Two blind brothers saw a need to launch a clothing brand that would help raise awareness of a rare degenerative eye disorder they’ve had most of their lives in hopes of finding a cure. And thus, Two Blind Brothers were born.
Bradford Manning, 35, and his brother Bryan, 30, are both legally blind. They have had Stargardt disease, an inherited form of macular degeneration typically passed onto children from their parents that causes central vision loss over time, since they were each 5.
Experts estimate that the disease affects one in 8,000 to 10,000 people, according to the National Eye Institute, and although there is no treatment at this time, the institute said there are several gene therapy and drug therapy trials going on.
When the brothers learned of a gene therapy discovered by an underfunded researcher for a juvenile eye disease that was about to hit the market back in 2015, they started doing their own research.
“It was mind-boggling to us,” Bryan told the Associated Press. “Our whole lives they were like, ‘Oh, a cure is down the line, a cure is down the line.’ This one isn’t for us, but it is happening, and the Foundation Fighting Blindness kicked this off with a just a tiny charitable gift to this brilliant researcher.”
And then came a purchase that changed their lives. During a trip to Bloomingdales, the brothers told the news outlet, the pair separated and met up later. It was then that they discovered they both had purchased the same shirt.
“It was the feel of it. It felt so soft and comfortable that we both keyed up on it, and then we had this idea, ‘Well what if we could take this sense of touch to a different place, make super comfortable clothing, and turn over the profits to researchers at work on eye diseases?’” said Bryan.
In 2016, Brad, who worked at an investment firm, and Bryan, who sold software, left their fields to launch Two Blind Brothers.
Their casual line of clothing, an assortment of ultra-soft Henley shirts, hoodies, polos and T-shirts, socks, knit beanies, and sunglasses for men and women, along with items for kids, are made from bamboo mixed with cotton and spandex, and manufactured out of their Los Angeles facility. Their merch is sold online at Twoblindbrothers.com.
The brothers have incorporated Braille into their designs that indicate the color of each garment. Their items start at $30 up to $200, with all the proceeds going to the Foundation Fighting Blindness, which conducts research to help eradicate blindness.
When asked how two guys with a rare degenerative eye disease would go into a business about designing clothes, Bradford told the New York Post: “We do have an edge when it comes to fabrics and responding to touch,” he said. “But we did have to call in a lot of favors.”
And, boy did the favors help.
Over the years, the company has picked up celebrity supporters like entrepreneur Richard Branson, Ice-T, and Ellen DeGeneres, who helped with one of her famous Shutterfly checks for $30,000. The sale of their mystery boxes is now a social media phenomenon, reported the AP.
Their slogan, “Will You Shop Blind?" has attracted customers that include relatives of the blind and parents with vision-impaired children. Some are so joyous receiving one of their mystery boxes that they have posted unboxing videos on TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram, with a few opening boxes blindfolded.
The brothers, who promise their customers that they’ll get something they’ll love, include in the box their story and a special thanks for all those who support their mission. “We just wanted to help and raise awareness and do something good,” said Bryan.
Through Nov. 16, the brothers have set up a Shop Blind Challenge, asking, “Would you buy something that you can’t see?” They hope you trust them. One hundred percent of the profits from the challenge will be donated to Foundation Fighting Blindness. After Nov. 16, all of the items sold through the challenge will no longer be available.