Bradford Manning was seven years old when he started showing signs of Stargardt disease. His vision began to deteriorate, slowly, from the centre outwards—kind of like looking through glasses smeared with Vaseline.
The same thing happened to his younger brother Bryan at a similar age.
The brothers decided to never let this hold them back. They used books with enlarged print to help with studies. They graduated high school and university. They started successful careers in finance.
And then, one fateful day in 2016, they had a brainwave while shopping at Bloomingdale’s in New York.
“We lost each other in the first five minutes, which happens everywhere—we actually got lost backstage,” Bryan said in an interview on the Ellen show. “We ran around shopping. You may not realise this, but when we go shopping, we touch everything like we’re five years old. When we come across something soft that we really like, that’s when we take a look at it.”
The brothers ended up walking outside with the exact same shirt. “We realised in that moment that even though we have this visual impairment, it’s given us a gift to experience the world through touch. And we thought that would be an incredible way to give back.”
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Thanks @abcnews for having us on your show yesterday! We had a blast sharing Shop Blind with you and all your viewers! #twoblindbrothers #endblindness #feelthedifference #makeadifference #shopblind #abcnews #abcnewslive . . . In this photo: A screen grab of Brad and Bryan speaking with a reporter at the ABC News live studio. #NowWeSee
So, they decided to try and make some clothing which looked—and felt—amazing. After selecting the perfect fabric, and trialling prototypes with a local garment maker in New York, they put together a simple website to sell the clothing. Crucially, they decided to add in their personal story of being blind brothers. The name for the company just stuck: Two Blind Brothers.
Two Blind Brothers went viral overnight. Sales rushed in, and they’ve since picked up the support of industry heavyweights including Ashton Kutcher, Richard Branson and Ellen DeGeneres. Degeneres actually donated $30,000 to the company after Bradford and Bryan appeared on the show.
Two Blind Brothers and social impact
What the brothers are most proud of is the business’ social impact. One hundred percent of the profits go to researchers at Foundation Fighting Blindness, which backs the proof-of-concept research pharmaceutical companies need before they will risk their money on a venture. This has totalled hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to date and has helped drive a gene therapy treatment developed by Spark Therapeutics called the “Voretigene Neparvovec.”
In addition, Two Blind Brothers has developed a strong relationship with Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind, which employs blind and visually impaired workers to make the garments. Dallas Lighthouse is a long-established company that not only uses blind-friendly sewing machines to make the graphic tees, hoodies and three-button polo henley shirts for The Blind Brothers, but also holds government contracts for uniform and awards cases.
In the run up to Black Friday, Bradford and Bryan are also trying to instill a different kind of shopping culture. They’re running a campaign to “shop blind”—in which people are invited to purchase offers for $32, $59 or $99. They have to trust the company, as there are “no images and no descriptions.”
“Take back the holiday,” the brothers implore. “And help cure blindness.”
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