Richmond Times-Dispatch

Two blind brothers became TwoBlindBr­others

- BY LEANNE ITALIE

NEW YORK— Would you buy something you can’t see?

That’s the question posed by two New York brothers who have lost much of their vision to a rare degenerati­ve eye disorder and have dedicated their lives — and livelihood­s — to raising money for a cure.

Bradford Manning, 35, and his 30-year-old brother, Bryan, are the founders of the clothing brand Two Blind Brothers. They’ve hit on a strategy that has helped raise more than $700,000 for the cause: selling mystery boxes full of an assortment of their ultra-soft shirts, cozy socks, knit beanies and sunglasses.

The two turn over all profits from the boxes and their other sales to groups such as the Foundation Fighting Blindness, funding research on retinal eye ailments like the one they’ve suffered from since they were 5, Stargardt disease. It’s an inherited form of macular degenerati­on that causes central vision loss over time.

“We just wanted to try and help and raise awareness, and just do something good,” Bryan said.

Since 2016, when the Manning brothers left their previous careers — Brad worked for an investment firm, and Bryan sold software — they’ve picked up celebrity supporters including Ice-T and entreprene­ur Richard Branson. Ellen DeGeneres helped with one of her famous Shutterfly checks for $30,000.

And the sale of their mystery boxes, costing from $30 to $200, is now a social media phenomenon.

Customers have included

relatives of the blind, among them parents with vision-impaired children. Some have posted unboxing videos on TikTok, Facebook and Instagram, with a few opening boxes blindfolde­d.

The Mannings hit on the idea in 2015, when a gene therapy discovered by an underfunde­d researcher for an unrelated juvenile eye disease was about to hit the market.

“It was mind-boggling to us,” Bryan said. “Our whole lives they were like, ‘Oh, a cure is down the line, a cure is down the line.’ This one isn’t for us, but it is happening, and the Foundation Fighting Blindness kicked this off with just a tiny charitable gift to this brilliant researcher.”

Soon after, the brothers were separated while shopping at Bloomingda­le’s. When they reconnecte­d, they found that they had purchased the same soft shirt.

“It was the feel of it. It felt so soft and comfortabl­e that we both keyed upon it, and then we had this idea: Well, what if we could take this sense of touch to a different place, make super-comfortabl­e clothing” and turn over the profits to researcher­s at work on eye diseases, Bryan said.

With advice from friends in the fashion industry, two blind brothers became Two Blind Brothers.

The casual line of super-soft Henleys, hoodies, polos and T-shirts for men and women, along with offerings for kids, are made of sustainabl­e bamboo mixed with cotton and spandex. The Mannings have incorporat­ed Braille, indicating the color of each garment, into some of the designs they sell online. (The website is twoblindbr­others.com.)

The goods were originally manufactur­ed in Texas, mostly by visually impaired people. But as the business has grown, most of the operation moved to Los Angeles.

Brad was diagnosed at 7 after their mother, a nurse, found a doctor who determined that Stargardt disease was the cause of his declining vision.

The doctor told her to “take him home, get him a magnifier and maybe teach him Braille — and good luck,” Bryan recalled.

But the parents would not give up on their sons. Today, their condition has slowed, leaving both with peripheral vision.

The brothers include their story in every mystery box, with some special thanks.

“When someone shops blind, they prove something remarkable,” they write. “They prove that genuine trust is real.”

 ?? THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Bryan (left) and Bradford Manning, shown in their NewYork City loft, lost much of their vision to a rare degenerati­ve eye disorder. Their clothing company’s profits support research to help cure blindness.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Bryan (left) and Bradford Manning, shown in their NewYork City loft, lost much of their vision to a rare degenerati­ve eye disorder. Their clothing company’s profits support research to help cure blindness.
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 ?? THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Sunglasses are among products fromTwo Blind Brothers. A metal tag that reads “feel” in Braille is stitched to the left arm of a long- sleeve shirt produced by the company.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Sunglasses are among products fromTwo Blind Brothers. A metal tag that reads “feel” in Braille is stitched to the left arm of a long- sleeve shirt produced by the company.

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