Warby Parker has made no secret of its intention to rapidly expand its retail network — that is, in a very specific way, through its own independently-operated stores. With the exception of a few indie boutiques like Imogene + Willie in Nashville and Art in the Age in Philly, Warby Parker has never sold a range of its eyewear through another national retailer, until now.
On Friday, the online-native company announced that it has partnered with national department store chain Nordstrom on its latest Pop-In: A rotating pop-up shop curated by Olivia Kim (Nordstrom's director of creative products) that gets a new theme or collaborator each month and lives in select Nordstrom locations as well as online. In addition to selling a number of existing Warby Parker frames, the brand designed four exclusive new sunglass styles for the Pop-In, as well as curated a selection of non-eyewear items, including McSweeney’s books, Pike St. Press notecards and Clare V foldover clutches.
"We've always had a lot of respect for Nordstrom as a retailer, in particular their emphasis on providing great customer service," Warby co-founder Dave Gilboa explained over the phone on Thursday. "It's better than any other large-scale retailer." Nordstrom's focus on leveraging technology and innovation to improve the customer experience, something Warby is similarly very into, also appealed to Gilboa — specifically that its in-store inventory is connected to its online inventory. "We've had conversations with other national retailers, but none of those partnerships felt like they made sense from a customer service perspective."
Gilboa sees the Pop-In as a way to introduce Warby Parker to a new customer base. "The brand is five years old and we’ve grown much faster than we’ve ever expected, and the vast majority of that has been through word of mouth," he said. "Now we’re focused on getting the word out."
While he says the company has no intention of exploring wholesale relationships, he described this as a "test," comparing it to the pop-ups the company opened before establishing its own permanent stores, suggesting it might explore similar partnerships down the line. Though, given that Warby went so far as to staff some of the Pop-Ins with its own employees, we don't think it will be freely relinquishing control of its product — or how it's sold — anytime soon.