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The Eyes Have It(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 01,2008)

Parisian Spectacle



Fashion drives the optical industry as much as necessity - a truism graphically illustrated at a recent massive optical exhibition

Studies indicate that up to 65% of wearers see glasses as fashion accessories, and some 1,000 exhibitors at the Silmo Paris 2007 International Optics and Eyewear Exhibition were determined to meet their needs.

The chic styles on display at the four-day show at the Porte de Versailles exposition centre drew favourable comment from buyers and suppliers alike.

"Everyone is looking for two or three frames to match their clothes and to be fashionable, so the optical business is good," observed Davio Tsang, Sales Director of Hong Kong-based Agrandar Optica Co Ltd.

Her observations were echoed by American company Jobson Research, which believes the industry outlook is "positive" and predicted strong growth.

"Growth factors come from an increase in population, greater public awareness of eye care and rising purchasing power, especially in emerging economies," the research company noted.

"The global population will grow by 16.8% up until 2020 and the number of people wearing glasses, contact lenses or having corrective surgery will increase by 78.9%."

The Hong Kong Optical Manufacturers Association's Secretary for Research and Development, Max Cheung, also predicted steady growth for the coming year.

"It is difficult to project the future growth of the eyewear business, but every country must find its niche," he said, adding that Hong Kong needs to stick to quality and customer service. "Companies must meet customers' requirements, their delivery time and their price."

Mr Cheung said that developed countries such as the US and those in Western Europe will concentrate on new product development, branding and style.

However, for developing markets as in Eastern Europe, Turkey, the Middle East and some parts of Asia, the overall demand for eyewear frames is expanding.

"Style is an art, changing every year," Mr Cheung said. "No one thing or one design stands out now."

Eyewear styles depend on the material, with lighter, larger plastic frames proving popular several years ago when designers preferred huge temples, while light metal frames are now "in".

Many current designs focus on the lens, with different colours for sunglass lenses, different coatings and different colour gradients (changing from one part of the lens to the other).

"The majority of Hong Kong manufacturers are OEMs, with the design coming from the customer, so in that sense, we are followers," Mr Cheung said. "However, Hong Kong emphasises design to a greater extent, educating and attracting more young designers."

This close and constant focus on styles and skills has seen Hong Kong become the second-largest exporter of spectacles and frames in the world after Italy.

Hong Kong's total exports of spectacles rose 34% to HK$6,892m in the first half of 2007 after a 20% increase in 2006, with increases in exports to the US and EU particularly strong at 43% and 36% respectively.

Some 150 of the territory's manufacturers attended Silmo, which was spread over four vast halls and attracted some 50,000 visitors over the four days compared to 46,618 in 2006.

The €5bn business includes optical frames and sunglasses as well as components and is divided in terms of value into about 55% lenses, 28% frames, 7% each for contact lenses and sunglasses and just over 2% for eye-care products.

These impressive figures attracted Bestwork Industries Ltd, which offers a large selection of handmade acetate frames and sunglasses under the brand name Perfecto for sale in Europe and the US.

Managing Director Bobby To stressed the importance of quality as well as design. "We specialise in sunglasses and optical frames," said Mr To, adding that his firm was "top" of the market. "For example, we use good flex hinges from Germany and France."

Silmo attracts buyers looking for quality products, Mr To pointed out, with Bestwork signing major deals with buyers from Spain and Germany, and receiving enquiries from Italy.

Bestwork's wholesale prices range from €8 for a simple frame up to €12 for more complex frames with more colours; both requiring a minimum order of 300 pairs. "We sell frames to designers, who put their brands on them and sell them for €50, €80 or €100," Mr To explained.

Packaging companies also added colour and variety to the optical show, with Qualipak Mfg Ltd displaying new cardboard container designs that included one resembling a Ferrari sports car and another that looks like a small briefcase.

The new designs are very stylish and differ from the traditional metal clamshell, Qualipak Marketing Manager Carmen Wong explained. "Metal packages are so heavy and cardboard is very light, so products can be slightly redesigned," she said, adding that the minimum order is 3,000 pieces and unit prices are available on request.

Clearly recherche Hong Kong styles in both eyewear and packaging are proving very attractive to international buyers - high praise indeed from a world capital of style like Paris.