Drapers outlines everything you need to know – including the key trends – for a clear vision of the sunglasses market.
More from: Why the future's bright for sunglasses
From John Lennon’s owlish round frames to Karl Lagerfeld’s super-sized shades and Elton John’s dazzling collection, a pair of sunglasses can become a defining element of a person’s personal style.
The outlook for the sunglasses category is bright, as the global market is set to grow by 23% to $26bn (£19bn) over the next five years, Euromonitor International has predicted. Accordingly, fashion brands and retailers, from high street to high end, are jostling for shoppers’ attention.
Asos sold more than 90,000 pairs of women’s sunglasses last April alone as the UK basked in an early summer heatwave. But the market is not sunshine dependent – twentysomething shoppers also purchased 10,000 pairs of on-trend slim cat-eye sunglasses from the etailer’s own collection in January 2018 – not a month known for its sunny skies.
Fast fashion retailer Quiz Clothing will launch sunglasses that retail from £7.99 to £19.99 as part of a swimwear collection available now, while British luxury brand Mulberry debuted eight styles of sunglasses inspired by eight style icons – including Kate Moss – in February. Retail prices range from £190 to £220.
Margins and sell-through are good, because sunglasses are an easy purchase for customers – the perfect ‘pick-up’ product
Rufus Abbott, creative director and owner of eyewear sales agency and consultancy The Goods Agency
Meanwhile, a wave of new wholesale brands are entering the fray, giving retailers the chance to add dynamic new names to sit alongside better-known designer heavyweights. The burgeoning market, combined with the increasingly seasonless appeal of sunnies, means this category can be an easy win for retailers seeking to drive up consumer spend.
“Margins are very good and sell-through is good, because sunglasses are an easy purchase for customers. They’re the perfect ‘pick-up’ product,” says Rufus Abbott, creative director and owner of eyewear sales agency and consultancy The Goods Agency.
However, buyers need to be adventurous in their choices and invest in proper in store presentation, he cautions: “Sunglasses can be an afterthought for retailers, but if you get this category right, it can perform very well. You’ve got to have an interesting mix of product and get your presentation right [in store] with wall fittings and lit shelving.
“Online retail is increasingly crucial in this market, too, and if you’re selling sunglasses online, you need to show the product on headshots to show what they look like on [a person]. It’s amazing how many retailers aren’t doing this.”
Retailers also need to be at the very top of their games to beat increased competition from direct-to-consumer players, such as Cubitts, Ace & Tate and Finlay & Co. Fashion-forward and focused on service, these brands are often priced at a £100-£150 sweet spot. Attainable prices and increased choice are encouraging consumers to express their personalities through their eyewear, as they purchase more frames in bolder shapes, styles and colourways.
These specialists are also injecting a sense of retail theatre into eyewear shopping, by opening eye-catching bricks-and-mortar stores that could not be more different from a traditional high street optician. Take a trip to Korean eyewear brand Gentle Monster’s London store on Arygll Street, for example, where visual merchandising is used with aplomb, and sunglasses sit alongside Instagram-ready sculptural installations.
“It’s an interesting time in our market, which has moved from a monopolistic set-up to having a new range of players enter, both online and through vertically integrated players setting up a retail offer,” argues Michael Andersen, chief executive officer of direct-to-consumer eyewear brand Ollie Quinn, which launched in 2017 and has 10 stores around the UK.
“There’s more competition and options for consumers. Shoppers are looking to express their individuality and their style – they aren’t willing to settle on something that everybody is wearing.
“There’s also an increasing awareness of eye health,” he adds, “which has led to demand for polarised lenses and anti-reflective coatings.”
Mark de Lange, founder of Ace & Tate, which launched in 2013 and has five UK stores, agrees: “The brand launched with the simple idea that eyewear isn’t just a medical device, but also a tool for self-expression. We are changing the way people buy and think about eyewear, making the shopping experience seamless and fun. We inspire people to treat eyewear also as an accessory by building their own collection that reflects the many sides of their personality. We want eyewear to be seen as a lifestyle accessory.”
All the same
David Lochhead founded eyewear brand Finlay & Co with friend Dane Butler in 2012 after the duo glanced around the swimming pool on holiday and noticed how many people were wearing similar sunglasses. The brand’s Percy sunnies were donned by Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, at her first appearance with Prince Harry at the Invictus Games in 2017. It opened its first store just off London’s Carnaby Street in January 2018.
“Previously, people might have had multiple pairs of shoes but just one or two pairs of sunglasses,” he tells Drapers. “There’s so much richness in the market, so why copy each other on a few select styles and brands?
“We’re finding that across both glasses and sunglasses, consumers are significantly increasing the number of frames they have, partly because the price is democratising. And because prices are lower, and shoppers are not just wearing one pair of frames, they’re prepared to push the boundaries when it comes to shape and colour.”
Consumers are looking to express their personality through their eyewear, presenting fashion retailers with a clear opportunity. However, exciting product, excellent service and careful consideration of presentation are the key to compete with the market’s dynamic direct-to-consumer players.
The sunglasses trends to know now
There is a less of a clear delineation between men’s and women’s sunglasses, experts tell Drapers.
“As in other industries, we’re finding that the mix of male- and female-specific frames are beginning to cross over and become unisex,” says Mark de Lange, founder of Ace & Tate. “Keeping the frames targeted to one sex is limiting.”
“Small shapes, very light materials and an impressive selection of lenses are the key to a compelling sunglass offer,” argues Giovanni Zoppas, chief executive of luxury eyewear manufacturer Thelios, which works with Celine, Kenzo, Loewe and Berlutti. “Extraordinary lenses are the gateway to success today.
Finlay & Co founder David Lochhead agrees: “Fade lenses are having a big moment, whereas mirrored lenses are less prominent in the collection than they were a few years ago.”
“Sports-related styles, like visors, are popular, as are oversized frames inspired by Gucci,” says Rufus Abbott, creative director and owner of eyewear sales agency and consultancy The Goods Agency. “One trend that has gone away is the micro-sunglasses that were popular last summer – retailers bought a lot but didn’t sell a lot.”
Sunglasses brand Silhouette has focused on 1970s inspirations for its summer 19 collection.
“A 1970s theme influenced the spring 19 catwalks – there’s a sense of urban nostalgia for both men and women. Statement accent rings and angular structures bring 1970s charm into modern day,” says managing director Perry Moore.