This post is not sponsored, but Retrospecced sent try-on items free of charge, which I will be sending back after review. Since glasses are a medical item, I decided I wanted to purchase frames myself rather than request free product.
I first reached out to Retrospecced nearly two years ago, but I had purchased new glasses the year before and ultimately couldn’t justify acquiring another pair just yet.
I almost threw sustainability to the wind because I was so excited about their business model. As you probably know, there’s really only one prescription glasses company marketed as “ethical,” and that’s Warby Parker (affiliate link). The main thing going for them is their one-for-one business model through which they donate vision care services to people in need based on their sales numbers. Charity is a good thing, but it’s not always an effective long term strategy. And as I mention in this post, it can often disguise production, environmental, and labor issues in the company’s supply chain. I don’t know much about Warby Parker’s factories, but at the very least, they’re not prioritizing a more eco-friendly option.
Warby Parker (like Bonlook, where I got the pinkish glasses you’ll see in three years’ worth of personal style posts) produces in China using acetate, a type of plastic, in most of their frames. People need glasses – they’re a medical device – and so I’m not going to tell anyone not to purchase new glasses if that’s what suits their needs, but I found it puzzling that there were seemingly no alternatives in the ethical marketplace.
Retrospecced is the solution, at least for me. That’s because they purchase used (vintage and contemporary styles) glasses from the charity, Vision Aid Overseas – who receive up to 70,000 donated glasses a week! – and offer a custom prescription service through their website. The ordering process is just like any other glasses site, but you receive a final product that is inherently more sustainable because it’s secondhand.
Retrospecced explains that this arrangement works well for vision charities, because the clients they assist are in need of more than just a pair of old glasses. They need routine exams, surgery, and other comprehensive care that well-meaning donors can’t provide through donated goods alone. Not to mention that cat eyes and ’80s jumbo frames aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.
Learn more about the process here.
I’ll discuss the home try-on program more below, but first, take a look at the frames I sampled, ranked from my favorite to least favorite…
About the Home Try-On Program
Because each frame at Retrospecced is a one-off, they have to be a bit more cautious about what they send out for try-ons. While companies like Warby Parker will send you five free frames to try for a week before sending back, Retrospecced’s program requires that you purchase the frame for try-on, make your selection, then send them back for purchase or a full refund. When you opt into the home try-on, they also offer £5 off lenses if you decide to purchase a pair.
Retrospecced is based in the UK, so there are a few added costs for US-based and other international customers. Here’s the cost breakdown:
Frame: Most frames run £29-35 ($37-45)
Cost of Shipping for the Home Try-On: ~$35
Prescription Lenses with scratch-resistant and anti-reflective coating: £45 ($58)
Flat Rate Shipping: £15 ($19)
Total Without Try-On:
Even with the exchange rate, Retrospecced glasses are roughly equivalent in price to Warby Parker and Bonlook, which makes them a competitive choice (and if you have eye insurance, you can submit your receipts for reimbursement). The hard thing is narrowing down your selection (I kind of want three pairs!).
I am really excited to be able to purchase high quality vintage frames with my prescription. As an international customer, the process is slightly more tedious, but I think it will be worth it to receive some upcycled glasses I love.
Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.