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Focusing On Fashion(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 06,2007)

New York Views



Funky frames and amazing accessories from Hong Kong manufacturers turned heads at New York's leading optical fair.

Hong Kong optical manufacturers were, as usual, at the forefront of the creative wave at International Vision Expo East 2007.

This explosion of colour and craft by Hong Kong companies followed the prevailing mood at the trendsetting event at the Javits Center from March 23-25.

Styles on display covered everything from everyday wear to products that coordinate with evening or formal wear, with comfort sharing centre stage with fashion.

This season's frames range from formal and high fashion to sports and outdoor activities, with rugged optical materials ensuring safety in the latter category.

Either way, Hong Kong was in lock step with the trends, particularly when it came to frame design, according to David Yim, marketing manager for Kong Lung Mfy, a subsidiary of Aroma Eyewear.

Aroma, which sells OEM as well as own brands that include I-Mag and Mega-X, displayed several colourful styles with sophisticated temple designs (US$9-12 wholesale).

Some customers were also buying coordinating eyeglass cases (unit-priced at around US$0.80-4.00 wholesale) from Aroma, which also manufactures children's glasses, including sunglasses, as well as eyewear showcases and trays, and accessories.

"People are buying for fashion," said Dicky Tang, marketing executive at Hong Kong's Ocean Optical, whose lines include acetate-frame sunglasses selling at between US$7 and US$10 each per pair, as well as metal and acetate optical frames.

"Consumers are even buying sufficient numbers of pairs to change their look by the day or week," he said, adding that retro looks are still popular and that Ocean can modify frames to accommodate curved lenses.

Fellow Hong Kong eyewear executive Ferris Chan of E. Colors Eyewear concurred with Tang's assessment. "People buy the frames as a fashion accessory," he maintained.

Manufacturing reading glasses, sunglasses and frames for adults and children, E. Colors Eyewear quotes unit prices of US$5-10 for metal frames; US$7 for plastic frames and US$2-3 over the cost of optical frames for sunglasses.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong's Heyro Optical Co makes optical frames, reading glasses, sunglasses, and swimming goggles (wholesaling at roughly US$5-6 per pair).

"Black, brown, and tortoiseshell are the most popular colours, while shapes are rounder and larger," sales executive Peter Chiu said.

The focus remained firmly on fashion frames throughout Int'l Vision Expo, with Safilo Group of the US presenting a full runway show several times each day.

"Variations on red, artistic elements like intricate detailing on the temples, and over-sized, modern glam shapes are today's design highlights," said Safilo public relations manager Eden Wexler.

Safilo, which is featured in collections by Gucci, Marc Jacobs, Dior, Boss and Kate Spade and retails for US$40-450, also unveiled new collections that feature basic colours like whites and earth tones as well as "military chic" styles.

Similarly convinced that women are buying frames, eyeglasses and optical wear that match changes in their wardrobes was A&A Optical marketing manager Juli Ann Radmanesh.

"They love colour and angular frames," said Radmanesh, whose firm's product prices start at around US$100. "There is a trend to laser etching on the temples."

A&A introduced Cruz, a men's collection in a variety of materials including beta titanium, titanium, Monel and acetate, in colours that include brown, grey and black.

Japan is the design inspiration for Nodoka, a new launch from Charmant that retails for US$180-200. "Violet, orange, pink, red, black and brown are among the colours, reflecting the popularity of these colour choices," explained vice president of sales Dennis Davis, adding that other new launches included Charmant Titanium and Esprit sunglasses that retail at US$100-125.

Fellow fashionistas Friezeframes of the US, which markets its items as "jewellery for your eyes", premiered a collection of handcrafted, retro-chic frames with Swarovski crystals designed to recreate 1950s' styles with a touch of modern flair.

Seven colours and six frame styles allow for 26 variations available as ophthalmics or sunglasses and unit-priced at around US$80 wholesale and US$200-250 retail.

Climate Control Series sunglasses from US-based Wiley X, which also makes ophthalmic frames, are designed for outdoor activities ranging from hiking to motorcycling.

The Climate Control Series has the added advantage that it accepts prescription lenses and also features a removable rubber gasket that seals the wearer's eyes from airborne irritants.

Other prescription lens advances at the show included greater sight accuracy for customers, not to mention stock simplification for dispensing optometrists and opticians.

The new lenses make it increasingly possible to fit virtually any prescription into almost any frame on the market, and thus give customers the looks and functions they want.

This is particularly important given rising expectations that young people using single-vision lenses today will opt for progressive lenses rather than multi-focals as they move into older age groups.

Some people wear plano lenses to make the frame part of their "look" and the use of plano sunglasses is growing accordingly, while industry experts note that there are all-day and 30-day contact lenses available and many contact lens users also use eyeglasses some of the time.

"We haven't seen much business lost to Lasik surgery or contact lenses," claimed Marty Stemler, sales support specialist at Pentax/Seiko, who explained that Pentax has developed a scratch-resistant lens coating. "People are attuned to fashion."

Seiko's Succeed internal progressive freeform lenses offer a wider field of vision by placing all the patient prescription data on the back of the lens.

Freeform technology allows for individualised, patient-specific optics to be incorporated into the lens design, and has become perhaps the key technology in progressive lenses.

Nowhere was this more evident than at Shamir Insight, which announced expansion of its freeform digital-mould technology to make progressive lenses for its Piccolo short corridor line and its Attitude lenses and thus provide visual acuity in wrap-around frames.

"Lens technology is getting into shorter fitting heights to accommodate smaller frames," said Johnny Figeroa, account executive for Augen Optics of the US, which uses freeform technology.

Augen Optic's Trivex lenses generally command a US$60 premium over polycarbonate material, and are available in aspheric, double aspheric, and plano and Rx for sunglasses.

Contact lenses weren't forgotten by CooperVision, which makes disposables that cost around US$1 per day and plans to launch a new silicon lens in the second half of 2007.

Elsewhere, low-vision innovations included the SARA from Freedom Scientific that reads printed materials aloud while displaying them in large type on a screen, and Eschenbach Optiks Scribolux, an illuminated stand to help users read and complete crossword puzzles.

Protective devices and lenses were also popular with International Vision Expo visitors, following medical evidence that UV protection plays a key role in preventing such conditions as macular degeneration and cataracts.

This in turn is driving use of plano sunglasses for adults and children, while sunglass clip-ons that fit over prescription glasses also offer fashion styling.

DriveWear glasses from Younger Optics and Transitions Optical of the US combines photo chromic and polarisation technologies to target specific consumers: drivers, people who deal with variable light conditions and seniors.

The lenses, which react behind car windshields as lighting changes, are available in either plano and single-vision versions for around US$200 and US$250 or progressive prescription use at around US$100 more.

Live Eyewear added tortoiseshell frames and polarized copper to the lenses of its Cocoons brand of OveRx sunglasses, which have a maximum suggested retail price of US$39.99.

Designed to fit over a wide range of shapes and sizes of prescription eyeglasses, they come in six shapes and a choice of grey, amber, yellow and copper polarized scratch-resistant lenses.

Finally, My First Shades from SLP Enterprises make the point that wearers are never too young for UV protection with soft neoprene headbands or safety temples and other safety features.

They come in colourful designs for infants, three-to-seven-year-olds and 'tweens and retail for US$9.99-24.99. "These are designed to be medical devices, not toys," insisted SLP Enterprises owner David Scheinberg.