SUN PRAIRIE — There are at least 26,000 items on the market with Disney princess logos on them, Kristin Ellsworth discovered.
She dug up that statistic after her 3-year-old daughter, Annie, refused to wear her glasses because “she felt that princesses didn’t.”
What’s more, Annie wasn’t even really into princesses to begin with, said Ellsworth, a Madison mother of three daughters. That stigma and her daughter’s refusal led Ellsworth to found Peeps Eyewear, a one-woman Internet company based in the Madison Enterprise Center business incubator at 100 S. Baldwin St.
She terms it a “social enterprise,” because of its mission of helping families empower children who need to wear glasses to love wearing them.
That was also the idea behind the second annual Great Glasses Play Day, a free event hosted in part by Peeps Eyewear on Sunday at Angell Park in Sun Prairie.
Last year, Great Glasses Play Days were held in five locations across the country, including Wauwatosa. This year it expanded to 16 sites.
“I’ve gotten a lot of support from the optical community and parents,” said Ellsworth, who founded the play day with Ann Zawistoski, of Minneapolis, who runs Little Four Eyes, the largest online support forum for parents of young children in glasses.
In the U.S., said Ellsworth, though 1 in 20 preschool children needs glasses, only 1 in 100 actually wears them.
Ellsworth started Peeps after she won the 2010 Governor’s Business Plan Contest and took the $10,000 that came with it to develop the product.
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Princess Peeps glasses are available in pink and purple and come with a book Ellsworth wrote called “Princesses Wear Glasses,” about a superhero princess who saves the day wearing her glasses. Glasses for boys are in the works.
Sunday’s event was the first in the Madison area, and only a handful of families showed up. But not only was the play day designed to make children who wear glasses feel less self-conscious, it also was created to educate others, Ellswoth said.
Glasses-less children gravitated toward the balloon-outfitted table set up with supplies to make pipe-cleaner glasses for dolls and stuffed animals. Participants and other children who wandered over also made their own glasses cases.
Mason Lewellin, 3, has a congenital eye defect and has worn glasses since he was 4 months old.
“It helps him see better,” said his 5-year-old sister, Michaela, playing on playground equipment at the park. She does not need glasses herself. “He actually likes wearing his glasses. I think they look really handsome on him and cool.”
Mason’s mother, Kellie Lewellin, of Waterloo, a co-organizer of the event, said her family hardly ever sees other children Mason’s age with glasses and when they do they walk up and say hello.
When Mason got his first pair of glasses he broke them within 24 hours, Lewellin said.
“After that he did well,” she said. “Now he asks for them because he knows that they help him.”
Ellsworth’s daughter, Annie, now 9, is also comfortable wearing her glasses. “They’re one of my favorite colors,” she noted Sunday about her purple Peeps, “and they’re sparkly.”