141 Sees Change Through a Transparent Giving Model

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By Deirdre Carroll: Senior Editor

 


 
Kyle Yamaguchi started 141 Eyewear in 2009 with his wife Shu-Chu Wu. “I’ve wanted to start a company since college,” said Yamaguchi. “I was working for Nike and Shu-Chu is an optician so we decided to leverage our strengths—mine being product development—to start a frame brand. But we wanted to differentiate ourselves and give back.”

After nearly a year of research, including attending Lions Club sight missions and leveraging a relationship with a local eyewear retailer to test their product in-store, 141’s first eyewear collection launched in July 2010. With that debut was the crystallization of the company’s mission statement—they would give one (1) pair of eyewear to a person in need for (4) every one (1) pair of eyewear they sold—thus 141 was born. It sounded simple in theory but, as the couple soon learned, it was quite a bit more difficult in practice.

 
 141 founders Kyle Yamaguchi and Shu-Chu Wu.
“Our first mission was to Taiwan, which was great, but when we returned we realized that there are so many people, so many kids, in need in the U.S.,” he said. “It is so much easier to give in Taiwan; in the U.S. there is so much bureaucracy and red tape but going forward we chose to give in the U.S. because there are so many kids here who need help and the transparency of giving locally is important to us.”

By giving domestically, 141 can not only participate in several clinics a year but they can encourage their accounts to be directly involved. “We urge the doctors and opticians, even consumers, to participate so they can see what and how we are giving. They can come to our clinics and see it firsthand. So many companies have popped up claiming to give back but if I can’t figure out exactly how they are giving, how are they being held accountable? We don’t want people to be skeptical or suspicious. We want folks to know we’re for real, we’re serious. The companies that will succeed are genuine, honest and transparent and being transparent means allowing people to really see what your giving model is,” added Yamaguchi.

 
 Castel Valere-Couturier, 141’s East Coast sales agent, during their 2011 Portland clinic.
That degree of transparency isn’t without its challenges. “The giving side is almost harder than the business side and giving in the U.S. multiplies that challenge,” he acknowledged. “It’s like running two businesses at once and devoting equal time to each. Our first clinic was organized by us but we realized quickly that we did not have the resources to continue to do that in terms of equipment, lenses and personnel.”

A partnership with OneSight in 2011 now allows 141 to more easily facilitate their giving. “In 2011, we sold 2,000 frames at wholesale, so this year that’s what we are giving away. OneSight does approximately 30 clinics a year, we’re organizing six of our own and we’re also holding back product for accounts that already have giving programs in place. In 2012, we’ve forecasted that we’ll sell 4,000 frames and we’ll be ready to start giving those back in January 2013,” according to Yamaguchi. “The more we sell, the more we give. One cannot live without the other.”

dcarroll@jobson.com