Ojok Simon: A beecon of hope for the blind and visually impaired

I will prove to the whole world that being ‘out of sight’ does not mean ‘out of mind’
— Ojok Simon
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There is a saying: Give a man some honey and you feed him for a day, teach a man to beekeep and you feed him for a lifetime.

...Ok that may not be exactly how the original saying goes but it is exactly what Ojok Simon is trying to do in Uganda.

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Ojok Simon is a blind Honey Bee Keeper and he recently won San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind’s first ever Holman Prize for Blind Ambition. Ojok plans to use the $25,000 prize towards funding the HIVE project in Uganda: a project that empowers the blind and visually impaired in rural Uganda to become independent and self-reliant by teaching them how to beekeep and providing them with hives. The award will make available 60 high quality equipment necessary for beekeeping and honey extraction, such as beehives and honey harvesting suits.

In its first year, the Holman prize is the brain-child of another great Lighthouse for the Blind - The San Francisco Lighthouse. The Holman Prize was created specifically for those who are legally blind and provides financial support for up to three people in their endeavors.

Who ever thought empowering others and curing blindness would taste this sweet (or feel this good)?

To Read more about Ojok and the Hive project see below:

Meet Ojok Simon: First Holman Prize Winner Ojok Simon

Learn more about the HIVE project here: HIVE Uganda

For more information on the Holman Prize see: First ever Holman Prize for Blind Ambition


You only need a Spark to start a fire...

Spark Therapeutics recently dropped a press release with some exciting developments in gene therapy treatments. However for the uninitiated, the report can be a little dense, so let’s break it down…

The big takeaway is that Spark has announced that they have submitted a Marketing Authorization Application (MAA) to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for a one-time gene therapy treatment for patients with the degenerative retinal disease Leber congenital  amaurosis (LCA) or retinitis pigmentosa (RP). The trade name for this treatment will likely be LUXTURNA™.

On this side of the pond, the well known Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the treatment under Priority Review, meaning we will hopefully be seeing it on the market sooner than later.

John Furey, the chief operating officer of Spark Therapeutics, stated, in regards to the near future, "For the first time, these individuals, who eventually will progress to complete blindness, have hope for a potential treatment option that may restore their vision.” These are exciting times.

This has been a long road, the first trials began in 2007, and before that many years of hard research and laboratory work were needed to get us to where we are today. The most recent trial took place between 2013 and 2015, involving 41 participants aged 4 to 44. For the most part, of those 41 participants, a majority showed significant improvement in sight when compared to the control group. Fortunately, no serious adverse effects were observed in participants who received the treatment. This is why Spark has been able to move forward with their research.

It is important to us that everyone understands the tangible effect of buying our shirts. Some of the early research for this therapy (since the early 1990s and up until the first clinical trial) was funded by the Foundation Fighting Blindness, an organization we work very closely with. So where does Two Blind Brothers fit in? Our goal is to find these researchers who have a great hypothesis, a little bit of a proof of concept and who are trying to get ready for a clinical trial. If we can find a healthcare venture fund or a biotech fund that can come in and fund all those expenses to get that therapy into a commercial space we have done our job by giving these projects wings to get going.

Without the generosity we see from all of you on a daily basis, things like this would not be possible. We are continually grateful to all of you. Let’s keep fighting together!

Social Entrepreneurship: more than just the bottom line

Two Blind Brothers is just another in a growing list of companies who value more than their bottom line. The idea of cause driven companies is the force behind the swelling movement of social enterprise/entrepreneurship. According to the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, the purpose of social entrepreneurship is to, ”drive social innovation and transformation in various fields including education, health, environment and enterprise development… A social entrepreneur, similar to a business entrepreneur, builds strong and sustainable organizations, which are either set up as not-for-profits or companies”.  

What a world we live in that, sooner rather than later, we can say, “I helped to cure macular degeneration”. Together, with organizations like the Foundation Fighting Blindness, we are winning the battle against visual impairment. There are many who believe we can see degenerative retinal eye disease effectively treated and cured within our lifetimes. We knew we wanted to make the most comfortable shirts on the market while raising funds for scientific research and clinical trials to help cure macular degeneration. These are the pillars of our mission; what we stand for and what  what drives Two Blind Brothers. We are a cause driven company that provides an excellent product.

If in addition to curing degenerative eye diseases, Two Blind Brothers can inspire others to try and solve problems or change the world with an entrepreneurial spirit, we’ll be content. It is an exciting time to turn passion projects into full-blown businesses, like we did. Silicon Valley is continuing to grow and startup culture is in full swing across America.

The internet has removed a significant amount of barriers and gatekeepers in regards to entering various industries (i.e. fashion). Crowdfunding platforms like Patreon, Kickstarter and GoFundMe have helped to eliminate the initial financing hurdle for businesses once oligopolized by banks and wealthy patrons. Even social media has revolutionized the way businesses, specifically social enterprises, operate. Large scale advertising can now be cost-free. No longer do groups have to splash the cash for expensive print or TV ads. Today a clever tweet or a well-made Facebook video can spread your cause or mission like wildfire.

In a  world filled with opportunities, new technology and tools to help others in unprecedented ways, we must remember, “The time is always right to do what’s right”.

Second-ever Two Blind Brothers Pop-Up Shop!

This past Saturday, Two Blind Brothers held its second-ever pop-up shopping event and if you ask us, it was a bona fide success. Friends, family and strangers alike came in to check out our shirts and more. We wanted the whole experience to be unmistakably a Two Blind Brothers endeavor. The TBB team have been planning this event for a month and it was great to see people enjoying the fruits of our labor!

In case you missed it here's what happened:

Our go-to coffee spot, Le Pain Quotidien in Soho, was kind enough to lend us their back room to use for the occasion. They even helped cater the evening’s festivities.

While we would like think we were the stars of the event, it probably goes without saying, that really our shirts were front and center. People were able to pick out styles they liked and find their preferred size. For many, it was their first time getting their hands on one of our shirts and their first chance to #FeelTheDifference.

We invited Brooklyn-based singer and friend, Graham Norwood, to play a set of covers and some of his originals. Predictably, he was incredible. Graham is also visually impaired, but that has not stopped him from becoming a genuinely spectacular musician. It’s hard to tell who stole the show - Graham or our shirts.

The room was decorated with depictions of some of the brightest moments of the last year: framed articles from big media hits, the famous Ellen check (a check we can actually see for once!), early shirt designs (our trailblazers as we like to them), and the raw materials that make up our signature tri-blend fabric. 

It's always been important for us to raise awareness about visual impairments and groups who are working with us in the fight to find a cure. The Foundation Fighting Blindness was kind enough to provide everyone free reading material as an educational resource. A few employees from the Foundation even stopped by as well to answer any questions!

When we weren’t meeting friends, new and old alike, we were able to sneak off to the photo booth and snag a goofy picture or two with the team. Check them out above! 

If you couldn't make it for this pop-up, just make sure you’re in town for the next one. You won’t want to miss it.

Seen & Heard: Susan Robinson

When people are referred to as a ‘Force of Nature’, it is often undue praise. Not because the person in question lacks presence or power, but because they lack them in the degree required to be considered a force. Susan Robinson is not one of those people. She is unassailable; when she enters a room the climate changes. Always for the better.  After you watch our video interview, you’ll understand why we felt that she perfectly embodies the kind of people we want to cover for the ‘Seen & Heard’ segment of the Blind Spot.

Susan demands attention in a way that is understated, but nevertheless enthralling. Which is to everyone’s benefit since when she articulates her ideas they are always, “ideas worth spreading”. Lucky for us, TED has given Susan the platform to share some of those worthy ideas. Today, her TED talk “How I fail at being disabled” is out.

Beyond being a TED resident, Susan is an executive level business partner and has worked extensively in the life sciences and healthcare industries. She also writes about “failing at being disabled” on her blog, Oh Fabled One. Check out our interview, Susan’s TED talk and all the other great work she does.

Seen & Heard: Evan Mittman

Photo credit: Fred Marcus Studio

Photo credit: Fred Marcus Studio

Anyone who has met or talked with Evan Mittman is aware of his energy. You would be hardpressed not to feel it. It is infectious to say the least. Mr. Mittman is a presence above all else. This Seen & Heard was conducted over the phone, and we are willing to bet when you listen to the audio, you will feel his presence as well.

Photo credit: Fred Marcus Studio

Photo credit: Fred Marcus Studio

Photo credit: Fred Marcus Studio

Photo credit: Fred Marcus Studio

During his first year of college Mr. Mittman began to lose his sight. He dropped out, only to come back and graduate by using reel to reel tapes to help him study and take course work at his own pace. In his 20s, Mr. Mittman began making simple belts for young men and gradually made his fortune by making licensed accessories for the likes of Lacoste and Calvin Klein through his own company Cipriani.

Mr. Mittman has retired from his long and successful career in the fashion world, but still plays an active part in pursuing a cure for blindness. He currently serves on the board for the Foundation Fighting Blindness. Additionally, he is a self-proclaimed, “beloved professor” at Marist College.

Give this interview a listen and learn all about Evan Mittman’s inspirational story. Anyone, not just the visually impaired, can glean great life lessons from some of the answers he gave us and the stories he shared.

If you want some more words of wisdom from Mr. Mittman, click here to see our Facebook Live where he gives some of the best advice you’ll ever get.

Sense of Style: The Oakley's Day Out

Today is going to be a busy day for you.

Dawn until dusk your schedule’s full. You have places to go and friends to see. The farmers’ market is up first, a great way to get some fresh air and even fresher food. After that you have midday brunch in the heart of the city with some friends you haven’t seen in a bit. Then you have a blind date at your favorite contemporary museum. Finally, you and the girls are going to paint the town red to end the day. I know you’re starting to feel a little overwhelmed, but there’s nothing to worry about, you’ve planned ahead and the day is going to go off without a hitch. Oh, you forgot to put together an outfit didn’t you? Don’t panic, as always, we have you covered…

It’s going to be tight, but if you can avoid multiple wardrobe changes, the day’s events will occur seamlessly. We’re going to go with a versatile look, something that easily transitions from day to night. The Oakley is a true stalwart in the Two Blind Brothers catalogue and works in a plethora of styles. Seeing as you’ll be out for the majority of the day, being prepared for temperature changes is a no brainer. A lightweight denim jacket will keep you warm earlier in the day and late at night when it gets chilly. Make sure whatever jacket you choose is light enough to be carried without being a bother. A strong pop of color is always a good call when rocking a white shirt - try a fun pair of shorts. We went with red and paired them with exciting earrings in the same color. A small wallet that keeps inline with the color scheme and/or a pair of Raybans will offer even more in regards to accessorizing. When it comes to footwear it’s dealer’s choice; this look works with sandals, flats, or even sleek heels. If you’re feeling ambitious and have the space for them, you can make a shoe switch part way through the day. No matter what you choose, the outfit will be playing second fiddle to you today.

Today is going to be a great day for you!

Sense of Style: Introducing the "Spark"

Summer is the Season of Doing. It’s all about fitting as much activity as possible into three months. Between June and August you’ll hit the beach, regular at music festivals, see a show in the park, take an exotic trip or two, spend late nights making memories with friends and so much more. Like a physical reaction, the heat arouses activity across the country. Burnout is a real possibility when every day is approached with a carpe diem mindset. To mitigate the chances of you running out of steam, the Two Blind Brothers team recommends intermittent days for relaxing. And we all know the best way to relax is in a comfortable Two Blind Brothers shirt…

It’s your day off from adventuring; you want to keep your look effortless, simple for the summer. Our plain white, short sleeved henley, the Spark, is the epitome of simplicity and agreeability. Worn khakis are probably your best bet for a pants pairing; a reliable pair you already own and love will suffice. At the office we’re big fans of Nike Janoskis for this look, but any sneaker or skate shoe in a muted color will look just as good. Love the look? Try it out with some of our other staple colors:  black, charcoal, light grey and navy. All of our shirts are extremely breathable, thanks to the bamboo fabric blend we use, so you’ll stay cool regardless of the color you choose.

Don’t forget your aviator sunglasses, a notebook or a novel to unwind with on your well earned summer sabbatical.