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Italian Eyewear Companies Brace for Potential Downturn

Italy’s Optical Goods Manufacturers Association ANFAO released a cautious outlook for 2014.

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MILAN — Upscale eyewear makers at Mido — the International Optics, Optometry and Ophthalmology Exhibition — said they are preparing for unexpected macro headwinds this year, with price adjustments and more streamlined manufacturing.

In line with last year’s edition, more than 1,100 exhibitors from 49 countries showcased their collections at the three-day fair, which closed here on March 3. The number of visitors rose 5 percent to 45,000, of which 25,000 were from abroad and 20,000 from Italy.

Italy’s Optical Goods Manufacturers Association ANFAO released a cautious outlook for 2014, amid slowing export data and recent global and domestic economic forecasts signaling a downturn.

“The last update from the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook indicates that in 2014, the global economy will accelerate, but not without the potential risk of a downturn,” ANFAO said in a statement.

Luxottica SpA, the world’s largest eyewear maker by sales, said it expects its revenue growth to slow in North America in 2014 from 2012 levels at retail, estimating 3 to 6 percent growth this year versus 6 percent growth in 2012, and at wholesale, 7 to 9 percent growth in 2014 versus 15 percent growth in 2012.

“[The company is] currently evaluating price readjustments in some Western countries,” Luxottica said in its 2013 full-year Webcast, adding that it recently reacted to currency swings with price adjustments in emerging markets.

Marchon, a U.S.-based company with factories in Italy, recently decided to produce its more accessibly priced brands like Nike, Lacoste and CK Calvin Klein in Italy, instead of China, where they had been produced.

Although Italian companies are also being saddled by rising labor and high energy costs, Claudio Gottardi, Marchon president and chief executive officer, said the company will offset this by using more automation instead of hiring more personnel.

“China is becoming less competitive,” Gottardi said, noting that production in Italy means avoiding export and import costs into its key markets and also means avoiding rising production and labor costs in China.

Europe is becoming increasingly important for Marchon. In the last three years, Marchon doubled its business in Europe, Gottardi noted.

According to ANFAO, overall in 2013, growth of Italian exports slowed in value terms, rising 7.2 percent on the year (versus an 11.2 percent rise reported in 2012) to 2.8 billion euros, or $3.85 billion, with exports of sunglasses up 9 percent and ophthalmic frames rising 3.7 percent. Growth was dragged down by falling exports in countries like Spain, which slipped 4.1 percent, but was buoyed primarily by rising exports of key trading partners like North America, up 11.3 percent, and Europe, up 9.4 percent year-on-year. In unit terms, Italy exported 93.5 million pairs of eyeglasses, up 1.6 percent from 2012.

Despite the deceleration, the eyewear market’s data outpaced that of the textile and fashion industry here, which saw its exports fall 1.4 percent last year in value terms, according to Italy’s fashion and textile consortium Sistema Moda Italia.

Italy saw its economy grow in the final three months of 2013 for the first time in 10 quarters, marking the formal end of a recession, but industrial, employment and retail trade data do not support a total recovery, said Cirillo Marcolin, ANFAO’s president, who also serves as the president of Mido.

Marcolin added that smaller eyewear companies have been plagued by their inability to access necessary lines of credit to expand and are therefore unable to grow in emerging markets where larger players are flourishing.

Domestic sales of eyewear fell 2.3 percent to 940 million euros, or $1.27 billion, as the industry shrank 1.3 percent in terms of company closures and 2.4 percent in terms of employees.

“This isn’t a good sign. We have to remember that our companies develop their products here. They have to create success here and then export,” Marcolin said.

Italy represents 24 percent of the 13 billion euro ($17.8 billion) global eyewear market.

On the trade show floor, brands were upbeat about their 2013 results and prospects for 2014, and turned the focus on runway-to-in-store fashions. Models including Mykita’s Damir Doma Dawn butterfly-shaped shades, named after jazz singer Dawn Hampton, and Luxottica’s Emporio Armani Water Lilies model and Prada’s Voice collection started off as catwalk styles that are now ready for worldwide sale.

Industrial design and modern art amped up Safilo’s showcase. The Italian eyewear maker, which celebrates its 80th anniversary this year, showcased its Oxydo collection in collaboration with artist Sigrid Calon and the Marc Newson celebratory capsule collection of lightweight shades based on historic pieces from Safilo’s archives.

“Marc has blended the richness of the past with the present and the future, through an exquisite capsule collection expressing an inspiring story of trust, excellence and timeless design,” said Safilo ceo Luisa Delgado.

Technology was in focus at Italia Independent, which unveiled its new I-Metal Thermic family range — the result of merging the previous range of metal products and adding a special heat-sensitive treatment.

Marchon showcased its new G-Star Raw sunglasses, characterized by straight-cut lenses, inspired by authentic aviator goggles that were created more than a century ago.

For spring, Marcolin enhanced its Diesel denim line with the first denim optical frames. The frames are covered in Diesel denim and are available in gray and blue. Fashion optical frames also were in focus for Marcolin’s Balenciaga collection, which featured a retro cat-eye model embellished with luxurious iguana leather. Also in line with the Balenciaga leather goods DNA was the City Bag model inspired by its signature bag.

Smaller Italian company L.G.R, which only has about 10 employees, also updated its retro array inspired by Italian craftsmanship and African landscapes and cities. It released its new special edition Tripoli snakeskin shades, its Glorioso edition in gold matte stainless steel and acetate and Felicite in matte blue stainless steel.

“We are going back to old values,” said founder Luca Gnecchi Rusconi. “Our brand is strongly linked to quality and luxury without being too showy.”

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