American Marketer

Apparel and accessories

Premium-priced eyewear is growing at twice the rate of category’s market: Fashionbi

June 20, 2017

Kering-owned Gucci's spring/summer 2017 eyewear campaign. Gucci eyewear is made by Kering Eyewear. Image courtesy of Gucci


The global eyewear market is currently valued at $90 billion, and the popular category shows no signs of slowing, as it is expected to see growth of 65 percent by 2020, according to a new report by Fashionbi.

Optical and sunglass collections are an interesting faction of the luxury market due to the category being manufactured by only a small handful of companies such as Italy’s Luxottica and Safilo, two of the largest eyewear players. Luxottica, Safilo and other eyewear manufacturers work with luxury brands through licensing agreements, a strategy that consumers may be unaware of or disregard.

"Growth in the sunglasses segment is driven by increasing awareness of both the useful benefits, such as eye protection, and trendy appeal of these accessories," said Yana Bushmeleva, chief operating officer at Fashionbi, Milan. "The latter also contributes to shorter replacement cycles as styles changes frequently and growing occurrence of buying multiple sunglasses for different occasions.

"The eyewear market is not only the sunglasses but the optical frames and the lenses," she said. "Due to the 'digitalization' of our modern life people all over the world are using glasses for the vision correction, we even started to buy special glasses to protect the eyes from the computer screens."

Eyewear awe
Fashionbi’s “Eyewear Market and the Key Business Players” report looks at the thriving industry at the category level, from manufacturers to how frames are marketed.

Key opportunities for the sector include an expanding consumer base, including a large population with uncorrected vision, and increase spending on fashion accessories such as sunglasses.

Per Fashionbi’s report, the premium-priced eyewear segment is expected to grow at a CAGR of 6.07 percent between 2017 and 2020.

The $90 billion eyewear industry’s success is linked to eyewear not subscribing to a particular season. Although new styles are often launched alongside ready-to-wear collections, optical or sunglass frames can be worn by the consumer regardless of season, occasion and time of day.

Increasingly, eyewear is becoming used as a statement piece with a consumer carefully selecting a style to complement her outfit and personality. Despite the obvious utilitarian qualities, eyewear is being used to add an “oomph factor” to how consumers dress.

Eyewear’s pricing structure also provides consumers access to a plethora of style options, some at affordable cost and others with higher retail market value.

On average, frames by luxury houses such as Prada or Bulgari, for example, are priced at $500 or more, whereas premium designer labels start at approximately $350.

Prada's eyewear is a license of Luxottica. Image credit: Prada

The price accessibility of the category has facilitated its growth and popularity, especially in emerging markets. The eyewear industry leverages its accessible price points in ways similar to the cosmetics and fragrance sector, serving as an entry point to a high-end brand.

Per Fashionbi, Asia Pacific is expected to become a key market for eyewear and is likely to drive more than 30 percent of the global demand for the category. Eyewear’s CAGR is forecast to increase more than 4 percent by 2020.

Also, the Middle East has seen a rise in eyewear manufacturer entrances. For example, Safilo recently announced plans to enter the Iranian market through an exclusive distribution partnership with Noor Gostaran Azin Aryan (see story).

Much of luxury is defined by a brand’s traditional know-how and craftsmanship, but the eyewear sector is almost all outsourced by fashion labels. Although frames are well-constructed, leverage brand codes and are designed in partnership, the label on the eyewear’s temple arms is not behind the manufacturing process.

Instead, luxury brands collaborate with eyewear manufacturers to create and distribute their collections in their boutiques as well as in optical and department stores.

Top players include Luxottica, Safilo, Marcolin, De Rigo Vision, Marcon and Kering Eyewear, a venture launched by the conglomerate in 2015, which brought its category development in-house (see story).

Tom Ford eyewear is produced by Marcolin Group. Image credit: Tom Ford

These six entities are behind the eyewear collections of nearly every high-end and luxury brand’s category offering including Giorgio Armani, Jimmy Choo, Tom Ford, Lanvin, Chloé, Karl Lagerfeld and Gucci.

"I do not think that the consumer is even aware of the fact that the production of the eyewear products is outsourced," Fashionbi's Ms. Bushmeleva said. "Not many know that Polaroid and Fendi glasses are produced and developed by Safilo.

"Overall, only the fashion professionals understand that the brand can work with several partners/suppliers and that the same partner/supplier can produce the collections for the competitive labels," she said. "This is the power of a brand. People tend to believe that the company is designing and producing all the product categories on their own and even at the same physical location.

"Since we are moving in the direction of the transparency, more and more consumers will start to ask the questions about the production of the purchased items. This is why the decision of Kering to bring the eyewear business in-house is a very farsighted."

Luxottica and Safilo hold the largest market share within the category. For example, Luxottica, which works with Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana and Versace, generated net sales in 2016 of 5.3 million euros, or $5.9 million at current exchange, in the United States alone.

Safilo, which counts Dior, Fendi and Max Mara in its portfolio, recorded growth of 42.9 percent in Europe, its best-performing region of business, followed by 40.7 percent in North America.

Through the lens
Interest in the eyewear category is generated through a number of marketing tactics such as social activations, celebrity and influencer endorsements and design collaborations.

Although eyewear does not fall into a specific season, sector-dedicated campaigns drop twice a year, first in March for spring purchases and again in July for the summer months, two periods that brands see a spike in interest.

Ninety percent of these campaigns feature sunglasses rather than optical frames.

As with nearly all sectors of the luxury market, millennials are often featured in a brand’s eyewear campaign, partially due to the entry-level pricing.

For example, between July 2015 and spring/summer 2017, Chanel has selected millennials such as Lily-Rose Depp, Willow Smith and Lottie Moss as the faces of its eyewear campaigns. Ms. Moss, the younger sister of supermodel Kate Moss, was also featured in a Bulgari eyewear effort.

Lottie Moss for Chanel eyewear spring/summer 2017, manufactured by Luxottica. Image credit: Chanel

Dolce & Gabbana, for example, structured an entire eyewear campaign around a cast of millennial stars, including Brandon Thomas Lee, Presley Gerber and Rafferty Law.

Fashion influencers are often tapped to participate in eyewear campaigns. For example, in 2016, Fendi released a capsule collection designed by Thierry Lasry, while blogger Kristina Bazan starred in the campaign.

In addition to next-generation and Internet-famous individuals, eyewear campaigns often feature household name celebrities such as actor Jude Law for Prada and singer Rihanna for Dior.

A number of campaign-based relationships have also evolved into brand collaborations.

Dior, for instance, evolved its relationship with Rihanna from campaign ambassador to creative collaborator. In 2015, Rihanna fronted Dior’s Secret Garden IV campaign, helping to modernize its brand image and tap into the singer’s high-profile celebrity, then in 2016, Rihanna worked with the atelier to design a pair of sunglasses with clean lines and futuristic accents (see story).

Rihanna x Dior sunglasses, manufactured by Safilo. Image credit: Dior

Additionally, eyewear campaigns have been expanded from standard marketing forms to annual projects.

For example, Armani’s 2017 eyewear collection included an interactive digital experience in the form of a love story told through audio, video, branching paths and interactive photos.

"Frames of Life," a multimedia campaign telling a romantic story about two strangers meeting through transient voice messages left on a mobile phone, takes an all-encompassing approach to marketing the new collection. Customers can interact with the story in a number of ways, learning more about the characters and linking to purchasable products from the photos on the dedicated Web site (see story).

"Influencer marketing is often used for the promotion of the beauty products and eyewear, as beauty is an entry product category for the premium and luxury goods," Fashionbi's Ms. Bushmeleva said. "Via sunglasses the brands are trying to attract the new generation of the customers.

"At the same time, the participation of the well-known celebrity can increase the awareness of the new collection, the press all over the world was speaking about the latest collaboration between Gentle Monster and Tilda Swinton," she said. "Or in 2016 everyone was writing about the futuristic sunglasses of Rihanna for Dior."