The variety of sunglasses we see in stores, from sportswear to designer… is all an illusion.
The truth: One $9B company owns almost the entire industry.
Luxottica makes around 75 million pairs of glasses each year, designing and manufacturing brands like Prada, Tiffany & Co, Coach, Versace, Ray Ban, Oakley… the list goes on.
This once small Italian company got its start in Milan in 1961 but has since grown to dominate the sunglass industry, designing, manufacturing, and distributing almost every major brand we wear. In 2012, the Luxottica CEO estimated that 500 million people were wearing their sunglasses.
Luxottica’s in-house brands include designs like Ray Ban, Oakley, Arnette, which it has absorbed over the years.
Luxottica also licenses, designs, and manufacturers even more brands. You might recognize some of these designer glasses frequently sold above $200. Luxottica has exclusive agreements with these brands preventing anyone else from manufacturing them.
Luxottica also distributes its own sunglasses through its own retailers. In a little known monopoly, Luxottica owns the sunglass industry from start to finish. From the design, to the manufacturing, and even to the distribution and sale of its glasses, Luxottica does it all.
What does this mean for the sunglass market? For the environment?
Artificially inflated prices. When one company controls everything from start to finish and overshadows all competition, they control the price. The mark up on many of their designer brands is 20x the cost of manufacturing.
Innovation suffers. Less competition means less innovation. It’s difficult for small businesses to enter the market when they can’t get their sunglasses into retail stores because all of the retailers are owned by one company.
Ethics can suffer. Large corporations are driven to return as much profit as possible for their shareholders which often comes at the expense of an organization’s CSR.
Consumer culture is perpetuated. The latest style and the next fad continue to be pushed on consumers so we pay for overpriced sunglasses we don’t really need. Our overconsumption doesn’t make us happier and the cradle-to-grave model is bad for the environment.
What we can do. Be a bit more conscious.
Buy local. Thanks to the good ol’ internet, small sunglass brands are able to compete (somewhat) with the big dogs and new brands are starting to pop up around the US. Many of them are environmentally conscious and work to have a positive social impact.
Shop for quality. Take your time and do your research to find glasses that are well made and fit you right. You’ll probably find that the more effort you put into finding the right pair, the better you’ll take care of them and the longer they will last.
Have a positive impact. There are several companies adopting the 1 for 1 business model, including Toms, which has expanded from shoes to sunglasses. If you’re going to buy a pair of sunglasses you might as well contribute to a good cause.
Take better care. The fewer pairs of sunglasses you lose or wreck, the fewer you have to buy. Getting a case with your glasses might be a good call if you tend to break stuff.