NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Forging a career in the fashion industry can be challenging, even under the best circumstances.
But two blind brothers are defying all odds to make their dream a reality.
Bradford Manning and his younger brother Bryan assess fabric for their clothing business by touch.
“You can feel it with your hands, but actually the softest part of your body to feel something with is your cheek,” Bradford told CBS2. “It’s great.”
“We had to get smart on this somehow,” Bryan added.
The brothers co-founded a New York clothing company fittingly called Two Blind Brothers. They both have a genetic eye disorder called Stargardtz disease.
“It’s a juvenile form of macular degeneration that destroys your center vision over time,” said. “We were diagnosed around the age of seven.”
The brothers grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia and were never deterred by their visual impairment. In fact, they were encouraged by their parents to try anything.
“Starting this project, Bryan and I made a million mistakes,” Bradford said.
“We started with the Henley shirt, because it is what Brad and I love to wear,” said Bryan. “That was the science originally behind it.”
Braille, which both learned to read as children, is incorporated in their designs.
“We actually put the color of the shirt in braille embroidered or in puff paint on the hem,” Bradford said.
“If they’re not visually impaired, they can probably tell it’s white,” said Bryan.
But there’s a bigger inspiration behind their foray into fashion.
“I was working in finance, Bryan was doing sales for a data company, and on nights and weekends we had our fun project to give back to these retinal researchers and to make shirts that we wanted to wear,” Bradford said.
“We now have the unbelievable honor to be able to contribute to curing blindness,” said Bryan. “We do that by donating 100 percent of our profits back to retinal research, primarily through partners, like the Foundation Fighting Blindness.”
That’s after operating expenses and salaries.
The brothers are passionate about making the road easier for others who face visual challenges.
“It took me a year and a half to get diagnosed, because they didn’t know what was wrong initially. And Brian had the benefit of that foresight,” Bradford said. “At that time, I remember feeling I didn’t want that for him. But at the same time, there was part of me that was grateful that there would be someone that would empathize with what I had to go through.”
“I had the opportunity to see Brad succeed at certain aspects of life. And by seeing him succeed, I then knew whatever it was was possible,” said Bryan.
They both came through with a sense of humor firmly intact.
“Brad and I call what’s behind us the only eye-chart we can see, because for our entire lives, that big E was all we could ever get, and eventually that went away,” Bryan said.
Two Blind Brothers will be expanding their line in the near future.
“You can’t touch it through the camera, but these are absolutely amazing,” said Bradford.
They even have socks with an inspiration message in braille, saying, “Thanks to you, we are one step closer to a cure,”
“It’s so fun, it’s so fun,” Bryan said. “We get to make an impact on somebody’s life, and that’s really all you can ever hope for.”
Learn more about Foundation Fighting Blindness and it’s upcoming Fashion & Finance Ball here.