FUNKY SUNGLASSES—The accessory that’s always been practical and fashionable
WBS Public Relations Founder
The earliest historical reference to sunglasses dates back to ancient China and Rome. The Roman Emperor Nero watched gladiator fights through polished gems. In China, sunglasses were used in the twelfth century, or possibly earlier. These sunglasses were made using lenses that were flat panes of smoky quartz. They offered no corrective powers nor did they protect from harmful UV rays, but they did protect the eyes from glare.
In prehistoric and historic time, various Eskimo tribes wore flattened walrus ivory “glasses,” which meant looking through narrow slits to block harmful reflected rays of the sun.
Modern civilization began experimenting with tinted lenses in spectacles around 1752. It was believed that blue or green-tinted glass could potentially correct specific vision impairments. Protection from the sun’s rays was not a concern at this time. Glasses tinted with yellow-amber and brown were also commonly prescribed for people with syphilis in the nineteenth and early twentieth century because one of the symptoms of the disease was sensitivity to light.
In the early 1900s, sunglasses became more widespread, especially among movie stars. Famous actresses used shades to avoid recognition by fans and paparazzi, but also because they often had red eyes from the powerful arc lamps that were used with slow speed film stocks.
The 1920s and 1930s brought about the mainstream use of sunglasses. Sam Foster introduced inexpensive mass-produced sunglasses in 1929, finding ready consumers on the beaches of Atlantic City, N.J. Polarized sunglasses hit the market in 1936 after Edwin H. Land experimented with making lenses using his patented Polaroid filter. In 1938, Life magazine called sunglasses a “New fad for wear on city streets…a favorite affectation of thousands of women all over the U.S.” It stated that 20 million pairs of sunglasses were sold in the United States in 1937, but estimated that only about 25% of American wearers actually needed them to protect their eyes
The cat eye style of sunglasses swept in during the 50s, with Marilyn Monroe notably rocking the look of the times. The trend made its way into Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961, making Audrey Hepburn and Holly Golightly style icons for years to come.
The 1960s also brought about the big, bold look in sunglasses. Along with the decade’s tie-dye, flared jeans, and mod patterns came huge, bug-eyed sunglasses in both circle and square shapes. Former First Lady and fashion icon Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was known to rock these statement shades.
The “Flower Child” style of sunglasses emerged in the 1970s. The laid-back vibe of the 70s included all different kinds of sunglasses—big, plastic, wire, and even rimless frames were in style. Fading lenses also became fashionable, as worn by Diane Keaton in Annie Hall and Jane Fonda in Klute.
Perhaps one of the most fun decades of fashion, the 1980s, allowed women to get even louder with their glasses. Teased hair and leg warmers went with eccentric sunglasses in colorful, plastic frames. Princess Diana often opted for big, white sunglasses, while Molly Ringwald wore a bright red pair in Pretty in Pink. Then in the 1990s, tiny, wire frame sunglasses became popular, as worn by singer Britney Spears and the female stars of sitcoms such as Friends and Seinfeld.
Today, sunglasses remain an ever-changing, multimillion dollar industry. Including frames, sunglasses, and contact lenses, the total industry is worth roughly $90 billion, and it is projected to hit $140 billion by 2020. Of this market, sunglasses represent 40% of total purchases. For the sunglasses industry, branding has been critical for success. The ability of a company selling sunglasses to effectively market itself and articulate its value proposition to its prospective customers is critical for sales. Branding is often the determining factor, and it can make the difference between a company’s success or failure. Companies that brand effectively can achieve success and even dominance in the industry. While branding is important for public relations and marketing and sales for most companies, it can have a huge impact in the sunglasses industry.
In an age of growing technology, sunglass quality and innovation is becoming crucial for the industry. Branding is only valuable if it maintains the integrity of the company by only projecting true facts. Branding without quality might help you make initial sales, but when people realize your quality is low they will stop buying your products. Quality sunglasses need to be durable and promote healthy vision.
Branding is critical for sunglass companies. With so many companies providing a similar product and value proposition, often what distinguishes one from another is the ability to sell itself. One company dominates the industry and is able to charge ridiculous prices for sunglasses just because their product bears a sticker with their name. This company is a large part of why frames can cost upwards of $500, even though the product itself costs $25 to manufacture. How are they able to charge so much with such high margins? The answer is monopoly. Most sunglasses are manufactured by the same company: Luxottica. Headquartered in Italy, this company creates sunglasses and frames for Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Tiffany, Versace, Oakley, and a variety of other vendors.
Companies such as Oliver Peoples, Ray Ban, and Chanel are able to charge so much for a simple pair of sunglasses because people are buying the brand name. When people trust a brand and see it as valuable, they will desire products with that brand. By building a strong brand, Luxxottica has been able to expand out of the sunglasses industry and into technology. The company now makes Google Glass, which is expected to become increasingly popular in 2016. Currently, over 500 million people around the globe wear glasses made by Luxottica. Brand dominance has earned the company 80% control of major sunglasses brands, which is part of a total $28 billion eyeglasses industry. Needless to say, the company’s profits are tremendous. Because the company has control over so many different chains, it is able to set whatever price it wants.
While Luxottica owns a majority of the market, Safilo Group trails behind as a distant second. This company holds licenses for Fendi, Celine, Dior, and Marc Jacobs, and it earned $1.33 billion in revenue this past year, which is a mere fraction of Luxottica. On the tail end of the spectrum are De Rigo, Marchon Eyewear, and Marcolin, holding licenses with Calvin Klein, Chloe, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Valentino. However, all of the other eyewear producers combined don’t add up to the revenue that Luxuttica brings in annually.
For the sunglasses industry, fashion is huge. The appearance of sunglasses can greatly impact sales and revenue for the company. The style and look of the sunglasses play a large role in whether a customer will purchase them, but sunglasses are more than just decoration for your face. Buying proper sunglasses can mean protecting your eyes versus the risk of sun damage. In fact, sunglasses without proper protection can cause cataracts and skin cancer on the eyelids.
By maintaining high quality products and consistently standing behind their brand, companies are able to succeed in their related industries. Given the similarity in materials and the relative simplicity of the products, brand marketing has an enormous impact on consumer evaluation of the products. Learning from this, we must know how to emphasize our own company brands, in order to use them as tools to gain new clients.
William Brunson Stafford is the Founder And CEO / Director of Public Relations at WBS.
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