Listen to this page using ReadSpeaker

Two Philanthropic Brothers – Selling Luxury Casual Wear for the Good of Retinal Research

Bryan and Bradford Manning in New York City.Bradford Manning and his brother, Bryan, have a great sense of humor. You can see it in the video for their new clothing line, Two Blind Brothers — which donates its proceeds to retinal research — and hear it when you talk to Bradford over the phone.

His Spider-Man story is a great example. Late one night, a few years back, Bradford entered a New York City diner, where there was only one other customer. The Manning brothers have Stargardt disease, which impairs central vision, so Bradford couldn’t make out the details of the stranger’s face.

“But I just started talking to him,” Bradford, a member of FFB’s board of directors, recounts. “I asked, ‘You live around here?’ ‘Oh, yeah, a few blocks away.’ ‘Cool, what do you do?’”

The guy said he was an actor, and that he’d recently appeared in the movie The Amazing Spider-Man.

“’Wow,’ I said, ‘that’s awesome—a big studio film,’” Bradford continues. “Then I asked, ‘So, what was your role?’ And he kind of paused for a second, then said, ‘Uh, I was Spider-Man.’”

The stranger was Andrew Garfield.

Bradford, who’s 31, was diagnosed with Stargardt disease at age 6, a year after he failed the eye-chart test in kindergarten. Bryan, who’s five years younger, was diagnosed “as soon as they noticed he had eye problems,” Bradford recalls. Ever since then, with encouragement from their parents, the brothers have taken on every challenge not only with a sense of humor, but with grit and intelligence.

Both started learning Braille in middle school. Bradford swam competitively in high school and played water polo at the University of Virginia, where he majored in finance. Today he’s a founder and principal at Tiger Lily Capital, an investment-management company. Bryan played lacrosse and football, majored in statistics at UVA and now works for S&P Global Market Intelligence.

“Our parents allowed Bryan and me to participate in whatever we wanted,” Bradford says. “They encouraged us to find our own limitations.”

There don’t seem to be many. When it came time to think of a way to benefit retinal research while tackling yet another challenge, the brothers teamed up together. “That’s when we came up with the name Two Blind Brothers,” Bradford recalls. “It’s us. It’s authentic. It’s what our brand stands for.”

The same strategy dictated design — upscale, short- and long-sleeve henley shirts. “We’ve relied on our sense of touch throughout life, and we’ve leveraged that sense to source incomparable fabrics,” Bradford explains. “The clothing is designed for people who care a lot about the way clothes feel on the skin. We are serving a wide audience, particularly our friends in New York. The clothing is casual, but it’s also able to be dressed up with a sport coat.”

The company’s logo includes the word “look” written in Braille. “That word alludes to our mission,” Bradford explains. “Esthetically, we thought it looked interesting—it almost looks like an arrow going to the right. But it’s also a pun on ‘looking good.’”

One other detail is significant—a raised-Braille metal tag on one sleeve of each shirt. “It says ‘brother,’ but we will change the word in future collections,” Bradford says. “It’s another way in which we bring our experience with visual disability to the clothing. If you don’t know Braille, that tag feels like breadcrumbs. But to someone who’s not sighted, it’s like reading poetry.”

All production is done in New York, with top-line tailoring and fabrics. But the shirts are less pricey than major luxury brands — $100 for the short-sleeve shirts, $125 for the long-sleeves. In the future, the Mannings plan to expand the line, to include women’s wear and accessories. And in mid-July, the company’s headquarters, in Soho, will open a showroom.

Bradford will share some of these plans, and offer Two Blind Brothers’ shirts for sale, in the Exhibit Hall at VISIONS 2016, FFB’s national conference, which kicks off June 30 in Baltimore. He’ll also emphasize that he and Bryan won’t be profiting from the sales; with help from an advisory board, they’ll review various research projects, then distribute the funding.

As an FFB board member focused on cutting-edge research, Bradford has no doubt the Foundation will be on the receiving end of the proceeds. “And the message we want to get across,” he says, “is much like the Foundation’s — it’s not so much a question about revolutionary science at this point; it’s about getting these projects through clinical trials and into commercialization.”

Pictured, top: Bryan (left) and Bradford Manning, co-founder/owners of Two Blind Brothers. Photo and video courtesy of Two Blind Brothers. 

 


6 Responses to 'Two Philanthropic Brothers – Selling Luxury Casual Wear for the Good of Retinal Research'

  1. L A says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am a mother of five and three of my children(ages 15, 13 & 10) have been diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease. Our family has embraced this diagnosis and have the motto “go big or go home.” Our mission is to be advocate for ourselves and others and share the talents we have.
    You inspire and serve, thank you!

  2. Rosemary Vault says:

    Thank-you for advocating for people with vision disabilities. My two beautiful nieces, 33 & 35, in NY have Stargartds eye disease my son has Retinitis Pigmentosa eye disease, he’s profoundly deaf so he has Usher Syndrome. I’d love to get him a shirt. http://www.jagdbe.com to learn more about this amazing young man (age 43) struggling with deaf-blindness wow but it does not stop him from living independently.
    Love,
    Rosemary

  3. Susan Wilson says:

    Loved this story and would like to share our story with you to tell of another person who, like the two of you, has handled her eye disease with courage and tenacity. Elizabeth, our daughter, has Stargardt’s disease, also. She competed in international paratriathlon races and qualified to become one of two to represent the USA at the Paralympic Games in Rio. in her classification of visually disabled PT5.

    Stories like yours, and like Elizabeth’s, are so inspirational. Thank you for for all you have done to contribute to the awareness of eye disease and to help in the fight Forrest a cure.

  4. Cheryl Jarrett says:

    This is so inspiring. I have one son out of four that has stargardts. He manages well, but your story will encourage him. Thank you

    • EyeOnTheCure says:

      It is terrific news that the Foundation Fighting Blindness is partnering with Sanofi Pharmaceuticals on a gene therapy clinical trial for Stargardt disease. For more information on this trial, see the following link: http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01367444?term=stargardt&recr=Open&no_unk=Y&rank=2 In order to participate in this or any other gene therapy trial, one must first obtain a molecular (genetic) diagnosis. For information on genetic testing, please see the following web link to download a PDF document: http://www.blindness.org/sites/default/files/genetic_testing_booklet_201311rev.pdf

      Anyone with a retinal disease should also consider enrolling in “My Retina Tracker”, a free registry that helps link people with retinal disease to appropriate clinical trials that are recruiting. For more information on “My Retina Tracker” please see the following web link: https://www.myretinatracker.org/

      Of general interest, there is a “Stargardt – Macular Degeneration” Facebook page where people can communicate with other people affected by Stargardt disease. Here is the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/Stargardts/

      Finally, below is a list of pharmaceutical companies that are developing therapies for Stargardt Disease:

      Acucela,( http://www.acucela.com/) is a Seattle-based biotechnology company that is developing several drugs for retinal diseases such as AMD, dry eye, diabetic retinopathy, retinopathy of prematurity and Stargardt disease. Acucela’s visual cycle modulators (VCM) reduce the activity of the rod visual system — in essence, “slowing it down” and reducing the metabolic load on the retina. Reducing the speed of the visual cycle has been shown to protect the retina from light damage and reduce the accumulation of retinal-related toxic by-products, including A2E, which is implicated in both Stargardt disease and dry AMD. The Company’s lead investigational compound (Emixustat™) completed Phase 3 trials for dry AMD in June 2016. Unfortunately, the drug failed to slow lesion growth in over 500 patients with geographic atrophy, a form of dry AMD. Because of a strong demonstration of efficacy in the Stargardt mouse model, Acucela is considering initiating a study to explore potential benefits of Emixustat in patients with Stargardt disease.

      Ocata Therapeutics (https://www.ocata.com/), a Santa Monica-based biotechnology company, has developed an RPE cell line that is derived from embryonic stem cells (ESC). Studies have shown that the subretinal transplantation of ESC-RPE cells in a rat RP model resulted in 100% visual function rescue. Functional rescue was also achieved in the Stargardt mouse model with near-normal functional measurements recorded at more than 70 days. The RPE cell transplantation studies are now in Phase 2 human clinicals. Here is the link to the Clinical Trials.Gov recruitment web page: http://www.clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01469832?term=advanced+cell+technology&rank=2
      *Note: It is not known how long the transplanted RPE cells will last in a human patient with Stargardt disease. Unless gene or pharmaceutical-based augmentation treatment is coupled to the RPE transplant, toxic A2E will continue to be produced and eventually kill the RPE cells.

      Alkeus, (http://alkeus.com/) Alkeus has developed a form of vitamin A that upon light interaction, does not form toxic vitamin A metabolites and A2E. Alkeus’ lead compound, ALK-001, is an oral compound with a well-understood mechanism of action. ALK-001 was specifically designed to treat Stargardt disease by preventing the formation of these toxic vitamin A dimers in the eye. Alkeus is currently recruiting patients for a Phase 2 human clinical trial. Here is the link to the clinical trials.gov recruitment page: https://www.clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02402660

      Vision Medicines (Previously Visum) The Foundation Fighting Blindness is partnering with Vision Medicines to develop a small molecule therapy Stargardt disease. Vision Medicine’s novel approach proposes to develop drugs that will temporarily control levels of A2E in the eye and preserve the natural vision cycle, leading to a therapeutic treatment. Vision Medicine has discovered a unique chemical approach to sequester rather than eliminate A2E. Through this process, 25 diverse FDA approved drugs demonstrating both mechanistic and in vivo efficacy have been identified. Vision Medicine has identified a lead compound, VM 200, which is an enantiomer of an FDA approved drug that demonstrates complete retinal protection in preclinical studies. Vision Medicine plans to conduct Phase I and Phase II clinical trials in the near future.

      To read more about the partnership between Vision Medicines and FFB, see the following web link:
      http://www.blindness.org/foundation-news/foundation-fighting-blindness-partners-vision-medicines-develop-stargardt-disease

      Thank you for your support that is helping to accelerate the development of new safe and effective treatments for inherited retinal disease.

  5. Jill Blackstone says:

    Love this. Love the logo. Anything that raises awareness is a great thing. Yes we need money for research to cure and prevent retinal diseases. But we also need to let people know that someone who “looks normal” on the outside and bumps into you isn’t clumsy, they’re heroically making their way through a busy world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*