30th Aug, 2018

Eye Eye. A chat with Olympus Eyewear

Gary, how did you get into the business of designing and manufacturing eyewear? How did that happen?

My optical career started as a sales representative in the late 70s previously having been trained in the FMCG market by a leading confectionery company. My career in the optical industry developed into key accounts manager, general sales manager and finally sales director for a leading spectacle frame importer. I was encouraged by family and friends to embark on a self-employed role as a consultant in the industry. This role gave me experience with manufacturing companies in the early days in Italy, France and latterly in the Far East where much of the manufacturing for the world spectacle frame market is produced. I extensively covered China and spent many, many months during the years at the factories understanding the process to produce spectacle frames. This gave me the ability to design and generate product for specific optical collections. This experience was passed across to Ms Sue Fisher who today carries out this role in Olympus Eyewear Europe.

You say you were in the eyewear business for 30 years, is that right ?

Having started in the late 70s I am now in my 40th year of the optical business and have many connections worldwide in both manufacturing and retail.

And what changes have you seen over those three decades? Good bad and ugly?

Well I think I could write a book on the optical industry! This extends to the retail and wholesale distribution business and at the same time the change to the worldwide manufacturing locations. In the early days spectacle frames were driven by National Heath frames, the 524 (a standard acetate design) being the number one seller. People didn’t really wear frames for fashion, it was more a necessity than an accessory. The European manufacturers developed fashion frames and the market changed to that direction and is very buoyant even more so now with designer companies licencing their name to what has become a fashion accessory. During my early days in the industry there was a national health sight test which was free of charge until 1988. This affected retail sales for a period of at least 2 years. Today the general public would pay for a sight test. On the manufacturing side the biggest impact was the growth of the Chinese manufacturing base and today is still extremely strong. Regretfully many of the European facilities have either closed or downsized from volume to more bespoke technical products.

That was even before the internet, how did that impact the sector, in your experience?

For sure. The internet has had an impact all round both at retail and wholesale. It is unclear exactly what percentage of the market value has moved into this sector. But there are several major players in the online market spread across Europe. As a rule of thumb members of the public purchasing online glazed spectacle frames are cost-conscious and looking for value for money. Designer product is available in a limited way and many independent practitioners today price-match when possible. Fortunately the sale of spectacle frames is still a touch-and-feel sale – people want to try frames on and get feedback which isn’t always easy online.

What makes a great frame?

From my perspective quality of the product is first and foremost. From the materials used to the process of manufacture. When designing spectacle frames one must understand the DNA of the brand you are developing to bring to market. Non-branded product must offer value for money in terms of quality and be up to date with fashion trends.

In order to stand out from the crowd and have something different to offer to customers which we have with our Ultra Limited collection. This is a product very well made by artisans in Italy. Over a 41 day period, exclusive pieces of acetate plates are produced for each frame in order for the final manufacturing process to take place. The result being that each piece is totally unique and cannot be copied. This makes a great frame.

How has technology changed the eyewear sector since you started Olympus?

Technology has had a big influence in sight testing with a lot more equipment available to identify more accurate prescriptions and potential medical conditions. In terms of product new lens monomers have been developed to create higher index lenses and major lens companies are constantly creating more advanced lens designs in the progressive market. This is equally prevalent in the frame element available to the end user as different materials are now available for a more diverse product to accommodate thin and lightweight frames. Over the last ten years the hinge and temples have seen innovation such as screwless connections and more ergonomic shapes. The traditional method of producing a plastic spectacle frame has seen increased colour variations and laminations. With metal spectacle frames such materials as Stainless Steel and titanium are becoming more popular.

Over the last five years without doubt Social Media has played a big part in creating and maintaining brand awareness. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest etc. As a company we embrace this media and interact direct with the general public and customers. Online platforms allow eCommerce solutions and this is an area we actively take part in as a service to our customers having 2 sites, one for general public and one wholesale for the industry.

Can you see another 30 years into the future? Do you think eyewear will transform into some sort of ‘wearable tech?’

Using my imagination one can easily imagine refractive surgery becoming more popular. Bespoke eyewear designed by the individual made via 3D printing. Lenses with digital display similar in concept to a modern car dashboard display. The potential for your spectacle frame to incorporate a mini computer is not unrealistic.

Predictions? 😊

Currently the major multiples compete against each other for the volume sector of the business. The independent practitioner is still a very important part of the market and can offer equal products to the multiples but they have the added advantage that they can also offer more bespoke and unique product. Today we are seeing an increase in boutique type practices in the independent sector as members of the public are always on the lookout for something different to enhance their personality. Social Media is a big influencer in this area.

As always. Thank you Gary. See more here.


16th Aug, 2018

Peer-to-business Lending – It’s a Journey Not a Destination

If you’re new to peer -to-business lending you might be wondering what you’re in for, if you’re a seasoned P2B lender, you may by now understand the various processes and cycles involved in lending to businesses.

As a platform we’ve been facilitating lending to UK SMEs for over 6 years and have noticed certain trends in lender and borrower activity. We thought it might be useful to give you an insight into what you might expect as a lender. (more…)

14th Aug, 2018

Fist Bump For Science?! Tell more.

I like cool names. Which means I love Fist Bump For Science, even before I realise just what a great concept it is. They take science kit into schools and colleges and get the kids using it. Inspirational, educational, Director Tom Warrender tells the rest.

Where did the name Fist Bump For Science come from?

Me and my daughter make little videos together at home with mini science experiments or info for teachers and she loves to get involved. We had recently seen the Disney film Big Hero 6 and the main two characters do a fist bump, so we started doing it too! We added the phrase fist bump for science as a ad lib when filming and it stuck!

14th Aug, 2018

New Board Appointments Strengthen Firm for Growth

rebuildingsociety.com are pleased to announce the appointment of the newest members of our Board, Stephen Wallis as Non-Executive Risk Director, and Georgina Mitchell as Chief Operating Officer.


01st Aug, 2018

Where it comes from matters

This is a two part article regarding business ethics, co-created with Jo Salter, founder of outrageously ethical clothes retailer Where Does It Come From?

Part one is below.

Part two is here:

Hello Jo, you’re one of the leaders in ethical business, can you talk to me about what the concept of Ethical means, in principle, to yourself and your business? Imagine if business people are reading this and thinking what are the principles behind ethical commerce? How does it relate in business practice? Where in the supply line does ethics begin.. and end… and how does it translate commercially. Please, share your thoughts, experience, and understanding:

Hi Bird, thanks for inviting me to comment.  I do feel passionate about ethical business, although I really believe that all business should be ethical.  Of course it is vital in business to be profitable, otherwise a business cannot stay afloat, however the focus on finance as the only goal is becoming increasingly unpopular, especially with a consumer base who are becoming more driven by their core values.  When you hear about the richest people in the world running businesses where worker rights and environmental concerns are rife then it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Ethical as a term is wide reaching and I would argue that we all have our own individual values. Some people are driven by the environment, others by animal rights and others by human rights – and there are many more areas too.  However when I’m talking about an ethical code it is around altruism – not for personal gain.  People are so inspiring when they give their time, passion and money to a cause that they hold dear, and it is this that changes the world.  Shopping according to personal values is a growth area – the UK ethical market grew by 3.2% in 2016, which is impressive when you consider that inflation was only 0.64% (Ethical Consumer Magazine).  We are also seeing celebrities such as Emma Watson and our new Duchess of Sussex embracing ethics as a way of expressing their personal values (see https://www.wheredoesitcomefrom.co.uk/dress-values-like-meghan-markle/)

There is a huge upsurge of ethical businesses who are targeting these values driven consumers.  One of the many challenges is that most of these people are already in the habit of shopping with certain brands who are perhaps easier to shop from, so if these larger brands can convince them that values will be met then they are likely to stay loyal.  Many larger brands are taking steps to address this market, which can only be a good thing for consumers as well as people and planet.  However ethical brands offer something more unique.  Most have been started from scratch by passionate individuals who have direct links with their product and makers.  Each tends to have a different approach to meeting their ethical goals – for Where Does It Come From? the ethical clothing brand I founded in 2013 it’s all about transparency and telling the stories behind our products through a code on the garment label.  I know other fantastic brands that give back to makers’ communities or contribute to relevant charities.  Most of these ethical brands are completely on top of their supply process and making strong decisions about the source components they use and the people who make their products.

Commercially it is a lot more challenging.  When I set up the business I was told that clothing brands typically charge 6 times what they pay for a garment.  This is something that we cannot do – paying fair wages for high quality organic fabrics whilst still hitting an acceptable market price for customers is a delicate balance.  Ethical businesses tend to be smaller too and without the budgets or the inclination for huge advertising campaigns – being heard is a key challenge we all face.  We rely on loyal customers and social media to spread the word and are always grateful for any PR!  Some of these ethical businesses are being really innovative in pushing the sustainability agenda – we are lean enough to make changes rapidly and we don’t compromise on our values.  You can check out our key policies at https://www.wheredoesitcomefrom.co.uk/ethical-business-policies/.




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