Optician Nastasia Sisco remembers the first time she got a new pair of glasses with all the bells and whistles. She said it blew her away, and she thinks that everyone who needs eyewear should have the same positive experience.
“I always had a thick prescription, not a lot of money and cheap-not-cute glasses,” said Nastasia. “I remember getting my first good pair of glasses and it completely changed my life. I want everyone to be able to see and afford it, and I can do it here with pride.”
Lumos Optical opened May 1 in downtown Boise, the founders—Nastasia, her aunt Gloria and Matthew Montoya—share a vision that everyone deserves affordable, quality eyewear and they say that the vision industry is a machine that often times misleads consumers. Lumos is one of just a handful of independent and locally owned eyewear businesses in Boise.
“In the retail world there’s no other product that has a markup like the eyeglass industry does,” said Montoya. “It’s a monopoly that no one talks about and it’s the consumer that ends up paying for it.”
One reason is that a large company controls the bulk of the market. Italian eyewear company Luxottica owns LensCrafters, Sunglass Hut, Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, Target Optical, Ray-Ban, Persol and Oakley; and designs, manufactures and distributes all of their products. It also makes frames for a number of designers like Chanel, Prada, Armani, Burberry and Versace, just to name a few. The company merged with French company Essilor in 2018, which resulted in a market value of 57 billion Euros.
According to an opinion piece in The Los Angeles Times, LensCrafters Founder E. Dean Butler called the pricing of eyeglasses, which can be marked up as much as 1,000%, “a complete rip-off.”
Another reason for high eyewear costs is that eye exams have traditionally only been given by a doctor. There are two parts to an eye exam, the health and medical aspect where doctors check for emerging or ongoing eye problems and the refraction part of the exam that entails vision prescriptions. For proper eye care, people should see an optometrist every two to four years, but a vision prescription can be filled without a doctor.
Gloria said after she started to research the vision industry, and even with her background in product development, she was shocked.
“No one wins under the current model,” said Gloria, “and I love building things and I hate injustice. Once I did all the research it seemed like we could offer consumers a better way by sourcing responsibly and cutting out the middle man whenever we could.”
Lumos Optical offers a different approach to eye exams using telemedicine. Vision exams take place in-store using a digital camera, take approximately 10 minutes and cost $45. The results are sent to a doctor, who writes the prescription. The store also has in-house glass repair and adjustments.
For a pair of complete prescription glasses with frames, polycarbonate lenses and anti-glare coating, Lumos has a three-tiered pricing approach starting at $99. The store doesn’t sell name brands and has an in-house lab to cut down on lens costs, though it is an out-of-network provider from an insurance standpoint.
The store has a business model that avoids markups and works directly with the frame and lens manufacturers. By doing this, the store has been also able to put U.V. protection and anti-glare on all of its lenses.
“We just want to provide the best access to eye wear that we can,” said Nastasia. “I will fix your glasses with a paper clip and duct tape if I have to—I just want to help people.”
Taking that idea further, the company started a program called Cases for Causes. It was born from the idea that the three founders of Lumos get inspiration from other small businesses and nonprofits locally, and wanted to give back. For each glasses case sold the company will donate a portion of the profits.
“I love this community and I live and work in downtown and there’s a lot of DIY creativity here and that’s what this business is about, creating change and making a difference locally,” said Montoya. “This is our own little grassroots movement.”