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At Vision Expo East 2024, Eyewear’s Biggest Players Confident About the Road Ahead

Times may be tough — but the eyewear industry is looking forward.

At this year’s Vision Expo East, the last held at New York’s Javits Center before the event moves to Orlando, Fla., in 2025, showgoers talked sustainability, technology and customization. The more than 460 exhibitors, more than 2023, showcased brand launches and innovation against a backdrop of orders, education and speakers, and there was a visibly renewed focus on proprietary brands from the industry’s biggest eyewear conglomerates.

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The Marcolin Group is looking back at a positive 2023. “Despite the challenging context, we put into action an economical and financial strategy with the main objective to increase profitability, pursued through a process of streamlining and consolidation of the licenses portfolio, a focus on product quality and sales margins, as well as a constant striving for sustainable growth through the timely evaluation of investments and monitoring of fixed costs,” said Marcolin channels and sales operations support director, interim CEO North America Davide Rettore.

The executive noted that 2023 marked the launch of a customer experience transformation, “a journey to become even more customer centric, digitally integrated and data-driven, combining human factor and technology and enabling our teams to be faster, agile and take informed decisions,” he said. The implementation “represents a new approach to customer engagement which puts the customer at the center of the business model, based on listening to and anticipating their needs to build a simpler, longer lasting and more responsible way of doing business, across their entire lifecycle.” According to Rettore, Marcolin ended 2023 with net sales up 2 percent year-over-year to 558.3 million euros.

In the ramp-up to the show, the Italian company opened a new showroom in New York, part of an internalization strategy that also includes Milan, Paris and Shanghai, in order to “constantly elevate our corporate image, and let the customers immerse into the world of Marcolin — showcasing our innovative approach and craftsmanship to eyewear,” he said.

Recent global licensing agreements with MCM Eyewear and Christian Louboutin see Marcolin beefing up its brand portfolio. Christian Louboutin’s range will be a first for the French shoe brand, which Rettore classified as “a clear testament of our ability to launch new brands in our industry.”

Prominently featured at the company’s New York booth was also the recently acquired Ic! Berlin, which the executive sees leveraging the organization’s expertise in metalworking and “expanding our portfolio of luxury brands, a segment with high potential, while also strengthening our commercial position in key areas such as Asia, U.S. and Europe,” he said. The brand will continue to be made in Germany, which introduces Marcolin “to a new way of conceptualizing, designing and manufacturing eyewear,” he added.

Safilo at 2024 Vision Expo East.
Safilo at 2024 Vision Expo East.

Safilo, too, has been bulking up its portfolio, and signed two recent license agreements: Etro and Stuart Weitzman. “This was a very important achievement for us, which sits alongside the solid and long-lasting growth of our home brands,” said Vittorio Verdun, president of North America, Safilo Group, who described the group’s holdings as “an almost unique portfolio in the industry, which, in 2023, at approximately 44 percent of our sales, progressed on our target of representing over 50 percent by 2027.”

This year is a milestone 90 years for Safilo, and there are plans to celebrate throughout the year, including at MIDO, and via various direct customer marketing touch points. “We are staying hyper-focused on the principle that is deeply rooted in our DNA of looking ahead to allow millions of people to see the world at its best while continuously innovating and focus on product excellence and outstanding customer service,” Verdun said.

The executive said Carrera is performing very well overall in the U.S. market, “fueled by strong momentum in the women’s segment due to the Carrera Woman collection,” it launched last spring, adding that he sees “a renewed strong interest across all regions, especially among Florida and New York customers.”

Carrera
Carrera

The East show saw Safilo dive deeper with the brand, debuting the Carrera Festival Edition Capsule Collection — well timed as Safilo is an official eyewear partnership of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival for the second year in a row. It includes eight sun styles in a mix of male, female and unisex shapes and materials; all lenses have an iridescent effect telegraphing a bubbly and magical festival mood.

On the licensed brands front, Kate Spade New York is “one of the key pillars of the region,” with Carolina Herrera, Tommy Hilfiger, Boss, Eyewear by David Beckham and Marc Jacobs “among our best-performing licensed brands,” Verdun said.

Safilo was an early adapter of melding technology with eyewear, partnering with Amazon for Carrera Smart Glasses with Alexa, while Verdun said it is still very early in the launch and product lifecycle to evaluate the full reach of the initiative, “especially for the wholesale distribution channel.” In the Amazon channel, “the product is performing quite well,“ he said.

In 2022, Safilo signed an agreement for the acquisition of a minority stake in Spaarkly, a tech start-up specialized in e-commerce augmented reality. “This collaboration represents a further step in Safilo’s 360 digital transformation journey, which has seen the group continually introduce numerous innovative B2C and B2B solutions to support our customers and the end consumer,” he said.

Verdun said color is playing an important role for buyers, as are a variety of shapes and sizes. Requests for frames to accommodate larger women’s face shapes were a recurring theme at the show.

He noted smaller orders across the board at Vision Expo East “as customers seemed to be more cautious in their buying habits but we were able to convert accounts that were seriously interested in buying, selling the same amount of units as we did at the show in 2022.”

Ray-Ban
Ray-Ban

EssilorLuxottica is staking a claim on Gen Z with Ray-Ban Pulse, a youthful collection featuring geometric and wraparound shapes in bright hues. “These frames aim to break away from classic styles and embrace new standards by being unique and bold,” said Maria Colon, vice president of Ray-Ban North America. With an accessible price point starting at $143 and a frame made from bio-based materials, “the new product line is designed for the Gen Z audience, who have shared values, preferences and beliefs, positioning Ray-Ban as not only the leader in the latest eyewear trends but also a brand at the pulse of the cultural conversation,” she said.

Jimmy Choo eyewear is launching its first collection in partnership with EssilorLuxottica. Styles are made from recycled acetate with bio-nylon lenses and use “crystal, pearl and signature brand signifiers for an elevated, recognizable look,” said Alessandro Mariani, vice president of brand marketing, EssilorLuxottica professional solutions North America. Signifiers include diamond-shaped studs, “which are present for the first time in the eyewear category,” he said, with sharp custom temple tips that are a play on the heel of the brand’s shoes.

“A few years ago, we embarked on a journey to make EssilorLuxottica’s business model more circular, with the aim to shift from fossil-based materials to bio-based and/or recycled materials, and embed eco-design in all its developments by 2025,” said Elena Dimichino, chief corporate sustainability officer, EssilorLuxottica.

The EssilorLuxottica booth at 2024 Vision Expo East show.
The EssilorLuxottica booth at 2024 Vision Expo East show.

“In doing so, our sustainable innovation expertise is applied to our products and services to meet the company’s environmental commitments and guarantee the best vision, without compromising quality. The activities span from sourcing and researching new innovative materials, developing internal recycling processes, reducing input materials, to favoring eco-conscious designs and investing in new technologies, “ she said, adding that last year the group strengthened its permeation of responsible materials in its house and licensed brand eyewear collections.

Following the adoption of a proprietary eco-design tool called SAM (sustainability assessment methodology) “in our lens division, the new Varilux XR series lens has reduced plastic consumption by 19 percent compared to previous Varilux X series lens, leading to an estimated decrease of 6 percent in CO2 emissions,” she added.

The global Eyes on Tomorrow program was once again front and center at Marchon’s booth, highlighting the organization’s goal to be 50 percent sustainable by 2025. “This year we have made the switch to sustainable demo lenses across all our production,” Thomas Burkhardt, president, Marchon Eyewear, said. Currently, the company’s portfolio of frames is more than 30 percent sustainably made and “more than 80 percent of our POP and packaging items are produced with recyclable materials,” he said. Burkhardt is confident the company will reach its goal through “our work with world-class partners like Eastman, leveraging more sustainable materials and packaging solutions, and innovating the way we manufacture and transport our products.”

He added that time is in the company’s favor, “every year, new more sustainable materials are coming to the marketplace and we’re excited to be at the forefront of exploring and implementing innovations in this field, with the end goal of having one of the most sustainable product platforms in the industry.”

The executive said that while the overall optical business in the U.S. has seen a decline over the past couple of years, Marchon’s business continues to grow. “Our U.S. business is strong and remains the most important market,” with Nike Vision, Ferragamo, Calvin Klein, Longchamp and Lacoste, as well as proprietary brands, including Dragon, “performing exceptionally well.”

Ferragamo
Ferragamo

A strategy seen across the show floor, Marchon is refocusing one of its proprietary brands: Pure eyewear. “After a market evaluation, we saw an opportunity to create brighter and more expressive eyewear at an affordable price point,” which translated into the Pure rebrand, he said. While black and brown are understood to still be the most selected colors in eyewear, “we are encouraged seeing increasingly how other colors are coming back in trend,” which led to the new creative direction featuring colorful, playful, “mood-boosting” affordable options “that make a bold impact.” The Pure website will launch later this season, and a social media campaign will launch in the fall.

On the back end, Marchon continues to accelerate its digitalization efforts, particularly in the areas of product design and development, merchandising, forecasting and marketing, he said. Teams are now working “very differently than just three, four years ago, with better systems and support and fewer administrative tasks, creating time and space for more creativity and focus on our customers’ needs,” Burkhardt said.

Akoni’s CEO Rosario Toscano said the VEE show was an “incredibly positive experience” for the brand. “The East show served as an opportunity to strengthen relationships with our retail partners and explore new avenues for collaboration. Overall, it was a rewarding experience that further solidified our position within the eyewear industry.”

The U.S. market is an important market for the premium eyewear manufacturer, as it’s the only region with a dedicated e-commerce presence, a strategic decision based on several factors, Toscano said. ”Firstly, the U.S. market historically represents the largest platform for eyewear online, making it a natural first move for our expansion. Additionally, Americans have a strong affinity for new brands and are early adopters, creating a perfect environment for Akoni Eyewear. Lastly, our primary business is predominantly driven by the United States in terms of retail and wholesale channels, making the online strategy aligned with our existing market presence,” Toscano said. The brand plans to gradually expand the channel into other markets.

Balmain
Balmain

He hinted at several initiatives launching soon with Akoni, Balmain and Valentino. “One initiative worth highlighting is our ongoing research and development efforts to integrate cutting-edge technologies into our products, such as advanced lens coatings and materials that enhance durability and performance,” he said.

Outside of the Javits Center, other groups chose to hold appointments in unique venues. “This year again we chose Spring Studio to present our summer collections through an immersive visual merchandising concept,” Thelios CEO Alessandro Zanardo said. “This event was more than a showcase; it was a celebration of our portfolio expansion with the introduction of four new maisons and our commitment to the luxury eyewear market in the U.S.”

Zanardo said a particular highlight was the return of Tag Heuer’s eyewear line and Bulgari’s first presentation in the region, “which received excellent feedback from our clients. We continue to grow as an organization and to pursue excellence in all our endeavors — our growth in the U.S. market and the recent integration of our proprietary brands Barton Perreira and Vuarnet are perfect examples of it. As part of LVMH Group, we remain dedicated to framing the future of luxury eyewear, upholding the highest standards for both product and distribution quality.”

Eyewear customization was focus point at this year’s show, a topic Silhouette is leading the conversation on. “Now more than ever, customers are looking for eyewear that highlights their unique preferences and style,” Hartmut Kraft, president, Silhouette Optical US, said, adding that Silhouette has long been at the forefront of customizable eyewear, “starting with the revolutionary Titan Minimal Art collection 25 years ago,” a collection that lets customers personalize their eyewear experience by mixing and matching an endless assortment of rimless shapes, sizes, temple colors and optional lens tints.

“This year, with our new 25th anniversary Titan Minimal Art collection, customers have another customization option with the introduction of our hand-applied Color Groove add-on, giving a subtle, colorful contour to the lenses. We take pride in providing a truly unique customer experience, allowing wearers to create their own, tailor-made eyewear that redefines innovation and style.”

Launch Gallery: Highlights From 2024 Vision Expo East Eyewear Show

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