By  on February 16, 2009

While not quite optimistic, the eyewear industry is managing to stay upbeat.

Given sunwear’s accessible price points and diverse style offerings, the category remains an easy way for consumers to update their wardrobes for less than the price of designer shoes or handbags. But with a lack of traffic throughout stores and a colder than average winter season, manufacturers are certainly feeling the chill.

For Barton Perreira, a young eyewear firm out of Los Angeles, its biggest challenge is the cost of production in Japan, where the dollar has grown weaker against the yen.

“My cost of goods has gone up 20 to 30 percent over the last six to eight months,” says Bill Barton, chief executive officer at Barton Perreira. “It’s a big concern for me, but we just have to be creative.…Our stores have been incredibly supportive, but they’re feeling it, too.”

Despite the firm’s economic woes, Barton says he is not changing any elements of the line — which retails from $320 to $520 at Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys New York and Neiman Marcus — but is instead cutting corners on the inside rather than on the product itself. It’s even producing limited edition diamond-laden pieces, which retail for up to $15,000, although Barton insists the frames are more for marketing and press purposes.

Marchon Eyewear is another firm that is holding strong against a weak dollar.

“Production is always moving around based on the euro and the yen and dollar fluctuations. It affects our product development and we see those shifts in factories,” says a spokesman for Marchon, which produces eyewear for brands such as Michael Kors, Coach and Fendi.

Alessandro Lanaro, ceo at Modo, which manufactures collections by Fabien Baron, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Derek Lam and its own eponymous label, says, “We are going back to what matters: quality, simple but definitive design, long-lasting products,” says Lanaro. “The era of disposable fashion is gone.”

David Schulte, ceo at Oliver Peoples, says the brand is focused on delivering quality frames based around subtlety and understatement. “We have been a status symbol to the customers who know us, have grown with us over the years and who have appreciated our consistency with our vision,” he says.

Michael Hansen, vice president and general manager at Ilori, a luxury eyewear chain, agrees that consumers are looking for something more “elusive and exclusive.” Hansen acknowledges the importance of offering limited edition pieces and says that 10 percent of Ilori’s styles are exclusive to the store, up from 5 percent last year.

Safilo also is emphasizing its limited edition styles that continue to fare well at its Solstice Sunglass Boutiques. “There is no doubt the consumer is more price sensitive and looking for value,” says Mark Ugenti, Safilo USA’s senior vice president of sales. “However, the consumer is still willing to pay for quality and unique designs.”

Top trends for this year include colored frames and oval-shaped styles.

Pierre Fay, executive vice president for Luxottica Wholesale North America, says his top sellers include Ray-Ban Clubmasters and Wayfarers, particularly in bright colors.

“Eyewear is still an important entry price point in fashion, so that’s why the category is holding well compared to other accessories,” says Fay.

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