MILAN — Eyeing younger, next-generation customers in the U.S., Safilo Group has acquired 70 percent of Blenders Eyewear LLC from founder Chase Fisher.

The acquisition of the digitally native firm, founded in San Diego in 2012, is valued at $90 million.

Blenders Eyewear is profitable and generated 2019 sales of $42 million, all in the U.S., up 40 percent compared with 2018. In the last three years, it has logged a compound annual growth rate of 175 percent.

Blenders Eyewear produces men’s and women’s sunglasses and snow goggles inspired by California’s active lifestyle. The company has built an advanced e-commerce and social media platform and generates approximately 95 percent of its business through its proprietary direct-to-consumer e-commerce platform.

It recently opened its first Blenders flagship store in San Diego. The brand is focused on Millennials and Generation Z. It has rapidly grown through product collaborations and strong social marketing strategies, partnering with influencers, athletes and lifestyle gurus.

Angelo Trocchia, Safilo’s chief executive officer, called Blenders Eyewear “inspiring” and “a fast-growing e-commerce-powered business at the forefront of the latest direct-to-consumer and omnichannel capabilities, which will enrich our proprietary portfolio with new strong skills and a particular focus on our key U.S. market.”

Safilo aims to accelerate its e-commerce and omnichannel business, leveraging Blenders’s digital expertise and fueling the global expansion of the brand through the Italian company’s platform.

“Blenders is a disruptive, digitally native business model, founded on the principle of providing high-quality lifestyle and active eyewear, at affordable prices and with engaging brand content,” Trocchia observed. “A strong proposition rooted in a rapid expansion of brand awareness among its natural, fast-growing customer audience of Millennials and Generation Z. Blenders is entrenched in today’s social sphere and is experiencing significant social media success.”

In an interview at Safilo’s Milan showroom, Trocchia said he was “convinced digital is a strategic dimension, it’s an enabler that will allow us to change skin and take a big leap in terms of digital capabilities. To be able to change and strengthen the relation with clients and customers is an incredible value.” Safilo counts around 90,000 clients. Online sales now account for around 3 or 4 percent of revenues. The U.S. represent 40 percent of Safilo’s sales.

He touted Blenders’ user-friendly platforms and the founder and his team’s ease with the digital tool. “They did not learn to use it, they were born with it, it’s different, it’s an asset, they live and breathe digital,” Trocchia mused.

In meeting Fisher, the executive realized there was “empathy that went beyond the figures, I liked his young and dynamic spirit.” In addition, he was impressed by how Fisher and his team “monitor their activities, their decisions are data-driven.”

Trocchia underscored that Safilo will “not touch Blenders’ DNA,” so the brand’s eyewear will not be produced in Italy. “We will support them with logistics, finance and product development, which are our strengths. There is so much growth potential still in the U.S. and then outside that market.”

Fisher, who retains his 30 percent stake in the company and will continue to hold his ceo role, said the sale “marks a huge step forward for Blenders and we’re excited to be part of Safilo to reach a wider marketplace. Safilo’s product know-how and global distribution capabilities are the perfect complement to our digitally native business model, opening up worldwide expansion potential. We’re on a mission to build a thriving global community that inspires people to live in forward motion.”

Blenders will continue to be run out of San Diego. Following the agreement with Safilo, the 30 percent remaining stake will be subject to customary reciprocal put and call options which can be exercised starting from 2023.

“Investors and buyers are looking for the growth and capabilities that these innovative companies bring to the table. Blenders is no exception, as it has been disrupting the eyewear industry with its authentic and highly branded product offering,” said Paul Altman, managing director and partner of independent investment bank The Sage Group. “Blenders’ skills in attracting Millennial and Generation Z customers are formidable.” Altman said the company has “an unparalleled grip on its targeted demographics, and expertly knows how to communicate with them to build sustainable, lifetime value.” He gave a thumbs-up to the deal, saying Safilo “is the perfect home” for Blenders.

The acquisition will be financed through available cash and credit facilities, and through a loan provided by Safilo’s main shareholder, Multibrands Italy B.V., controlled by HAL Holding N.V, for an amount of 30 million euros.

The loan was approved by Safilo’s board on Dec. 1.

The effects of the acquisition will be reflected in the new business plan that Safilo will disclose to the market on Dec. 11.

As reported last month, in the first nine months of the year, Safilo sales from continuing operations were up 5.2 percent to 708.7 million euros.

The publicly listed Safilo, which in July confirmed the Dior license expiration and has been restructuring its pool of production and distribution agreements following the early termination of its Gucci license, has been eyeing a younger consumer. Discussing with analysts prospects for the North American market last month, Trocchia focused on the three new licenses — Missoni, Levi’s and David Beckham — starting in next year’s first quarter. Trocchia said he expects the licenses to appeal to different types of consumers, with Missoni being “well-positioned toward women and Millennials.” Then there is Levi’s, whose target is “definitely Millennial,” Trocchia commented. As for the Beckham license, Trocchia said it “is a different brand — it has to be treated differently, it is not a typical fashion brand.”

In addition to its proprietary brands Safilo, Carrera and Polaroid, Safilo produces and distributes for labels ranging from Fendi, Tommy Hilfiger and Jimmy Choo to Max Mara and Marc Jacobs.