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.


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