Cool Glasses for Cool KidsBy Jane Whitttington on May 10th, 2017 /
It’s not just a business for Ben and Laura Harrison, founders and owners of Jonas Paul Eyewear in Grand Rapids. It’s personal. When their son, for whom the company is named, was born four years ago, it was discovered while they were still in the hospital that his sight was severely impaired.
Laura says, “It was a normal pregnancy with no indication that there was anything out of the ordinary. The morning after the delivery, the pediatrician came to tell us that there was something just not right about his eyes. Then the pediatric ophthalmologist came in to talk to us.”
Ben continues, “They referred us to University of Michigan because no one here in town could tell us exactly what the problem was.”
Laura goes on, “We met with doctors at U of M, and we’ve been on this journey since then.”
Jonas was eventually diagnosed with Peter’s Anomaly, an extremely rare condition that causes vision problems of varying degrees of severity. Laura says that there is only one other child in Michigan who has been diagnosed with this disorder. For a simple explanation, free of medical jargon, information can be accessed at www.ssc.education.ed.ac.uk/resources/vi&multi/eyeconds/PetAno.html
Since that first diagnosis, Jonas has had 22 surgeries including four corneal transplants. At this point, despite being blind at birth, he now has low vision augmented with corrective lenses. Ben says, “We are now at the point of waiting for technology to continue to develop in order to provide more help for Jonas.”
In the meantime, four-year-old Jonas is flourishing. He receives both physical and occupational therapy and is doing well in pre-school. The Harrisons anticipate that Jonas will enter kindergarten in a regular classroom. Now Jonas has a little sister Sophia who is two and has normal eyesight.
Ben received an MFA from Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, and he and Laura were running their own photography studio and web hosting business when Jonas was born. They soon discovered that finding glasses for a small child was a difficult task at best. Most children’s glasses are simply adult glasses on a smaller scale, and these just didn’t work for Jonas. With a background in both design and business, the couple took it upon themselves to come up with a better option.
Ben says, “We wanted to design fashionable glasses for kids that also cost-effective. With our background in design and in business start-ups, we felt like this was something we could tackle.”
And tackle it they did, with resounding success. They now have a total of eight employees and recently moved into a larger facility. Their eyewear is available online, in their Grand Rapids office, and, increasingly, in retail outlets like RX Optical.
They have designed six basic core frames but can adapt any to suit the child wearing them. They come in a myriad of colors and styles. The frames are manufactured in China, and the prescription lenses are either ones in stock or prepared in a facility in Flint.
According to Ben, “Choosing which glasses to wear can be an overwhelming experience for kids. In an unfamiliar setting with people they don’t know, they may have a hard time making a choice. That’s why we offer a free try-on home package with our six core styles. The child and parents can try the glasses at home in a stress-free and comfortable environment.”
Jonas Paul Eyewear also offers glasses suited for children with Down Syndrome or those of Asian heritage who need a slightly different fit. The glasses they sell also have adjustable temples which the parents can adjust at home. There is an online tutorial available.
As the business was starting, the Harrisons won $5,000 in a pitch night at Start Garden in Grand Rapids. They also entered a pitch night at South X Southwest and attracted some outside funding. Other than that, the start-up was self-funded.
The story of their family’s journey, their business and their philanthropic efforts have been featured on both the NBC Nightly News and the Today Show.
As Jonas and his little sister grow, so does the company that began with his birth. For more information, go to the Jonas Paul Eyewear website at www.jonaspauleyewear.com