SELLING UNDER THE SUN EYEWEAR, HAT AND EVEN UMBRELLA FIRMS ARE ANSWERING THE CALL FOR SUN-SAFETY PRODUCTS.
Byline: WENDY HESSEN
NEW YORK--After a barrage of media coverage about the dangers of the sun, consumers have begun to demand more in the way of sun protection from a variety of products, including several categories of accessories. Retailers and manufacturers of sunglasses, hats and even umbrellas are beginning to take those demands to heart. They're focusing on creating products that address the need for protection and programs that seek to further educate consumers about ultraviolet rays and the damage they can do to the skin and eyes. Eyewear retailers are using manufacturers' education programs in their stores, as well as creating their own campaigns. Pearle Vision has expanded its program to include prescription glasses as well as shades, because UV protection is an "everyday concern, not just something for a special promotion," according to Randy Henry, senior vice president of marketing. He said, "Awareness about UV protection has gone up dramatically in the last couple of years, and we think it will increase even more with the new weather reporting that is beginning. We want people to make the connection between skin protection and eye protection." Pearle's policy of free UV coating for children's glasses has been extended to adult frames, and through mid-September, the chain will check whether customers' glasses have UV coverage through its "free spec check" promotion. "Protection has been a key element of our philosophy," said Sheila Arnold, senior vice president of merchandising and marketing director at Sunglass Hut, noting that the 750-unit chain only stocks brands that are 100 percent UV protective. The Federal Drug Administration is reviewing a proposal that would require all glasses to block 99 percent of UV rays. According to Jim Prits, president of the Norwalk, Conn.-based Sunglass Association, the measure won't have a dramatic effect on the marketplace, since most firms have already incorporated such features into their product lines in response to consumer demand. Currently, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) requires that sunglasses block at least 65 percent of UVA and 95 percent of UVB and 99 percent in high light areas. UVA rays are responsible for suntans and can cause wrinkles and sagging skin, while UVB rays cause sunburns and have been linked to eye damage. Prits's view is that it's not how many UV rays a lens blocks, but how often you wear sunglasses that determines how effective they are. "Most people choose a particular pair of sunglasses according to their style, fit or durability, which greatly affects protection--they can't protect you if you're not wearing them," Prits said. Bausch & Lomb, along with the American Optometric Association, recently developed the Ray-Ban UV Index, a national, ground-based monitoring system that measures and reports the intensity of the sun's UV radiation on a daily basis. Consumers will soon be able to tune in to local weather forecasts and find out how high UV levels are each day. The index currently appears on Accu-Weather forecasts in eight cities; two more are scheduled to be added by the end of this year, with 50 by the end of 1995, according to Norman Salik, vice president of marketing for the eyewear division of B&L. Riviera recently introduced a collection of shades that uses a synthetic form of melanin--the natural pigment that colors eyes, hair and skin--to protect eyes. The melanin is "actually dispersed in the plastic lenses, rather than coated on sunglasses," according to Jill Kraft, director of product development at Riviera. The firm's point-of-purchase brochures and hangtags explain what melanin is, how it works and what its benefits are to the wearer. Kraft also said that the fact melanin has cropped up in new products from major beauty companies has helped foster consumer recognition. The line is distributed in department stores and will be expanded from its 10 original styles to roughly 15 for spring 1995. Orlux, the makers of Vuarnet sunglasses, conducted tests of its Skilynx lens to prove it protects eyes under extreme conditions. The tests were made at Brookhaven National Laboratory on a Synchrontron, which is said to be the brightest source of light on earth, according to Wendy Burke, marketing manager for the firm. The results, along with information about lens clarity and durability, are included on point-of-purchase cards and materials that guide consumers toward choosing the best lens for certain sports or lifestyle. Several major umbrella vendors, who all declined to be named, said they believe there is potential for sun umbrellas and are researching the prospective market and various fabric options for launches in spring of 1995. Some manufacturers said they decided to consider sun umbrellas after receiving unsolicited requests from buyers and consumers alike, and after spotting increased numbers of people carrying umbrellas on days without rain. Sun umbrellas and parasols are used frequently by both men and women in the Far East, and have been sighted in the South and especially sunny portions of the U.S. Considerations include whether a line should be solely for sun protection, or if rain umbrellas should be treated with special UV coating to increase their versatility. Color and weight of fabrics also need to be taken into account, since some reflect more sun than others. One company may even consider patio umbrellas with UV protection. Hats have been a strong accessories category at retail for several seasons, and makers credit at least some of the high demand for headgear to increased awareness of the sun's dangers. Melissa Kruse, sales manager at Marketing Australian Products, the U.S. distributor for Kaminsky Hats, said, "While it is commonplace for consumers in Australia to consider a product's sun protection ability before making a purchase, we haven't focused on that aspect in our marketing here." But Kaminsky's dense, straw hats are highly protective, and Kruse did note that when the firm added a wider-brimmed version of its signature shape, sales increased, especially in resort, beach and very sunny areas of the country. "We do think American women have caught on to the need for protection, and they've realized that our hat can serve that purpose," Kruze said. "They're thinking about sun coverage now more than ever before." Kokin, the New York-based hat designer, said, "The return of the brim has been particularly important in the last year or so, which has almost nothing to do with fashion but is preventative and protective in nature." He noted that in recent travels here and abroad, he has observed that while women are still interested in tanning their bodies, many are now routinely covering their faces. Kokin's bestseller last resort season--which he will offer again--was a hat with an attached scarf, which protects the hair as well as the face. "Since fears about sun damage have become so prevalent, our straw business for spring and summer has been crazy," said Louise Green, a hat maker based in Santa Monica, Calif. Her company has sold hats with bigger and wider brims, so she plans to add more styles this year from resort through summer. Green said she focuses on simple textured straws in naturals, white, or tonal colors and is introducing a packable hat in sewn Milan straw, which features a very fine braid that is light on the head and has an adjustable headband.
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