have plans to launch a leather wristband soon. Because we are focused on the "touch and feel", we are looking at any products that contact the skin.
Tell us a little more about Stargardt’s disease—how many people are affected by it? Are there any treatments currently available? It is currently incurable, and there are truly no effective ways to combat the progression of the disease. That said, there are a number of projects currently needing funds that are incredibly promising. We are in the midst of a medical revolution as it relates to things like gene and stem cell therapies. It is less about the science at this point and more about the funds to bring the current science into clinical trials. Stargardt's affects roughly 1 in 8,000 people. However, we fund treatments across therapies for vision impairment. There are nearly 10 million Americans that are visually impaired.
Stargardt’s is an inherited disease—do other members of your family suffer from it as well? What was it like growing up and going through it together? We were very lucky to have each other. A lot of people grow up without knowing another person who is affected. As a child, it's most difficult because you feel different. We think it's so important to not let your physical limitations become a psychological impairment. Don't fear failure because it may prevent you from finding natural strengths in other areas.
You’ve supported each other a lot throughout the years. What’s it like working with your brother? We spend a ton of time together. We live together and work together, so it's important to "fight well" when we disagree. We've had a lot of practice :) Honestly, we are lucky to be as close as we are. Sharing the experience of vision loss is definitely something that brought us together.
What has been one of the most inspiring moments you’ve had so far? We are most inspired by the messages and outreach from families affected with these diseases. We want to do everything we can to help parents and children who are also fighting hard to fund these treatments. We had each other, but it's a lonely experience for those who have to find their own methods of navigating the challenges.
What is the best career advice you’ve ever received? What advice would you give to someone who wants to start or get involved with a philanthropic organization? Find a great mentor or manager. When you are young and evaluating career opportunities, it's almost more important to learn great professional skills than anything else because effective work translates across most industries. Finding someone who can teach you and give candid feedback is so valuable. We would recommend this across both philanthropic and for-profit careers.
Running a clothing company that is also philanthropic is very different than the financial and business backgrounds you both have. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced getting started that you didn’t expect? Are there aspects of the clothing and fashion business you’ve found you enjoy? We've learned a tremendous amount. It took us almost a year of product development because we started from scratch and made many mistakes to get exactly what we wanted. The development and production process is complicated and time-consuming. As customers, we take for granted how consistent and reliable the shopping experience is. For example, different color dyes affect how the shirts react to the production process. We make our grey shirts slightly differently than our navy shirts, but the customer would never be able to notice the difference.