Are there prescription eyewear sites that manufacture in the US?
May 8, 2020 10:09 AM   Subscribe

I'm in the US. I'd like to buy US-made glasses online. Is this possible?

Like this poster, I need new glasses, and because of the pandemic I think I probably need to buy them online. I have a current prescription and my PD, but I would prefer to buy from a company that 1) sells non-Luxottica/US-made frames and 2) makes lenses in the US (or another country with equivalent-or-better protections for workers and the environment).

I am, of course, willing to pay more than I would if I purchased from e.g. Zenni. If possible I'd prefer not to spend 100% full US retail (which has consistently been $400-600 for glasses that I've purchased from local optical shops in the past) but I will if there are no other options.

If you have an argument that starts with "you should consider Chinese-manufactured glasses because" I'll listen but I'd like there to be a fairly detailed case for how I'm not externalizing costs by abusing workers or taking advantage of another country's lax environmental protection law, or, at least, how it's a wash anyway.
posted by pullayup to Shopping (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
You'll have a hard time. Optical labs based in the US have really shut down, through furloughs, because they operate based on accounts from opticians and optometrists, most of whom are now closed. There is a minimum capacity for an optical lab to be able to operate profitably. It's not cost-effective to open up again to grind your lenses. They need a certain capacity to be worthwhile to be open. What you'll end up having to do is call around and find one that's open, and ask if you are even allowed to transmit the prescription to them to get the glasses made. When I worked in wholesale optical, we couldn't take prescriptions directly from customers, they could only be transmitted by doctors.

The reason Zenni is so cheap and so accessible is because they are not bound by the same manufacturing laws that US-based optical labs are. They'll make your glasses in their factory in and prescription you want, valid or not, no doctor required. And as you know, their workers lack the basic safety and rights.

As a former optical lab employee, my recommendations for keeping your costs low are mainly around getting your frames yourself, and then filling them with lenses by shopping around. Like, call around opticians, ask them for a price quote if you have your own frames. Today, right now, that's going to be your main obstacle since so few folks are open.
posted by juniperesque at 11:02 AM on May 8 [2 favorites]


I was planning on getting my next prescription filled at Costco the next time I got one as I understand that they're lower cost (closer to $150~ according to my research), though I have no idea whether they have US-based frames/lenses. I'd assume so, but it hasn't been a consideration for me. You would need a Costco membership, and they aren't filling orders right now (and I can't get an exam anyway), so I've put that plan on hold for now.

In terms of what's open now, Warby Parker appears to be US-based and often comes up in the same threads Zenni does, though I have no experience with them.

You might be able to get your prescription extended if you call your optometrist, if you don't think your vision has changed since last exam.
posted by Aleyn at 11:22 AM on May 8


Last time I was at my optometrist, they were carrying frames from STATE Optical, which is manufactured in Chicago. (I gather they source some materials internationally.) I don't think they sell full glasses, but maybe your optometrist can help with that (if there are made-in-US lenses as well).
posted by spelunkingplato at 11:25 AM on May 8


As a follow-up, here's a random article about STATE comparing it to Warby Parker, which imports its frames, here. More about them on their own website here. (I'm not associated with them, I just thought they were interesting.)
posted by spelunkingplato at 11:34 AM on May 8


Your question appears to start from an assumption that manufacturing (and capitalism) in the US does not "externalize costs by abusing workers or take advantage of lax environmental protection law" which is ... a pretty big assumption.

I don't have a detailed argument that this assumption is wrong in general, or in the particular case of eyewear. I just wanted to say that it's not obvious to me that it's true in all states in the US, or even most.

Have you considered glasses made in a country that takes worker protection and environmental law more seriously than the US, rather than setting the bar at "not China"? Again, I don't have detailed arguments for which these are, but I would think most of the EU would be a possibility (including Italy, where a lot of eyewear brands are based, and perhaps some of manufacturing).
posted by caek at 1:19 PM on May 8 [6 favorites]


Moscot makes its lenses in the U.S. Frames, unfortunately, in China. They'll make lenses for your frames if you can find a place that makes its frames in the U.S. They sent me an email saying their lab was open about a week and a half ago.
posted by praemunire at 1:56 PM on May 8


Your question appears to start from an assumption that manufacturing (and capitalism) in the US does not "externalize costs by abusing workers or take advantage of lax environmental protection law" which is ... a pretty big assumption.

I definitely don't make that assumption. But I also think (or hope, at least) there's a meaningful difference between the ~$500 glasses that I get from my US optical shop--my last frames were iirc manufactured in Japan, and the lenses were, to the best of my knowledge, cut at a local lab--and $6.95 glasses from Zenni. If possible, I'd like to order glasses online that are closer to the former than the latter. It may not be possible.

Also, practically, I live in the US, and I don't know how I'd go about ordering prescription glasses from a European country. Is that a thing you can do?
posted by pullayup at 1:58 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


For similar reasons I just bought a pair from EyeBobs, which is based in Minnesota. My reading of their website was that the frames were made in various countries but the lenses were ground close to home. The frames were all around $25 and the price of the lenses were based on a lot of variables; my total order came in at $350. My glasses arrived Wednesday, about ten days after I ordered them, and I'm happy.
posted by carmicha at 4:51 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


Are you looking to spank the Chinese eyeglass industry, or Chinese manufacturing in general? Is there any specific reason you think Chinese workers are unusually abused or the Chinese eyeglass industry is particularly awful? This seems to taken as an article of faith among Americans, but real, verifiable evidence in aggregate is usually pretty thin. Additionally, the worst actor in the industry is Luxottica, precisely because they have their fingers in a majority of eyeglass businesses, even in the US. So if you're looking to spank the industry by country, you'd do best to buy from a place like Zenni.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:25 PM on May 8 [3 favorites]


Is there any specific reason you think Chinese workers are unusually abused or the Chinese eyeglass industry is particularly awful? This seems to taken as an article of faith among Americans, but real, verifiable evidence in aggregate is usually pretty thin.

I agree that evidence is thin, but it's thin in both directions--is there evidence that the eyeglasses industry (or a particular producer) in China treats their employees well, or is *not* awful? If there is, that would be a satisfying answer to my question.

It isn't that I have a particular beef with products produced in China, but I would like to be as comfortable as possible in the knowledge that I was buying something produced under more-or-less ethical conditions, and I'd prefer to avoid buying from online vendors who (purposefully?) obfuscate where and how their products are produced--which seems like basically all of them, unfortunately.

So if you're looking to spank the industry by country, you'd do best to buy from a place like Zenni.

Could you elaborate on this logic a bit? Is your point that Zenni is among Luxottica's most viable competition?
posted by pullayup at 6:31 PM on May 8


In Canada I used Clearly (Coastal in the US) because their local (to me, Vancouver BC) manufacturing meant that I could get glasses with a much, much faster turnaround time than Zenni. A cursory google turned up a fluff piece saying that they have a Blaine, WA lab which I assume they use to fulfill their US orders. Still Luxottica frames though.
posted by btfreek at 1:06 PM on May 10


Will your optometrist fill your prescription with existing frames? With my optometrist, we can mail in frames, and get them back with the lenses. Then you could buy the US frame on its own. Zak and Krewe are 2 non-EssilorLuxottica US brands, but not sure of their factories. Zak has local opticians in some areas offering curbside pickup if you order online. FramesDirect sells a few American made brands.
posted by bluefly at 2:53 PM on May 18


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