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Sunny Style(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 03,2008)

Polarized Lenses

Sankoh Co Ltd's core products include polycarbonate polarized, tri-acetate and polycarbonate polarized Rx lenses

Innovation often leads to lots of new designs for consumers and at the same time promises a sunny outlook for businesses - just ask Sankoh Co Ltd, a Japanese manufacturer of polarized lenses for sunglasses.

"We strive to create products that are very special and highly functional as more customers are demanding such items - even though this is not always easy in our industry," says Branding Manager Toshiki Tsuchihashi.

Headquartered in Sabae City - a main base of Japan's optical industry and located about 500 kilometres northwest of Tokyo - Sankoh Co is an innovative manufacturer with strong technological competence.

"We challenge ourselves to succeed through creativity and we try to progress with our ideas every day," says Mr Tsuchihashi.

"We're a small company with special skills and machinery, such as ovens, lens bending machines and special sensors to decide the ideal bending conditions," he adds. "We can make extremely stable curvatures on lenses."

Mostly branded PolaSky, the firm's core offerings are polycarbonate polarized lenses, polycarbonate polarized Rx lenses and tri-acetate polarized lenses for sunglasses.

"There is always a lot of dazzling light, but our products regulate it. A polarized film sandwiched between two lenses acts like a window shade to provide clear vision. Our lenses also cut out harmful ultraviolet rays to ensure eye safety," Mr Tsuchihashi explains.

"Other companies may make similar lenses, but we focus on polycarbonate material," he stresses. "Therefore, our lenses are very resilient against impact and won't shatter. This makes them perfect as safety or sports glasses, and they suit industrial situations and outdoor sports such as skiing, cycling, fishing or even extreme events."

He notes that polarized lenses were seen as specialised items mainly for sports or industrial use until only recently, when they have become popular eyewear. "Nowadays, people want to wear them on the streets too."

Sourcing materials in Japan, the manufacturer uses Mitsubishi Corp's polarizing film in the production of its lenses. Among the latest additions to its collection are two breakthrough items: Ma Ma Glasses and SkyRim.

"Ma Ma Glasses may be the world's lightest sunglasses. No one else has produced this kind of simple product before," claims Mr Tsuchihashi, noting that the item comprises shaded plastic inserts notched at the edges to fit inside spectacles to convert them into sunglasses.

"This innovation creates a more flexible and lightweight option to clip-on attachments clinging to the outside of eyeglasses. They fit easily into pockets," he elaborates.

SkyRim is a rim that can cradle a lens without causing stress or distortion. "A normal rim has a 'V' profile to hold a lens firmly, but our newly designed rim has a modified trapezoid profile. The edge of the lens doesn't touch the inside groove of the rim," explains Mr Tsuchihashi. "It holds very gently, almost floating the lens."

The creation also represents a diversification move for Sankoh Co. "We decided to make rims as well because they go together with lenses like bread with butter," Mr Tsuchihashi explains. "We like to sell rims that fit our lenses."

Most of the company's customers hail from the US. "Americans demand strong products and have an intense sports culture. They also need safety glasses," he says. "Our second largest market is Australia, where sunlight is very strong."

Keeping a close eye on market trends, Sankoh Co anticipates the 2008 Olympics in Beijing will be a sales booster. "Such a high-profile event may stimulate our markets, especially in Asia, as athletes competing outdoors will be seen wearing sunglasses, which may then become more popular with consumers," Mr Tsuchihashi enthuses.

"Already, the Chinese market is growing. Many Chinese people like Japanese products, and some companies want our high-quality lenses, even if they use Chinese frames," he notes, advising nevertheless that the firm's lenses may cost about 30% more than those from elsewhere in Asia.

PolaSky lenses ordered from the US or Australia may be shipped directly to customers' factories on the Chinese mainland, he says. "Our shipping destination will be in China, although the final products may go elsewhere."

While Sankoh Co expects fresh challenges on the horizon, its philosophy and attitudes will always hold steady. "We'll supply the best possible products all the time," Mr Tsuchihashi assures.

"Judging from current trends, customers' needs and the increasing popularity of sports, our business should continue to grow," he declares, "not only in the US, but in Europe and other markets as well."

That vision certainly strikes as a realistic goal, and not one seen through rose-tinted spectacles.


Fast Facts

Sankoh Co Ltd
2-20-5, Kitano-Cho, Sabae City
Fukui, 916-0029 Japan
Tel: 81-778-513100
Fax: 81-778-522803
Web: www.sankoh-net.com
Year Established: 1977
Major Product Categories: polycarbonate polarized sunglasses lenses
Own Brands & Certificates: PolaSky
Minimum Order: 300,000 pairs
Monthly Production: -
Delivery Time: 30 days
Factory Size & Location: Sabae City, Japan
Workforce: 50