MERON GEBRIT FLED HER WAR-TORN COUNTRY TO START BUSINESS IN DOWNTOWN WINNIPEG
BY MAGGIE WYSOCKI
In 2003, Meron Gebrit and her family fled their war-torn home — the northeast African country, Eritrea — in search of safety from the war that had been on-going since 1998.
For over a year, Gebrit lived with thousands of other displaced people in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. Finally, she received sponsorship for a new home — Winnipeg.
Though it took some time to adapt to her new life, Gebrit says she quickly realized she wanted to do something that would give back to others.
“I started going to university for bio-chem and got a job at an optical store to pay for tuition, but I quickly fell in love with my job and changed careers paths to be an optician,” she told The Projector.
There was one aspect about Canada’s optical industry though that Gebrit wouldn’t stand behind.
“I hated the mark-up people paid on glasses. I remember buying my first pair as a student for $360 and I was paying $330 for rent at the time,” the 33-year-old said.
So, in 2015, Gebrit took matters into her own hands and opened her own business — Specs Appeal Optical — with an objective of giving back to both students and refugees.
Her business model is simple: provide students with affordable glasses and send their old prescription glasses to Ethiopian refugees who can’t afford eye care.
“Everyone deserves to see. It’s just that,” she said, adding most glasses in her store start at only $60.
To best accommodate post-secondary students, Specs Appeal Optical does direct billing insurance and sells at prices that allows students to purchase more than one pair of glasses.
“People see your face before they see your feet. Why do you have ten pairs of shoes but only one pair of glasses?” she asks.
The average student might not recognize many of the brands in her store, but Gebrit says it’s because she refuses to support big brands that monopolize the industry. Instead, she sells glasses from local or small businesses.
“We want to take on the big man and help students stop overpaying,” she said. “I want more students to know that glasses can be affordable and accessible.”
Specs Appeal Optical is located beside Shark Club in Cityplace shopping centre and is opened Monday to Friday from 10:30a.m. – 5:00p.m.