Connecting the Dots with Fitz Frames: From Trendy Glasses to PPE

Grace Williams

When Heidi Hertel started selling trendy eyewear for adults and kids two years ago, she never expected to one day pivot to personal protective equipment (PPE) amid a global pandemic.

Her company, Fitz Frames, was founded in 2018, inspired by a teary visit to the optometrist with her two-year-old daughter. Hertel wanted to create a hassle-free experience for selecting custom-fitting glasses that were lighter and better suited to kids.

As COVID-19 spiked the demand for PPE items, Hertel discovered that the protective eyewear in use could benefit from a serious facelift. In under two weeks, the Fitz Frame team researched, developed eyewear prototypes, and started shipping protective eyewear to workers on the frontlines through Fitz Protect. Fitz Protect’s goal is to make prescription and non- prescription eyewear available free of charge for healthcare professionals. Hertel shared some thoughts about getting Fitz Protect up and running with This Is Capitalism. Edited excerpts of the conversation follow.

Q: How did you initially disrupt the eyewear industry?
A: We turned to two modern conveniences: the phone and 3-D printing technology. After clients download our app, they provide a close-up picture of their face. Our technology allows them (or their parent) to measure, “try out,” and order eyeglasses using the app. The glasses are then manufactured using 3-D printers, and they start at a price point of $95.

Q: Going from trendy frames to PPE is not an easy switch. How did it happen?
A: We did some digging and had doctors, nurses, and hospital personnel tell us what they needed. Contact lenses are being discouraged to prevent eye infection, so doctors are wearing prescription glasses. Notably, we learned there weren’t options for prescriptive eyewear that is also protective. This problem was something that we knew we could solve for frontline professionals.

Q: What are some changes you implemented to design the frames?
A: Facial coverage was a big consideration. We needed something that would protect the parts of the face that go outside the norm of what regular glasses cover, such as the eyebrows. Eyebrows might gather viral particles and then infect the eyes. We wanted to provide a custom fit without the gapping that conventional glasses have to ensure protection was complete.

Q: What takeaway can other entrepreneurs gain from your experience?
A: Our mission remains the same: We want to solve glasses for everyone. Entrepreneurs should note that tiny companies can be effective problem solvers, too. Our team is small, but we had adaptable knowledge and manufacturing capabilities to heed the call to design functional PPE in a short time period. We also need to recognize the benefits and capabilities that come with 3D printing, which enabled us to solve a very serious need quickly.

Q: What is the price point for the eyewear and how are you making it work?
A: We are selling Fitz Protect at $100. We are still doing our regular business of glasses for adults and children, but in the case of Fitz Protect, we are offsetting the cost courtesy of a crowd-funded initiative. Our ultimate goal of $60,000 has raised over $22,000 since we started the project.

Q: What feedback are you receiving from the users of your PPE eyewear?
A: We wanted to create something effective that was easy to sterilize and wouldn’t get too heavy because medical professionals often wear glasses for up to 14 hours straight. Thus far, we are hearing that the medical community has been grateful to have our glasses. We have been told by some that the glasses we make are much more comfortable than what they are used to wearing.