On a recent trip to my health clinic, I encountered two doctors wearing radically different protective gear: One wore a face shield that made her look like she was in a sci-fi movie; the other wore a chic pair of pink glasses with a subtle panel on the side.
It turns out that the second doctor was wearing Stoggles, a new kind of protective eyewear that launched during the pandemic and starts at just $39 a pair. Created by two industrial designers with backgrounds in eyewear, these glasses are meant to protect the eyes from viruses, particles, and other harmful elements—while also looking stylish. And the brand appears to be resonating, particularly with healthcare workers, generating $13.5 million in 2021, after less than a year in business.
Stoggles’ cofounders Max Greenberg and Rahul Khatri met as students in 2015 at the Art Center College of Design in California and went on to launch Roav, an eyewear company that designs and makes foldable, high-performance sunglasses. In 2020, when the pandemic began, people around the world became fixated on products that could protect them from the virus. “The conversation was understandably focused on masks,” Greenberg says. “But Rahul and I immediately began thinking about protective eyewear.”
Safety goggles and other protective eyewear are important in many industries, not just during a global health crisis. Construction workers use them on job sites, doctors and surgeons use them to protect their eyes from bodily fluids, and firefighters use them to shield their eyes from smoke and debris. But Greenberg and Khatri thought the goggles on the market left a lot to be desired. For one thing, putting them on over glasses could be very cumbersome, and if you also wore a mask, they would often fog up. “The eyewear tended to be hypermasculine, uncomfortable, and ugly,” says Greenberg. “We thought we could create eyewear that was both highly effective, but also comfortable. And we thought that if we made them stylish and fashionable, people would be more likely to want to wear them.” They also felt that they could create an exciting brand around the eyewear, much like FIGS had done with scrubs and Clove with medical shoes.
In May 2020, they got to work. Their first goal was to design safety goggles that would meet the industry standard—the ANSI Z87 certification—which protects the wearer against high-velocity impact as well as other hazards, like radiation, particles, and droplets. Importantly, they ensured that the lenses had an anti-fog coating since they knew many people would be wearing them with a mask. They prototyped glasses made from strong, lightweight polycarbonate plastic that, from the front, looked identical to fashion-forward eyewear you’d see at an optician’s office. And it would be crucial that the glasses could also be fitted with prescription lenses. The difference is that Stoggles glasses have an additional thin layer of plastic on the top and the sides that protects the eyes. “Rather than trying to hide the protective shields on the top and sides, we thought about how we could make them aesthetically pleasing, so that they’re like another design element,” says Greenberg.
In August 2020, Greenberg and Khatri launched an Indiegogo campaign to gauge demand. And there definitely was! Within a month, they raised more than $1 million from more than 22,000 backers. By the time they closed the campaign in November, they had earned upwards of $3 million from more than 60,000 backers. In January 2021, Stoggles delivered its eyewear to backers; and by February, it had a website up and running. They wanted to make the glasses affordable, charging $39 for a basic pair. Today, customers can personalize the design, choosing from a square or round frame. They can turn them into sunglasses or add prescription lenses starting at $75.
Greenberg says Stoggles’ first wave of customers were medical professionals who were eager to protect themselves at work. Some hospitals are requiring healthcare workers to wear some sort of eye protection, and Stoggles gives a better alternative, one that’s more stylish than other options. Greenberg says the majority of the brand’s customers are women. “Most of the protective eyewear on the market hasn’t been designed with women in mind,” he says. “[Stoggles] are smaller and lighter, so many women say they are more comfortable to wear for long periods of time.”
As the brand grows, Greenberg hopes to market the products to people in other industries. After all, the glasses are certified to protect against a myriad of hazards, from onion juice to particles and smoke. He believes the product could be a good fit for cooks, artists, contractors, school teachers, and many others. “The pandemic made everyone more aware about protective equipment,” he says. “It’s possible that masks, and protective eyewear, will be on people’s radars long after the pandemic is over.”