Sparkle, Sizzle, Hot…and Cool Sunwear Challenges Eyecare Professionals

By Paddy Kamen

featureThere’s nothing like a pair of new sunglasses to lift the spirits and create a sense of fun or mystery. For one thing, sunwear speaks of summer, everyone’s favourite season. For another, you can align yourself with the stars – those of the Hollywood (and Bollywood) variety – all of whom wear sunglasses and are keen to outdo one another by rocking the latest eye candy.

There is clearly a market for sunwear, but when sunglasses are available from the drugstore, novelty shop, train station or street vendor, what is the eyecare professional to do?

Choosing your stock with care, educating consumers and merchandizing sunwear with flare are the keys to success. Whether you’re an independent, a chain, a boutique or a big box retailer, there’s plenty of opportunity in the sunwear market.

Diana Monea, owner of Eye Health Centres in Calgary and Regina, sees plenty of opportunity in this segment. “For starters, as multifocal contact lenses improve and become more user-friendly, non-ophthalmic sunglass sales for the boomer-generation are increasing.”

Currently, 70 per cent of Monea’s sunwear sales are plano, but the percentage of prescription sunwear sales is rising due to a concerted education and merchandising effort, for Monea leaves nothing to chance.

“Success with sunglass sales means consumer education from the cradle to the grave,” she says. “We educate new parents about proper UV protection for their children. Many parents don’t know that 30 per cent of damage to the eyes from UV occurs before the age of 18. And we make sure that adults know about the disastrous effects of long-term UV exposure to the eyes. From the patient in the chair to the optician selling the eyewear, we emphasize eye protection with proper sunwear.”

Monea has her staff place new sunwear in highly visible store locations, along with attractive and eye-catching POP from fashion magazines. “We’re always on the lookout for new merchandising ideas and like to attend classes at professional conferences to gain new insights into how to properly position products to grab attention and instill desire. We have POP showing on our in-house TV, as well as brochures at every desk and in the examining rooms.”

What is selling best for Monea? “Designer labels are a big hit for those 15 to 40, but after that age practicality becomes a bigger issue.”

Amin Mamdani, owner of Squint Eyewear in Toronto, sells premium, artisanal brands. “While licensed sunwear still dominates, I find that premium brands are gaining momentum. We carry sunwear that is special and unique,” says Mamdani. “But it is essential to present a selection and cater to different demographics.”

When you think about stock selection, keep in mind that some of the smaller manufacturers and distributors offer the retailer a reasonably priced, quality product that won’t be found on every street corner. Cendrine Obadia, president and lead designer of Zig Eyewear, notes that when the majority of retailers carry the same brands, prices tend to fall because price is the main differentiator. “Retailers need to sell different products to stand out and to give consumers more choice,” she says. Several manufacturers in this category, all with attractive sunwear offerings, are covered in the product section of this feature.

Another excellent differentiator for the optical store is sports-specific sunwear. There are many excellent brands in this segment. Mamdani carries adidas RXO™. “There’s an adapter inside the lens that provides the correction, or the sunglasses have prescription lenses,” he says. “These are safe, lightweight sunglasses, ideal for runners, cyclists, boaters and skiers. We also carry ski goggles and a vast selection of polarized performance lenses.”

Charles Dray is the owner of 11 Key West Boutique stores in Quebec. His stores sell sunwear and watches exclusively. West says the number of people buying sunwear for sporting activities has increased substantially in the last 10 years. “The new lens and frame technologies have taken the sun-sport market to a whole new level. This segment is growing by leaps and bounds and people are looking for sun protection for all kinds of sports.”

Who is Presenting Your Sunwear Products? 

Design Trends in Sunwear   Namita Karir, managing optician of Karir Eyewear-Yorkdale in Toronto, watches fashion trends closely to see how they become reflected in sunwear design. “I find that clothing styles have been pretty consistent with the "Mad Men" classic and retro fashions. In line with these fashions, sunwear is currently chunky and features classic colours. I notice a revamping of older shapes. For example, Oliver Goldsmith is re-releasing shapes that were created in the 50s and 60s.”  As for sunwear frame design and colours, Linda Mulford-Hum, director of product development for Centennial Optical, is seeing sunglasses in soft matte feminine palettes, the return of round shapes in metal and plastic, flat tops with a strong brow emphasis, the return of the top-brow for women, and rimless fronts with beveled edges in angular silhouettes.  Colour is the dominant trend, according to Amin Mamdani, owner of Squint Eyewear in Toronto. “Even men are looking for colour rather than the traditional tortoise and black. We’re seeing every shade of blue and a lot of green. Colour is big and lens colours that complement the frame are in demand as well.”   One of the benefits of working in the industry for over 30 years is that you get to see trends recycle. Diana Monea, owner of Eye Health Centres in Calgary and Regina, has been an optometrist since 1978. “I love fashion and enjoy seeing the trends come and go. The 1970s saw huge frames with decals on the lenses in rhinestones, with initials and gradient pink-brown tint frames larger than a patient’s face! Then sunwear went to shields with a mirrored finish. Now we’re enjoying big, black, bold and in-your-face sunglasses with leopard prints in every colour.”  Fashion trends speak volumes to a public eager to sashay in style, whether its industrial punk or socialite pink. To each their own!Staff training is, without a doubt, one of the most important drivers of sunwear sales. Beverly Suliteanu, creative director and vice-president of product development for Westgroupe, says, “It requires expertise as well as knowledge to effectively sell sunwear. The dispenser needs to ask questions about the customer’s lifestyle, and how she will use her sunglasses in order to effectively convey the need for prescription sunwear. Staff must understand and talk about the various lens and coating options that are on the market; they must also be able to communicate the benefits of purchasing good-quality sunwear versus cheap, sub-standard sunglasses.”

Georges et Phina portent des lunettes director Daniel Laoun says, “In my experience, not enough emphasis is given to training staff. For example, polarized lenses have gained widespread popularity in recent years and are marketed to everyone. However, an individual who uses their smart phone constantly may prefer to forego this option since polarized lenses make it harder to see the screen. And more often than not, the lens tint is chosen to match the frame colour, yet is should be chosen according to how the client uses their glasses. For example, when a client chooses a black frame, grey lenses may seem the obvious choice. Yet brown lenses are typically better for activities requiring contrast, like driving or golfing. While aesthetics are important, visual comfort should always be the top priority.”

The Upsell 

Sunwear is a retailer’s dream when it comes to upselling and multiple sales. Namita Karir is the managing optician at Karir Eyewear’s Yorkdale location in Toronto. Says Karir, “Sunwear is always an upsell but if you do it once, you never have to do it with that customer again. In two years when they replace their frames, they will also replace their sunglasses.” Interestingly, Karir sells more plano than prescription fashion sunwear. “We sell a lot of sunglasses to our contact lens-wearing customer base as well. Those people feel they won’t get much use out of a sunglass if it is prescription.”

Monea points out that one pair of sunglasses cannot possibly meet the needs of the active person. “The upsell makes perfect sense. Just as one pair of shoes won’t meet all your needs, so with sunwear!”


Feast your eyes on the magnificent sunwear offerings from our leading manufacturers and distributors. You can rock the casbah with any one of these pieces – and your clientele will be glad you did!

The value-priced One Sun collection is rolling out 35 new models this season, each of them Rx-able. This collection is ripe for the upsell, making it easy for consumers to obtain quality, handmade acetate and stainless steel frames for a song.Bollé leads the way with sunwear for cycling aficionados. The Breakaway and 6th Sense models are designed with a keen eye for aerodynamics to maximize airflow. The wide field of vision on 6th Sense facilitates peak performance in a riding position. Temples and nosepieces are adjustable.
Sun collections from CENOCO include Cinzia, Michael Ryen and Scott Harris. The Bottlecap from Cinzia puts a new spin on the cat’s eye, with a playful bottle cap motif on the corners. The Michael Ryen MR-SUN-O4 aviator brings a fresh look with sculpted acetate temples.  Sunwear from Vera Wang, BCBG and Nicole Miller all benefit from the Canada-wide distribution of Centennial Optical. The Vera Wang Anu is special with smoky crystal acetate, as is the BCBG Fascination, which brings back the top bar for women. This piece features gorgeous acetate in browns and mauve.
New sunwear styles from Claudia Alan include the Rx-able Hunter. This wayfarer style features an etched bamboo temple with an eagle design by renowned First Nations artist Corinne Hunt. The Harmony, also Rx-able, features native designs with metal temple embellishments.Designed by Gerhard Fuchs, the Silhouette Futura 2014 is a reinterpretation of the 1974 cult eyewear frame. This Futura is still futuristic, and much lighter and more comfortable, thanks to Silhouette’s technological innovations. The frame is elastic, with no screws or hinges.
Tag Heuer’s new LRS sunglass collection is sporty yet chic, marrying comfort to aesthetics, and inspired by motor racing. Men who are looking for a sporting yet elegant sunglass can call off the search.Protective sun technology for those who play hard outdoors is Liberty Sport’s specialty. Switch is the world’s first Magnetic Interchange Lens System™, with high-energy magnets embedded in the lens and frame. It’s easy to switch lenses and yet they stay put, whether the wearer is snowboarding or mountain biking
Denim pioneer G-Star RAW tests new boundaries with its vintage sunwear with straight-cut lenses. The lens style of more than 100 years ago looks very modern today. Created for both men and women and offering superior craftsmanship and trendy, visible construction details, they’re so hip!The Adrienne Vittadini collection from Match Eyewear is sure to spark interest from ECPs and consumers alike. Examples include AVS108, with translucent, marbleized temples and solid coloration on the front, and AVS102, which will help any wearer to get noticed: in red and black for dramatic effect.
The MauiPure™ collection features trendy, fashion-forward frames and the crispest optics next to glass, with an abbe value of 52. The polarized lenses are made of lightweight, impact-resistant, highest-grade optical resin and feature added colour enhancers, bi-gradient or gradient mirrors, and backside anti-reflective coating.Several new models in the Seraphin collection stand out, including the vintage Coolidge Sun with a keyhole bridge, oval lenses and silver rivets, and the Grace Sun, an oversized hexagon shape in warm neutral tones.
All Mizyake Sunwear models are elegant and fashion-forward. Made from stainless steel and high-quality acetate, the collection is fully Rx-able. Excellent pricing, timeless designs and vibrant colours combine to create a perfect offering for eyecare professionals.Very much aligned with fashion trends, Sàfilo’s sunwear offerings for the new season are exciting. Romantic and feminine soft pink is seen in models from Gucci, Dior and Carrera. Bold, striking colours for both sexes are found in Marc by Marc Jacobs and Kate Spade New York.
Smith has a broad collection of plano and sun Rx styles that includes men’s and women’s fashion, metals, eight-base wraps, interchangeable action sport models, and even an ANSI-rated collection. Smith brings fashion and sports-specific sunwear to every consumer.The quality and styling of both the Evatik Sun and Elizabeth Arden Sun collections provide consumers with stylish sunwear that is easily Rx-able. Frames are six-base curves and made from high-quality stainless steel and handmade acetate.
Cendrine Obadia brings stunning design to her latest sunwear models. There’s a lot going on in Ziggy S 1377, and it all works beautifully. Also check out her innovative, chunky Ziggy S 1379 in black and white and the very cool Ziggy S 1378.