The eyewear startup making glasses you can wear more comfortably with a face mask
First dreamed up during lockdown in May 2020, fashion eyewear startup Stoggles went to market last fall.
Cofounders Max Greenberg and Rahul Khatri, veterans of the fashion eyewear industry, saw an opportunity to add value to the space with gear designed for pandemic times. Existing safety eyewear in the market, according to the company, was ugly, uncomfortable, cheap, and poorly branded.
Its solution: a carefully constructed but still stylish product featuring prescription-friendly, lightweight, and durable polycarbonate lenses with antifog coating—the last of which sounds like a dream come true to anyone who wears glasses regularly with a KN95.
Stoggles generated approximately $13.5 million in 2021, after less than a year in business, and is rapidly growing beyond serving health care professionals toward a mass market.
Stoggles cofounders Greenberg and Khatri recently shared more with Fortune about the brand’s latest fundraising round, plans for massive growth in 2022, and expansion beyond the health care industry.
The following interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Fortune: Can you share a bit about your professional backgrounds and experience prior to launching Stoggles?
Greenberg: Prior to Stoggles, my cofounder Rahul and I spent five years building ROAV Eyewear. During this time, we gained valuable experience in eyewear design, manufacturing, supply chain, and DTC [direct-to-consumer] marketing that provided us with a leg up when we left ROAV to launch Stoggles.
What inspired you to start Stoggles? Who is your target demographic?
Greenberg: Stoggles was conceptualized in May of 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was widely spreading across the country and Dr. Fauci was recommending the public avoid touching their eyes. Rahul and I, being veterans of the fashion eyewear industry, saw an opportunity to add value to the newly vacant space. We felt that the existing safety eyewear in the market was ugly, hypermasculine, uncomfortable, cheap, and poorly branded. The solution we came up with was a carefully designed, stylish yet highly effective product made of prescription-friendly, lightweight, and durable polycarbonate lenses with antifog coating.
The first iteration of the product, which came to market in February 2021, was designed with health care professionals in mind. As we grow the company, our goal is to make eye health and protection comparable to sunblock/UV ray protection by accommodating DIYers, athletes, cooks, and everyone in between as the go-to protective eyewear brand.
Stoggles recently closed a Series A round. What has your fundraising process been like? Did you start recruiting investors in 2020? How do you plan to use the funds raised to date?
Khatri: Prior to this growth round, Stoggles was self-funded. We ran a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo in August 2020, raising over $1 million in a single month and over $3 million in less than five months. This is our first venture capital round.
In addition to expanding our product offering and securing our stake in the ground as the go-to protective eyewear company, we are also looking to grow our marketing team. Both Max and myself come from the design and creative content world, and we’re eager to grow those teams as well since we believe that’s what has differentiated us in this space.
We believe we are at an incredible point in our journey where we’re on a mission to change the way people have perceived protective eyewear. And it’s never been as important as it is today. Hence our tagline #LoveYourEyes has been our cornerstone for much of our decisions around how we are leading this company to becoming a more relevant brand in the years to come.
The Chernin Group is known to invest in companies that have created culture around a great content and commerce model. When we were looking for the best investor for this growth round, we knew we needed a partner that centrically valued those three things. The Chernin Group quickly proved to check all of our boxes and offered us an investment that allowed us to work with a single entity rather than a larger group of investors.
One of the key selling points of Stoggles lenses is the antifog coating, which sounds appealing and necessary as wearing a face mask has become the norm. But most prescription glasses don’t come with that functionality. What was the research and development process like? How long did it take to get right? Is it foolproof or can customers reasonably expect lenses to fog up once in a while?
Khatri: Antifog is extremely important to keep vision clear when the user is wearing a mask, so we’ve been investing a lot of time and energy into finding the best coatings for our customers. Finding the right antifog has been a long process, and we definitely didn’t get it right at first. The antifog needs to work well at preventing fog out of the box, but it also needs to last through the rigors of everyday use. Our initial antifog lenses would wear off quickly when cleaned with sanitizing chemicals like isopropyl alcohol. Some antifog coatings that we tested worked very well, but were difficult to clean or would scratch easily.
Our search to find the perfect antifog has led us to several countries and countless suppliers. We’ve finally found what we believe to be the best antifog on the market by far. It’s more expensive than the alternatives, but it checks all of the boxes, and we’re currently in the process of rolling it out.
We’ve developed several in-house tests to measure the lenses’ ability to resist fog over a period of time, and after many cleanings with isopropyl alcohol. We also test the scratch resistance of the frame. Beyond this, our coatings far exceed the Z87 antifog standard, which is a standardized antifog performance test.
With all of this in mind, there is still no such thing as a truly unfoggable lens. We think of antifog like other technologies such as anti-scratch or antireflective. Nothing is truly scratch-proof or truly reflective-proof. With antifog technologies, I think it’s helpful to think of the coating as a clear sponge. The coating absorbs humidity from the wearer’s breath, keeping the lens clear.
Under certain conditions, like high humidity, extremely cold temperatures, or very heavy breathing, the sponge may become saturated, and fog will begin to form on the lens. With that said, our newest antifog coating performs exceptionally well in most scenarios, and we’re confident that our latest antifog tech will meet and exceed the needs of our customers.
Looking forward in five years, how do you want to grow Stoggles? One of the ambitions is to grow beyond the health care space. Are you looking to go mass market, à la Warby Parker, or something more niche?
Khatri: When we initially launched, we were answering the call from frontline workers and almost instantly became a staple for medical professionals across the country. As we grow, we’re noticing customers using our products to protect their eyes from things such as debris from DIY projects, and lemon juice and onion cutting while cooking. We hope to become the go-to protective eyewear brand across the board for all consumers.
This is an installment of Startup Year One, a special series of interviews with founders about the major lessons they have learned in the immediate aftermath of their businesses’ first year of operation.