Vision Expo West 2019

Vision Expo West, which wrapped up last week at the Sands Convention Center in Las Vegas, saw a host of launches and several new trends. Also, manufacturing innovations, systems to address inventory replenishment, steps forward in the sustainability conversation and the ever-shifting tariffs on goods from China were top of executive’s minds.

Trends in frame shapes still veered into the retro category with Seventies-style oversize looks, clear plastics and aviators in every shape dominating, but there were several innovations such as new photochromatic lenses, milky and pastel-hued acetates and eco-conscious materials that injected newness into the category.

“The trade shows are a really important source for networking and a way to really explain the product to partners,” said Steve Wright, president and chief commercial officer at Safilo North America, who made a return to the floor after showing in The Suites last year.

“New York is really about how you share and provide information about the fashion connection, as it relates to eyewear. West is more about innovation,” Wright explained of the distinction between the two shows.

While Safilo counts brands such as Fendi, Kate Spade and Givenchy as licenses, some of the strongest growth, Wright said, is coming from two of their in-house brands: Carrera and Polaroid, each with a different target. “Carrera crosses many age groups, while Polaroid is more millennial driven,” Wright explained.

Carrera sunglasses by Safilo.  Courtesy

The company also has several launches in the pipeline: Missoni and M Missoni; Tommy Jeans, both optical and sun, and Levi’s. Tommy and Levi’s will both incorporate new eco-conscious materials, something the executive said is on the minds of many of his vendors.

On the business side, the firm is also implementing a solution to inventory management concerns; the eyewear company has opened a new fully automated distribution center in Denver.

While switching over to an all-automated system does have some growing pains, Wright cited “integrating multiple computer systems into one,” but, he added, “now we will have much better and more efficient ways to understand what demand really is, and then translate that into our forecast and fulfillment.”

Kentucky-based and employee-owned Kenmark Eyewear is putting a renewed focus in-house, with their October launch of Paradigm, an offering they developed to meet the need for everyday frames with current trends for every type of face, skin tone and personality.

“It really is genderless,” said marketing manager Marissa Cundiff of the new line, which the company plans to release seasonally, a slower pace than that of typical eyewear.

“It’s really our way to answer to the online and independents in the industry,” she said, adding, “the brand will focus on current trends.”

Paradigm eyewear from Kenmark.  Courtesy

The company is using the launch to add to the sustainability conversation partnering with a zero-waste factory in China that uses solar energy.

For Kering Eyewear, the Expo “represents a key opportunity to pursue conversations about not only new releases but also on broader industry-related business discussions,” said Glenn Rusk, head of North America at Kering Eyewear. “Vision Expo is an important event for Kering Eyewear to further increase company awareness and its portfolio of brands and consolidate the business in North America.”

Gucci eyewear.  Courtesy

Rusk said Cartier and Gucci are performing well, especially on the optical side of the business with Saint Laurent continuing to grow at a fast pace in the U.S. market.

Fostering growth in the U.S. market, Rusk said, is a key priority for Kering Eyewear, “by partnering with the best players, developing our brands in terms of visibility and further consolidating the strength of our product offer.”

“Industry consolidation in both vendors and trade is for sure the most relevant macro-trend,” said Davide Rettore, chief executive officer of Marcolin USA.

“On the retail side, consumers are becoming more and more opinionated and both the retailers and brands are responding creating meaningful in-store experiences to communicate brand and product stories,” Rettore explained.

He added that on the manufacturing side “the use of social media and influence of fashion seasonal trends created a consumer demand for more collections with frequent drops.”

Rettore said Macolin has a fill rate about 95 percent and is testing drop shipments and virtual inventory for the online business of some key sun retailers.

Marcolin recently launched the first eyewear for Victoria’s Secret and Victoria’s Secret Pink, as part of licensing agreements with L Brands.

At the Luxottica Group inventory replenishment concerns are being answered with the scaling in the U.S. of its STARS program, a service innovation that leverages Luxottica’s knowledge of local markets and brands to deliver fresh, high-turnover products to customers and maintain optimal inventory levels at each point of sale.  According to the company, results include improved sell-out and cash flow; reduction in inventory and returns, faster service levels, and faster speed to market.

“It will allow our partners unlimited collection availability without having a physical product at your point of sale,” said Fabrizio Uguzzoni, president of Luxottica Wholesale North America.

The company recently announced a massive partnership with its Oakley and the National Football League, becoming an official on-field partner and licensee of the NFL.

Oakley frames from the New York Giants from Luxottica.  Courtesy

The partnership, rooted in Oakley’s history in high-performance optics, will commence at the start of the forthcoming season with Oakley shield and eyewear available with all 32 teams.

A huge part of the company’s booth at the show, each NFL piece of Oakley eyewear will include the team’s logo etched on the lens and an NFL shield logo pad printed on the inside stem.

2020 sees independent eyewear-maker Garrett Leight celebrate 10 years in business, and he’s thinking about how to scale his business moving forward.

“Recently we’ve thickened it up,” Leight said, when asked about his current roster of frame shapes, “so much of our business is through the optical medical industry, and what they expect for us are the frames that make them money — easy selling unisex classic styles. So, we try address that seasonally.”

His business is around 2 to 5 percent e-commerce, 30 percent direct (including his own retail locations) and 70 percent wholesale, but Leight said he plans to shift that sales mix moving forward.

“I do see a sustainable wholesale business, but in 10 to 15 years I truly see direct-to-consumer accounting for 90 percent, just by opening more retail locations and having a bigger digital component,” he noted.

Leight has a mix of special projects coming down the pipeline for his 10-year celebration, and while he won’t share specifics just yet, so far there are 10 unique collaborations across different categories, with still more in development.

Garrett Leight California eyewear.  Courtesy

One program he is particularly proud of is the implementation of a charitable component to his brand ethos next year.

“We are going to land on maybe one charity to work with throughout the year to donate some proceeds of our profits to,” he said of the program. “My thought process is, we’ve never been charitable and I feel like it’s time [to do] something more, and contribute to some change in the world.”

Longchamp eyewear, part of the Marchon portfolio, has seen substantial growth since its launch in 2018.

With Nicola Zotta, president and ceo, and Thomas Burkhardt, senior vice president of global brands, marketing and design, said the fashion brand has been the fastest launch they have ever had, now performing three times than what the executives originally forecast for the brand at its launch.

The executives also cited Nike, Lacoste and the men’s collection at Salvatore Ferragamo as brands “expanding in the U.S. market.”

According to Zotta, Marchon has “seen double-digit growth in France, Germany and Canada, but the U.S. remains a key market, with roughly 50 percent of the business.”

At the Dragon, the company’s performance eyewear brand, they are introducing a new plant-based resin on certain frame styles.

“Even two years ago this would have been impossible,” Zotta said, “but now we’ve found the right partners.”

Also, the company is looking for ways to eliminate waste, for example, finding new ways to repurpose acetate waste.

The ever-changing topic of tariffs from China, Zotta said, is something his company cannot avoid.

“It’s very difficult to believe that the supply chain of this industry is going to be reorganized in a very short period of time. China owns 80 percent of the supply chain of the entire industry. It’s virtually impossible to move out of China,” Zotta said.

For his part, Leight says, “we’ll just eat it” about the rise in costs that could be translated to the end consumer because of the tariffs.

“The company will have to share the impact with suppliers, customers and final customers,” Rettore said. “We are planning to absorb a significant part of the additional duties.”

Uguzzoni said the Italian company is fairly insulated from major tariff concerns. “We aren’t as exposed, as we have over 50 percent of our production in Italy and the USA. And we have the flexibility to shift quickly.” Adding, “We are watching to see when the situation is going to stabilize, and when it does we will decide what the next steps. For now, we haven’t transferred any cost to our end customer.”

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