When a business model is successful, people want to copy it. This trend seems especially rampant in the fashion industry. For every Gilt Groupe there is a Rue La La; for every Toms, there's a Bob's, etc.
One of the most recent examples of this is Eyefly, whose business model is eerily similar to that of online eyewear shopping start-up Warby Parker, who produces affordable designer-quality eyewear and, for every pair of glasses purchased, gives one pair away to someone in need.
Admittedly, there probably wouldn't be a Warby Parker without Toms Shoes spearheading the one-for-one business model. However, Warby Parker's overall concept for providing high-end quality prescription eye wear at a reasonable price point was entirely their own. It's a great idea. Why should great-looking glasses cost hundreds of dollars? Thus, it comes as no surprise that last week, Bluefly launched Eyefly, essentially the exact same thing as Warby Parker, minus Warby's dedication to giving back through their Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program. And it's caused a bit of a stir.
Eyefly tells a vague story in their About section of how the idea came about- "an eyewear designer, a fashion CEO, and a media guru met to discuss the topic of prescription eyeglasses..." The story might be somewhat believable if they hadn't gone so far as to use not only the same business model, but also literally the same eye wear models. Until recently, the photos on Eyefly's website were literally the same promotional photos used by Warby Parker during their launch last year. Plus, Eyefly's site design is extremely similar to Warby Parker's.
Eyefly's excuse? A spokesperson gave Racked a statement in which they claim: "The site design team (outside vendor) initially used the image as a place holder until we created our own content, which we did with Tommy Ton." The images in question are now, conveniently, gone from the site and replaced by street style-like shots of editors and stylists wearing Eyefly frames. The Tommy-Ton shot series is pretty cool. But, we're still curious--was what Eyefly did in the beginning even okay? Like, can they get away with that? Surely, Eyefly had to have had options other than using images belonging to the one company it would inevitably be accused of copying, or at least compared to. It all just seems a little fishy.
Of course, at the same time, you can't really own a concept. As Jesse Eisenberg put it in The Social Network, "a guy who builds a nice chair doesn't owe money to everyone who ever has built a chair." In the end, Eyefly and Warby Parker are two different companies that will probably both be successful--Warby Parker for their clear passion and authenticity, and dedication to giving back, and Eyefly for having the resources and reach of a much bigger corporation. I can definitely see people taking sides on this one. Which one are you on?