Eric Varady wants to make glasses for everyone.
It doesn’t sound like such a grand idea, until you realize—as Varady did—that eyewear stores have spent years making glasses for people who aren’t real.
“It’s kind of crazy that a store that might have 50 pairs of eyewear is somehow going to cater to anyone who walks in the door,” he said. “It’s kind of like stock eyewear is designed for some mythical person that doesn’t exist and never fits anyone correctly.”
Varady discussed how his company Topology is working to change that, on the 38th episode of the Loose Threads Podcast. Based out of San Francisco, Topology allows customers to design, fine-tune and order glasses right from their iPhone. It all starts with a selfie.
“What’s held back custom apparel, not just eyewear but suits, shirts, whatever, has been the inability to preview what that’s going to look like,” he said. “It’s only until recently that smartphones, that everyone is carrying in their pockets, are powerful enough with the imaging necessary for you to build an accurate enough model.”
Topology is fully integrated through a smartphone app that allows consumers to take a video of their face and model different styles of eyewear. In addition, the app creates a 3D model that ensures the glasses will be created to fit each face perfectly.
Varady said he quickly realized that the eyewear marketplace would require him to build Topology himself. That began with learning how to build custom frames.
“I remember the very first pair of acetate frames we made. It was this joyous moment and I was like a proud father,” he said. “I look back now and I’m like god this thing is completely hideous and disgusting, but at the time it took us five hours to make this frame that was totally hand-crafted.”
To get the product in front of people and explaining how Topology planned to make glasses differently, Varady began experimenting with pop-up shops around San Francisco.
At that point Varady said he wasn’t even focused on sales. He just wanted to find out if shoppers would be comfortable with a stranger in glasses scanning their face.
Within a few hours, Varady had sold four pairs of frames.
“That first pop-up was huge for us. These were the first random people we did not know who were unaccustomed to or hadn’t heard the message, and they were getting it,” he said.
Building the company to scale, Topology now offers potential customers a preview image of custom-fitted glasses within minutes of taking their first selfie on the app. As Varady points out, this allows consumers to get the opinion of family and friends on their new look. When an order is placed, Topology can match prescriptions and even sends consumers a prototype to ensure they’re happy with the frames.
When the eyewear arrives, each customer’s name is engraved right on the glasses.
“Generally, [with] custom products, you’re locked in. There’s no return policy,” Varady said. “The resale value is zero for us but we are so confident…that customers are in love with what we’re doing. We will take on that risk if you’re not happy with what we’re doing.”