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Easy On The Eye(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 03,2009)

Optical Products

Bold is emphatically in for sunglasses and spectacles, accordifng to industry players visualising a rosy outlook

If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then spectacles would probably be the portholes into wearers' lifestyles and tastes - which seem currently in favour of a dramatic, eye-catching look.

Big and glamorous, for example, are the key words for shades for the coming season. "Coming trends are for bolder designs and more chunky accessories, such as crystals mounted on the frames," says Executive Director Cecilia Wong of Winntics Optical Industry Co Ltd, a Hong Kong manufacturer of cellulose acetate handmade frames, injection frames and sunglasses.

A similar prognosis is made by Guangzhou Xianda Spectacles Mfr Co Ltd of the Chinese mainland. "Big frames will continue to be in vogue in 2009, but there will be slight variations in design from last year," says Sales Manager Doris Yuan. "Generally, the trend for 2009 is for bigger frames that are flatter than previously."

Accessorised appeal

Not only will frames sport a bold look, but they will also host a wide range of decorations, including synthetic opal. An authorised distributor of polymer impregnated synthetic opal manufactured by Japan's Kyocera Group, Sanwa Pearl & Gems Ltd is marketing these stones as accessories for sunglasses and spectacles frames.

"When it comes to synthetic opal for sunglasses, bolder colours, such as pink, purple and yellow, are more fashionable choices nowadays," says Managing Director Henry Fung.

Closely watching eyewear fashion trends, Asian manufacturers are ready to respond to subtle changes in details from season to season, and be up-to-date on the smallest variations in designs.

As such, they keep up a steady supply of stylish, high-quality optical frames and sunglasses, for which demand remains strong despite the growing use of contact lenses and laser surgery to correct poor vision.

The Chinese mainland and Hong Kong are the world's second- and third-largest exporters respectively of spectacles and frames, after Italy.

Hong Kong, for example, shipped US$1.5bn worth of these products in 2008 to numerous markets led by the US, Italy and France.

"Spectacles are fashion items nowadays. Everyone needs them. They are very much a part of the wardrobes of consumers," remarks Ms Wong of Winntics Optical.

This view is shared by industry peers such as Taiwan's Facheng Trading Co Ltd, a manufacturer of stylish and lightweight titanium frames for customers in the US, Europe and Asia.

"Perhaps the demand for mass-produced designs is falling, but there is a steady overall increase in demand for high-quality and fashionable spectacles frames," remarks Managing Director Michael Chen.

Sanwa Pearl & Gems's Mr Fung sees a pair of high-calibre spectacles or sunglasses as a must-have item for every consumer nowadays. "Younger people may opt for contact lenses as they tend to exercise more. But older and more established people with stronger purchasing power generally like wearing glasses and they view spectacles as a fashionable choice," he says.

Style sells

While the optical industry may not be completely isolated from the downswing in global demand, Facheng Trading expects a growing market for its stylish titanium spectacles frames. "We are seeing greater sales volumes from the US and Europe, and we are also expanding in Asia," says Mr Chen.

Likewise, Sanwa Pearl & Gems continues to anticipate huge potential demand from the optical industry for polymer-impregnated synthetic opal.

"Even though the economy is not doing well, people still want new things and the use of synthetic opal as accessories for sunglasses is a new concept that we are just starting to introduce to the optical industry," says Mr Fung.

"With this concept, we hope to revolutionise the industry, where crystals have been used as jewellery for sunglasses for a long time," he notes.

"Ninety percent of our target market is not developed yet, so we are only at the starting phase."

Looking up

Guangzhou Xianda, meanwhile, plans to move into higher value-added production by focusing on TR-90 nylon frames, which in general are higher-priced than those made using the injection method, says Ms Yuan.

"Our aim is to further develop our business in the higher-end frames. This is a way to compensate for smaller profit margins in the medium-range market," she says. "It is important at this time to keep raising our quality, as that is the way to keep our customers happy and also to protect ourselves from price swings."

While economic uncertainties may be blurring the larger business outlook, the eyewear industry is seeing a positive picture - without rose-tinted glasses.