Many ProSEC team members have had experience wearing glasses themselves. Prior to the trip, we took time to reflect on how we learned we needed glasses, how we chose our first pair, and subsequent pairs over time. What do our chosen glasses frames say about us? Do they make us look smart or stylish? Do we want them to make a statement or help us fit in with the crowd? What cultural differences differentiate our answers to these questions to the population of Guatemalans we’re targeting?
Research from each trip we’ve been on (four so far!) has indicated that there is a huge segment of Guatemalans who do not have access to basic vision correction: glasses. Over time we’ve learned about ways in which the market is stratified. If you have the money, you can buy designer frames for prices comparable to the U.S. ($150.00+), but you can also purchase “reader cheaters” for $3.00 from a man selling glasses, sunglasses, phone chargers , and other miscellaneous items at the market. This past trip a resident of San Pedro told us that the locals are looking for glasses that they can afford, but do not want to take handouts. This is the segment of the market we’re looking to target with our business (we’ll talk about our new and improved business model ideas in another post).
One of the events that sparked our concern with frame style was handing out glasses to a young adult last May. This man made his living as a tuk tuk driver (small taxi-like vehicles) and had some serious trouble seeing. After diagnosing his prescription and manufacturing his glasses, he came to pick them up and try them out- they worked successfully! But the man was back at our work station within the hour to ask if we had any other frame styles (we didn’t!). We didn’t see him wearing the glasses we made for the rest of the time we were in San Pedro.
This one event assures us that frame style is a deciding factor in decision making and purchasing when it comes to glasses. Up until this point, we’d developed a method to minimize some costs of production, yet our assumptions about the population caused us to neglect this huge factor. In fact, when we surveyed Guatemalans a week ago, asking what factors were most important when purchasing glasses, the most common responses we heard were price and style.
To systematically track which frame styles we saw in various villages around Lake Atitlan, we developed a way to systematically code characteristics. These characteristics included: gender of the wearer, shape of the frame (square, rectangle, circle, oval), material of the frames, color, and whether the lenses were transitions. After just a few hours of surveying, we learned that we needed to code more characteristics, as the glasses we saw featured variation and detail on the arms/ temples. The temples varied in thickness, 2D/3D designs, and color. We learned that using qualitative methods to code these characteristics was helpful. After a single day of surveying, we learned that rectangular and oval shapes were the most popular, regardless of age and gender. While we didn’t see much variation in frame shape, we did see temples/arms as a way for people, specifically women, to personalize their frames. We also noticed that simple metal frames were worn more by older folks, whereas bulky plastic frames were more commonly worn by teenagers and young adults. Guatemalan style preferences are significantly different from what our colleagues are wearing at Bucknell; we’re thankful we we’re able to go collect data on frame style rather than making assumptions about what styles are popular!