"She had a west coast strut that was as sweet as molasses,
But what really knocked me out was her cheap sunglasses."
So sang ZZ Top on their 1979 hit, "Cheap Sunglasses," and 30 years later, the tune's lyrics remain relevant. Consumers are increasingly looking for cheaply priced, albeit not cheap looking, shades.
"Customers don't have the $300 or $400 to spend on sunglasses this year, like they did in the past," says Adam Rizza, president of Sunscape Eyewear. "The trend is very much toward selling a low end product that's of high quality. We're offering the same thing that high end sunglasses manufacturer Oakley gives you, but ours retail for $20."
"We've even now seeing high end boutiques contacting us to buy our product," he continues. "They're looking to offer something that's still nice looking, but doesn't seem like something cheap you'd buy on the street." The uptick in business for Sunscape comes at a time when most businesses are hurting. "It's been unfortunate for many," Rizza says, "but it's been great for us."
Most other sunglass wholesalers agree, positing that spring/summer 2009 could be one of their better years. Ward Chen, principal at Jay-Y Sunglasses, reports that spring shipments, nearing conclusion, have been strong, while Cahit Dogan, owner of T-Box Sunglasses, says his company is anticipating solid results for the hot weather months.
As for just what, specifically, will be selling, many of the sunglass sultans start off by describing what won't be flying off the shelves and onto a forehead near you. "The really big glasses that were popular last year seem to be less so this year," Dogan says. The so-called "bug eye" sunglasses, popularized initially by Jacqueline Onassis and revived in recent years by the likes of Nicole Richie, the Olsen twins and Lindsay Lohan, may now be on their way out, he says.
The latest "bug eye" revival began in Hollywood, popularized by starlets trying to avoid the glare of the paparazzi's lights; as so often happens with fashion, the trend soon moved to regular people, seeking to imitate and emulate the look. And while some of the celebs and average consumers are sticking with the design, the definition of, "what's popular," has very much moved on. "Oversized lenses are still there, but they're shrinking, both in design and in market share," Rizza says. "Most people this year are not looking for that wild look anymore."
What's being sought instead is a return to classics. "Retro is very much in this year," says Janice Chien, sales manager at PR Sunglasses. "The Blues Brothers' style, Aviators, Wayfarers, all of those are being snapped up." And while those Ray-Ban styles are returning to the top, they're going well beyond basic black. PR's "New Wayfarers," available to wholesalers for $14.50 per dozen, while its Wayfarer-ish "Retro" sold to wholesalers at $21.50 per dozen, come in neon color frames with a checker board pattern on the temple. "It's about adding more details to existing styles," Chien says. "It makes the whole look more trendy."
Similarly, T-Box offers an Aviator type for $26 per dozen to wholesalers, with various frame colors available, while with other designs, "Polka dots have been big for three or four months," says Dogan.
At Jay-Y, Aviator styled sunglasses principally come in more modest shades than the neon hues catching fire at some other wholesalers, with per dozen prices ranging from $24 to $36. At Western Trading Company, Susan Lin notes that its Wayfarer-ish "0941" model is available in white, neon green, neon orange, neon pink, neon purple and red frames; seemingly designed specifically for retro 1980s parties, along with skinny ties and zebra striped pants.
"There's a lot of demand for neon right now," says Rizza at Sunscape, where Rockstar Sweet Heart glasses in hot pink and red are priced at $19.95 each, and the Peek-A-Boo DC Mini, at $9.95, features a traditional looking black Wayfarer-ish spectacle frame with bright pink temples. "Pinks, purples, greens; customers were ordering those well in advance of spring and summer."
Purple, violet and lilac colors in various shades came into their own during the autumn/winter 2007 season, and have remained fairly steady ever since. Sunglasses collections by such designers as Tiffany, Fendi, Balenciaga, Chanel, Emporio Armani, Miu Miu, DVB, Oakley, Ray-Ban, Diesel, Arnette, and Nueu all currently feature purple and violet sunglasses and are expected to add even more to their new collections heading into fall 2009/winter 2010.
Print designs are also making themselves felt this year. Sunscape's Peek-A-Boo Flower ($9.95), as its name suggests, includes bright orange and red floral patterns on its white frames, while Fashion Elite's G8006 and G8004 boast checker board temples. For its part, Jay-Y offers a complete line of MLB and NFL sunglasses that include each of their respective league's team logos, for $8.50 to $16.50. Oddly, at press time, the design for the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers was still available, while that for the runner up Arizona Cardinals were out of stock. Tortoise shell frames also remain perennially popular.
All of this is not to suggest that unusually colored frames are the only way to get wild on the beach this year. Solarized lenses remain extremely popular, in many cases offering additional protection from UV rays, as well as a means to look cool. Deep blue lenses, as well as dark-to-light brown and purple designs, are among the more popular styles at Fashion Elite Eyewear USA, according to the company's David Song. Lenses with patterns on them (stars, hearts, crosses) also do well.
In addition, reflective or mirrored lenses, which first burst onto the scene in the 1950s and have made several comebacks since, are once again gaining traction in the marketplace. Besides the traditional silver lenses, gold and blue mirror shades are also finding favor with consumers this year. "Usually an old trend will come back within 10 years," says PR's Chien, "and this is no exception."
Some features of the sunglass landscape have remained constant. Women make up some 70 percent of all sunglass sales; to no one's surprise, they're more likely to seek out something determinedly au courant than their male counterparts, who usually choose functionality over fashion. Wraparound, sporty shades and square, boxy frames remain the most popular with men, as they have for years, and according to wholesalers, will continue to be.
Plastic also remains the material of choice, towering over metal in a roughly 80/20 split. Being generally lighter in weight, not to mention, cheaper, plastic sunglasses have established themselves as having sufficient durability. If misplaced or accidentally sat upon, the loss is usually less painful, both emotionally, and when sunglasses were actually glass, physically. "It's really been the past five years where plastic frames have become much more popular than metal," says Dogan. "Now it looks like they're here to stay."
Looking ahead, marketing and sales plans are, for the most part, staying steady, as sunglass wholesalers are positioning themselves to deal with what could, as already indicated, be a counter-intuitively boom year. Trying to keep items in stock and constantly updating catalogs and websites are taking up the lion's share of activities, the wholesalers say; a situation that's vastly preferable to the dormant phone lines and nose diving demand being seen in so many other industries.
Fashion Elite's David Song says his company won't be announcing any new initiatives in marketing and sales until after the annual International Vision Expo East trade show in New York City, March 26-29. Others say they've frankly been too busy to address such concerns.
But Sunscape is in the midst of a six month revamp of its website, according to Rizza. "We've got a search engine optimization team that's second to none," he says. "What we're trying to do, along with our online store, is to build a culture on the Net that we didn't have before." Such activity reflects a newfound dedication to keeping things simple, he says.
"This is not the time to be taking any risks in anything, or so it seems," Rizza laughs.
The following companies were interviewed for this article:
17526 Von Karman Ave.
Irvine, CA 92614
Toll Free: 800-959-6001
2028 NW 22nd Ave.
Miami, FL 33142
Toll Free: 888-440-8269
7596 Harwin Dr.
Houston, TX 77036
Toll Free: 800-777-7656
Fashion Elite Eyewear USA
6867 Chelsea Rd.
McLean, VA 22101
Western Trading Company
360 Swift Ave., Suite 21
South San Francisco, CA 94080
Toll Free: 800-556- 8687
Fax: 650-588- 8015
632 New York Drive
Pomona, CA 91768
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