The Manning brothers were your typical, run-of-the-mill American boys in the early 1990s. Little did they know, a rare genetic disease would test their limits and catapult them to the top of the business and philanthropic world within two decades. The two brothers would soon dedicate their lives and livelihoods to finding a cure for the degenerative disease.
Bradford Manning was five years old when his sight began to diminish. Two years later, he was diagnosed with Stargardt disease, a degenerative retinal disorder that can in some cases cause blindness. The doctor told his mother, who is a nurse, to “take him home, get him a magnifier and maybe teach him braille, and good luck,” according to an interview with the Associated Press. Shortly thereafter, his younger brother Bryan would face the same diagnosis, and ultimately, an unfortunate prognosis: lifelong blindness. Their mother refused to give in to the impairment that easily, and so did the two brothers.
In 2016 and in their late twenties and early thirties at the time, respectively, both had successful careers. Bradford worked in investment banking and Bryan in software sales. The brothers were shopping at a department store together when they wandered off in different directions, each in search of a new shirt. When they reconvened, they realized they had purchased the same exact shirt. “It felt so soft and comfortable that we both keyed upon 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,” Bryan told the AP. The business was born.
Their idea didn’t stop there as the innovative duo wanted their products to have a mission. Together, they conceptualized a company that’s proceeds would directly benefit researchers working to cure, if not eradicate, eye diseases.
They turned away from their careers to dedicate their lives to making a difference. Bradford and Bryan consulted professional contacts in the fashion industry and formed Two Blind Brothers, an apparel company that gives 100 percent of its profits to an organization that seeks a cure to blindness, the Fighting Blindness Foundation.
It’s not all about the money, though. The company incorporates a mission to empower the visually impaired in their manufacturing. Two Blind Brothers’ products are made in part by companies that make a point to hire blind workers, such as the Industries of The Blind in North Carolina. Other manufacturing locations include Texas, where visually impaired workers are also the key producers of the now-thriving company’s products.
In addition to including braille on the products and sending a mission statement with each package, the original shopping experience is designed to be “blind” as well (although it’s not mandatory and customers can choose to simply shop as they would on any other site). The premise being, “would you buy something you can’t see?”
Here’s how it works: shoppers choose one of three price points and the in-house team at Two Blind Brothers then chooses the products for you. The American-made items vary from beanies and socks to hoodies and tees (all super soft of course). If for any reason buyers are unsatisfied with the items they’ve received, a return label is included and all returns are free and no questions asked. The idea is to promote trust in the company and build a community of people willing to feel the vulnerability of blindness, even if it is just for a moment.
“When you’re blind, one thing you have to learn quickly is trust,” says Bryan. “[…] like the trust that a cab driver will drop you off in the right street corner, a waiter will give you a good meal recommendation, or you’ll get the right change from a cashier because you can’t see for yourself.”
The company has raised $750,000t o fight blindness and has garnered celebrity attention from A-listers like Ellen DeGeneres and Ice-T. The do-good company has also found social media praise on the novel app ‘TikTok’ with unboxing videos.
When asked what motivates them to keep going, Bradford and Bryan said “the opportunity to make someone with vision impairment or blindness feel better about themselves and live their lives, that drives us.”