Conscious Company: Jonas Paul Eyewear
Posted on April 23 2017
Recently, Ollie & Otto founders Mario and Lynn sat down with Ben and Laura Harrison from Jonas Paul Eyewear. The husband and wife team discussed what inspired them to start a social business, what it’s like to work with your spouse, their favorite social brands, and more.
1. How did the idea for Jonas Paul Eyewear come about?
Our son, Jonas Paul, was born in March 2013. Early on, Jonas was diagnosed with Peter’s Anomaly, a rare disorder that limits his vision and has submitted him to numerous surgeries, medications, and treatments in hopes of improving his sight. Upon searching for suitable eyewear for Jonas, we discovered one missing factor in existing options for children: fashion forward kids glasses at an affordable price point. We created Jonas Paul Eyewear to provide function and new form to children’s vision.
2. What about social entrepreneurship appeals most to you?
The blend of business and philanthropy. Typically these two aspects of life are treated separately, but there is something beautiful about blending the two seamlessly in an authentic way.
3. How many people have you impacted since starting Jonas Paul?
Through our Buy Sight, Give Sight non-profit partners we have been able to make an even larger impact by providing eye tests and glasses to those without access, sight-saving Vitamin A supplements as well as preventative medicines for river blindness in developing countries. As of Q3 this year, over 22,588 children and families have been impacted by our mission.
4. Starting out, we (Mario and Lynn) knew that we wanted to include giving back in our business model. However, we didn’t know exactly how that would look. Did you all have any of those concerns? If so, how did you overcome them?
We definitely knew we wanted to have a social impact side to Jonas Paul Eyewear as early on we felt so helpless with caring for Jonas and we had amazing doctors 2 hours from us. So providing treatment options for people in developing countries that don’t have access to medical services was important to us. We can’t imagine the potential lifelong burden parents feel when they can’t provide help for their children.\
5. What is it like working together? What type of advice would you give to couples that are interested in going into business with one another?
It can have its challenging moments, but we feel the key is to establish roles early on and trust one another in those roles. Micromanagement can cause a lot of strife, so we recommend space for autonomy. Also, do your best to mentally keep business decisions as business decisions and personal decision as personal decisions, as there can be a tendency to let each creep into the space they don’t belong.
6. What does a typical day look like for you (from am to pm)?
Life is a little bit crazy with two young kids! We wake up pretty early so we can get a workout in and dress for the day before the kiddos wake up! Then it’s pretty nuts in our house with breakfast, getting teeth brushed and shoes on and out the door to get Jonas to pre-school! Once in the JPE office, we get right to work — typically connecting with our team members about any outstanding issues or concerns and then we hit the grounding running with getting our daily tasks completed — emails, calls, designs, digital marketing, etc. The list could go on! We are a small team, so we wear a lot of hats around here, but thankfully we have an amazing team to get the job done — day in and day out! We head home around 5:30 pm and then prep dinner and hang with the kids for a few hours before the night time routine of baths, reading, and snuggles :) And if we are lucky we will finish our evening with a glass of wine while we whine down our day!
7. Grand Rapids is not the first city most people would think of when discussing startups. Have there been any unexpected benefits to starting your business in that location? Do you ever feel pressured to move Jonas Paul to a larger market?
We love Grand Rapids — it’s a beautiful city full of inspiring, creative people. It’s been neat starting Jonas Paul Eyewear in Grand Rapids, and the positive response we’ve received from the local community — GR is all about supporting local small businesses (especially those making a difference in the world), so we’ve been able to make an impact in our community which has been fun to be a part of. We’ve actually been able to connect with quite a few other entrepreneurs in and around Grand Rapids as there is a pretty large start-up scene here. When we travel the country and share about Jonas Paul Eyewear, most people think we are based in either LA or New York — and when we tell them that we are based in Michigan, there is always a pretty big surprise on their face since so many fashion brands are based on one of the coasts. We are proud to be based in Michigan and be a part of the community here!
8. What is the best advice that you’ve ever received?
“To the world, you might be one person, but to one person you might be the world.” — Dr Seuss
9. Are there any products created by conscious brands that you can’t go without?
Jonas Paul Eyewear, for helping our sweet Jonas Paul see better every day and helping him feel confident and excited to wear his glasses.
There are lots of other social enterprises such as TOMS, tegu toys, Sseko, fashionable, nisolo, and more that we love as well in the fashion and kids space.
We also think that often efforts by companies like Apple, Google, and Tesla in the accessibility space are overlooked as socially good work because of how large the companies are. Work that these organizations are doing for making the world accessible to those with disabilities is going to make the world a much better place for individuals like our son… and for this work, we are incredibly grateful.
10. If you were able to go back in time to when you started Jonas Paul, what advice would you give that version of yourself?
When you believe that you have been called into a venture that you think could make the world a better place and you can responsibly dive in headfirst, dive in headfirst. There is often fear that keeps entrepreneurs from committing to one thing fully, but there is incredible power in focus.