Chris Benedict grew up with perfect eyesight. “It steered me toward roles that required great attention to detail,” he told me. But as he reached his twenties, eye strain symptoms began to materialize. He’d work for more than 12 hours a day, then spent his time at home in front of his phone or TV screen. The blurry vision, headaches, and poor sleep became a constant.
An eye doctor informed him that the symptoms came from prolonged computer usage, and after using computer glasses for a week, they significantly diminished. But stylistically, the glasses left something to be desired. As Benedict put it, they were “cheap and gaudy,” with a heavy yellow-orange tint that “looked goofy” in corporate settings. So he set out to create a pair that his coworkers wouldn’t be embarrassed to wear.
Felix Gray has all the elements of a millennial success story. Benedict and his co-founder David Roger quit their jobs – Benedict as an analyst at UBS, Roger in a similar role at the Downtown Project – to start the company, and the site has the pared-down vibe of Warby Parker and Casper, punctuating large visuals with concise missives (“Staring at a screen hurts your eyes. Our glasses help.”) Like those other “disruptive” startups, the business model is DTC with an emphasis on seamless assets like free shipping and returns. (Can brick-and-mortar showrooms be far behind?)
At $95, the frames cost more than other computer glasses, but Benedict makes the case that the lens – which filters UV blue light, rather than reflecting it through a coating – is worth it. While it’s impossible to sense those protective effects, I can definitely attest to the glasses’ stylishness, which earned them multiple compliments from friends and coworkers.
If eye strain isn’t a widely discussed problem, it’s far from an unusual one. The average American stares at a screen for more than 10 hours a day, and about 65% of the U.S. population experiences digital eye strain symptoms, from dry eyes to severe migraines. But while heavy computer and phone use is increasingly pervasive, computer glasses continue to be a novelty. I’m the only one in the L2 office wearing them, and when I tell my coworkers what they are, they seem to find it vaguely amusing.
Benedict and Rogers are optimistic. During a six-month trial, in which employees at tech and finance companies including Spotify, Barclays, Uber, and Google borrowed Felix Gray glasses for two weeks and then had the option to buy them, conversion rates ranged from 60-80%. (Notably, the highest percentage of orders came from investment banks). Others spent a few weeks without the glasses and then changed their minds.
“Spending hours in the sun without sunscreen seems ridiculous today,” the co-founder said. “Seeing how blue light is just a few nanometers from UV in the visible light spectrum, we believe working all day in front of digital screens without some kind of protection will seem just as ridiculous in the near future.”