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Eyewear goes the luxury way

While many international brands are firming up their business plans to enter the Indian luxury market, domestic majors too are foraying into this lucrative business, reports Varun Soni.
Hindustan Times | By Varun Soni
UPDATED ON APR 12, 2008 01:33 AM IST

There was a time, when the neighbourhood optician was a bit like the family doctor-someone you approached to get a prescription to correct your vision if the sight failed or went wrong. Things have come a long way in an age where technology, fashion and attention to looks are dramatically changing the way people approach the business. Glasses and lens, colours and frames, comfort and health, looks and finish – everything matters.

The Rs 1,200 crore eyewear market in India is expanding its vision today. While on one hand many international luxury brands are firming up their business plans to enter the Indian market, a number of domestic majors too are foraying into the lucrative optical business. Though the domestic eyewear market is predominantly prescription-wear driven (which forms 80 per cent of the market and basically comprises optical frames and accessories), the buzzword today is luxury, which primarily means sunglasses.

More of a fashion statement today, luxury eyewear does not even form 50 per cent of the market, primarily because the price of luxury brands starts from Rs 6,000 and goes up to Rs 35,000 per sunglass. “But, an annual growth of 20 per cent is prompting many international companies to look towards foraying into this segment of the Indian market,” says Sanjeev Madan, Managing Director, Bonton, a well-known optical store chain in Delhi.

Italian companies like the Safilo Group, which does about 1.2 billion euros in sales, and the Luxottica Group, which does about $6.0 billion, are planning to set shop in the country, with the former recently opening its office in New Delhi after having established its presence in Mumbai. Safilo manages more than 30 luxury brands worldwide including Banana Republic, Hugo Boss, Diesel, Dior, Armani, Fossil, Gucci, Jennifer Lopez, Jimmy Choo, Max Mara, Pierre Cardin, Saks Fifth Avenue, Stella McCartney, Valentino and Yves Saint Laurent.

The Luxottica Group has in its portfolio eight popular brands, including Vogue, Persol, Arnette, Revo, and the ubiquitous Ray-Ban, which is the world’s best-selling eyewear brand. It has licensing agreements with fashion brands such as Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel, and DKNY, among others. It operates in India through its subsidiary Ray Ban India Holdings and is soon preparing to have a wholly owned subsidiary by the name of Luxottica India Eyewear Pvt Ltd.

The $300-million US-based Viva International Group, which is the master licencee for Harley Davidson eyewear, with a distribution network in 67 countries, has also launched its products in the Indian market through its distributor, Colorsoft Lens India Ltd.

Said Vittorio Tabacchi, President, Safilo Group, which has 600 optical stores as its clients in India, “Six hundred clients only represent an island in a country like India, where the scope for luxury eyewear is immense. Our target is to take this number into triple digits in the next three years.”

The burgeoning eyewear market has even prompted Indian industrial houses like Reliance and Tata to establish their presence in the market. Reliance Retail has signed a joint venture with the over $1. 7 billion-sales Pearle Europe of Netherlands, to roll out a chain of optical stores, which among others will offer a wide range of optical products like frames, lenses, contact lenses, solutions and sunglasses. The Reliance stores will showcase both luxury as well as cost-effective products.

Like Reliance, Titan Industries too has chalked out plans to launch a retail chain of prescription wear products called ‘Eye+’. With nine stores already operational, Titan is aiming to set up about 250 Eye+ stores across the country in the next two to three years. The company already has a sunglasses collection by the name of Fastrack.

Said S. Ravi Kant, Chief Operating Officer, Eyewear Business, Titan Industries, “Prescription wear forms a large section of the eyewear market and we decided to test the waters in this segment first. But, with sunglasses fast becoming a must-have fashion accessory, the opportunity there is just waiting to be explored.”

Increasing competition will further fuel the growth of the market, feels Madan. “The future will see the eyewear market in India to be consumer oriented and sunglasses are going to become a necessity in times to come rather than a luxury,” he said.

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