- Photo by Ryan Deto
- Daniel Childs sets his sights on eyewear with a purpose.
Glasses displays on top of vintage bicycles, walls adorned with a rotating selection of local art, and a courtyard garden that will eventually have a patio to host food trucks and community events. Chromos Eyewear, in Lawrenceville, is an optical center catering to a younger, hipper crowd.
A crowd that not only wants stylish eyewear, but one that demands that the company that sells those glasses also be socially conscious. And Daniel Childs, founder of Chromos eyewear, is more than willing to comply.
In conjunction with opening his hipster-friendly storefront on Butler Street, Childs started Chromos Cares, a charity that offers free eye exams and a free pair of glasses to children in need for every pair of glasses Chromos sells.
Chromos Cares has partnered with Pittsburgh Public Schools and hopes to donate 2,500 pairs of glasses over the next 12 months; it also hopes to use a fully outfitted RV to travel to local schools to conduct eye exams and donate glasses.
Dara Ware Allen, an assistant superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools, says “it was great” that Childs approached the schools with his Chromos Cares plan.
“It was amazing. We are so fortunate that we have such a charitable community here in Pittsburgh,” says Allen.
Allen adds that they have been working with Chromos Cares this summer, and that they plan to have eye-exam and glasses-donation events at nine K-8 schools this school year, where children who have failed, or came close to failing, preliminary eye exams will be eligible for the donation.
Childs attended Taylor-Alderdice High School, in Squirrel Hill, and used to volunteer with Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Summer Dreamer program, a free summer learning camp. He drew inspiration from his time volunteering with schools and from statistics about vision impairment in students. The American Foundation for Vision Awareness estimates that 25 percent of school-age children have impaired vision, a condition that can affect their learning.
“A lot of kids have vision problems but might not even recognize it, because they are not getting the eye exams they need,” says Childs.
In addition to his charity, Childs broke away from the traditional optical-center mold by filling in a gap between the high-end glasses, like those sold at his father’s chain Eyetique, and the cheap plastic frames found over-the-counter at big-box stores.
He first noticed this gap while in college at Syracuse University. There were limited options for students and young professionals who wanted affordable glasses that don’t compromise style and quality. For example, a pair of Ray-Bans or Prada sunglasses can range from $150 to $300; Chromos Beacon brand sunglasses cost $65.
“My dad’s company is so luxurious and phenomenal — I can’t hold a candle to that,” says Childs. “We are trying to get the job done in between high-quality and the less-expensive frames.”
His girlfriend thought of the name Chromos, which refers to chromospheres — the middle layer of the sun’s atmosphere, which reaches 25,000 degrees Kelvin and emits many UV rays. The company originated selling sunglasses online and eventually added prescription glasses to its wares.
This mid-level, charity-driven model has experienced recent success in the optical world, thanks in part to online retailer Warby Parker. That company started online offering stylish, yet affordable frames, much like Chromos, and also partnered with charities to provide free glasses to people in the developing world.
Childs believes the comparisons end there, however. He says that he admires Warby Parker, but he wants Chromos to make more of a local impact.
“We are going on site and working with local students — that is the big difference,” Childs says. “We have a local focus and a focus on education.”
Childs also wanted to make sure that Chromos accepts insurance to maintain inclusivity with all customers who need spectacles. “We want to offer everything to everyone,” says Childs.