The Middle East’s sunglasses market is a luxurious yet competitive beast.
In a region where the sun shines 99 per cent of the time [unofficial figures] and where fashion statements are part and parcel of a person’s daily wardrobe, owning the latest must-have sunnies is considered part of the course.
But is there room for boutique brands? Ray Band, Persol, Prada, Chanel, Giorgio Armani…[the list could go on] are some of the best-known labels. But they are all owned or at least made by the same company: Luxottica.
In fact it is estimated that Luxottica controls around 75 per cent of the world’s major eyewear brands.
In a market saturated by one company then, is there room for a smaller, more discreet business?
Gulf Business spoke to Marco Bonapace, founder of Vision EyeWear – which owns brands including Kilsgaard, FEB31st and The Quiet Before – and former regional marketing manager for Luxottica MENA, to find out.
How does Luxottica’s dominance of the market affect the sunglasses industry?
“I have been away from Luxotica for two years but as a distributor in the same business I can see that Luxottica sets the trends for the industry. They impose the trends with their styles and dominate the market.
“Luxottica has more than 25 fashion brands and they introduce new models every season, in keeping with the fashion trends. So, for example, whatever Chanel is launching on the runway, the style of glasses will reflect this.
“Nevertheless, the market needs more brands that can push the innovation boundaries on a more ‘boutique’ scale, and this is where Kilsgaard, FEB31st and The Quiet Before come in.
“Even Kilsgaard, which appears to be an industrial brand, is very much an artisanal product; it takes a whole day to hand make a frame so it would be impossible to produce 200,000 pieces a year.”
How can niche brands compete with the likes of Persol, Ray Band, etc?
There are four factors that differentiate them [niche brands] from the bigger brands:
1. Superior quality and finish of the product.
2. Colours that are unique and aesthetically beautiful.
3. Innovation in production and presentation of materials – it’s the small touches and the unique materials that make the difference.
4. The after service.
How do you predict Vision EyeWear’s brands will impact on the Middle East market?
“I am not trying to compete against any of the large fashion brands as that would be impossible. There is room in the market for everyone and my products are very different to what the likes of Luxottica is offering.
“My first task is to educate the retailers on the unique benefits and features of each product. Once I have the retailers on board it becomes a much easier sell to the consumers. The consumer is looking for something else; something more refined, more artisanal, more unique than the big brands.
“There is a growing trend worldwide where consumers believe in a product more than a brand. Of course the brand is always going to play an important part, but consumers are becoming more discerning; the brand name is becoming less important if the product is this good!
“Our ultimate goal is to create a brand out of a product instead of the other way round. We aren’t looking for market domination – our aim is to become known as the distributor of the best luxury boutique eyewear brands in the region.”