Almost everyone has a favorite brand of sunglasses, or can at least name a few of the various styles, labels, and designers that create this stylish and healthy accessory. From Oakley to Ray-Ban, sunglasses simultaneously protect the wearer’s eyes from harmful UV rays and compliment their appearance, preventing future vision problems while making a visual statement of their own. However, did you know that these different sunglass companies are actually all subsidiaries owned by an Italian business? This company, the Luxottica Group, has created a virtual monopoly that extends from prescription eyeglasses to luxury sunglasses, as well as the retailers that sell them, profiting exponentially from the vision needs of most of the first world.
Last year alone, Luxottica produced over 77 million pairs of sunglasses and optical frames, resulting in revenues of €7.313 billion. Currently, more than 500 million people wear eyewear from the company’s different labels, which includes brands like Vogue Eyewear, Persol, Oliver Peoples, Alain Mikli, Arnette, and of course, Ray-Ban and Oakely. Luxottica also holds contracts with a variety of designer labels, such as Chanel, Prada, Versace, Bulgari, Donna Karan, DKNY, and more, which utilize clothing collections as inspiration for high-priced eyewear, designed and produced in-house but sold under the designer’s name. This has helped turn sunglasses and prescription eyeglasses into a fashion statement rather than simply a method of protecting and improving sight.
However, Luxottica’s influence doesn’t end at the design and manufacture of eyewear: they also own a network of 7,000 retail stores, including familiar names like Lenscrafters and Pearle Vision. The company also operates additional optical centers through Sears and Target, as well as Sunglass Hut, the largest sunglass chain in the world. In the past, this dominance in the retail room has helped pave the way for their success as a whole: for example, before Oakley was a subsidiary of Luxottica, the brand was a competitor in the early 2000s. Luxottica responded by decreasing the number of Oakley products carried by Sunglass Hut and other retailers, causing the smaller brand’s stock to plummet and paving the way for an inevitable merger with Luxottica in 2007.
Similarly, the corporation has used its influence to transform brands into high-quality, high-priced products. When the company purchased the slowly dying Ray-Ban brand in 1999, they proceeded to take the label off of the market for a year before relaunching them as a luxury brand. As a result, the price of Ray-Ban sunglasses jumped from $30 to numbers in the hundreds.
“Sunglasses are one of those accessories that you use every single day. Getting a pair that fits well and performs well – as well as last a lot of years – is a solid investment,” says Craig Anderson, CEO of The Sunglass Fix. “Even if the price is a bit high, a good pair of sunglasses will pay for themselves by making you feel good when wearing them, taking care of your eyes, and outlasting cheaper brands. Be sure to look for features that ensure you’re buying a quality pair of sunglasses such as high quality hinges, and sturdy frames. The frames can generally outlast the lenses as well, which can be repaired by a reputable lens replacement company.”
As of yet, Luxottica’s dominance continues, with the purchase of an online retail site called Glasses.com, as well as plans for a collaboration with Michael Kors and a potential partnership with Google, which could lead to Ray-Ban and Oakley Google Glasses. However, the company is facing a few challenges: because the bulk of their sales are North American, the decrease in the value of the U.S. dollar has impacted sales. Additionally, with the success of online retailers like Warby Parker, Luxottica may finally be faced with a competitor they can’t buy out. But as long as consumers covet Ray-Bans and Oakleys, or turn to popular eyewear retailers like Lenscrafters and Sunglass Hut, the company will likely continue to control the eyewear market around the world.