The taste for fashion sunglasses is predicted to continue its upward trend according to the latest research.
The market for luxury eyewear is forecast to pass the $130 billion mark in 2018 with an annual rise of 3.7% over a five-year period.
Market analysts put the growth down to an increase in disposable income in developing countries and a growing awareness of the health benefits of sunglasses by protecting eyes from harmful UV light,
The market for fashion glasses is distinct from that for prescription lenses and for correcting vision. Analysts segment the market into spectacle frames, spectacle lenses, contact lenses and 'plano' glasses (those that are for cosmetic only use).
The 'plano' element that includes non-prescription glasses and sunglasses that are worn mainly for cosmetic reasons, although the sunglasses do play their part in protecting eyes from the wind and UV light rays.
The global market for plano glasses is highly competitive with many big players in the market as well as some increasingly popular fashion houses.
High-end players for luxury sunglasses include CIBA Vision, Carl Zeiss, Vision Express, Safilo, Specsavers and of course the big daddy of them all, the Italian conglomerate Luxottica.
Experts predict growth in sunglasses sales
But with the developing Asian market on the horizon, there could be enough room for all to expand and for new players to enter the field.
Experts predict a year-on-year growth of 10% in markets such as India and China with similar demand from the Asia Pacific region.
The luxury sunglasses market is still dominated by big-name brands like Oakley and Ray-Ban, but there is surging demand for rising brands like Tom Ford, Celine while fashion houses like Gucci and Armani press ever harder to increase their market share.
The United States and Europe are expected to keep a substantial proportion of the market, especially regarding revenue, but they will probably fade in the light of gains in Asia in the remains of the decade.
And the European market is projected to be the highest money earner despite a lower share regarding volume sales as, according to analysts, Europeans are much more likely to shell out the higher selling price for premium sunglasses, particularly in Italy and Spain where the markup can be eye-watering.
Healthy outlook for sunglasses
But in the West, in general, one of the primary drivers of growth is expected to be healthy. Luxury sunglasses are mainly used for aesthetics and for protecting the eyes from harmful ultraviolet rays.
Scientific studies show that exposure to UV rays over time leaves them not only susceptible to developing cataracts but may also damage the retina.
According to the American Optometric Association, prolonged exposure increases the risk of macular degeneration, so there is a growing awareness among the population about the importance of eye protection.
But it's the global growth in demand for fashion products that is a key factor for expected market growth, and the bigger eyewear companies are focusing their efforts on enhancing their distribution network in order cash in on the opportunities.
And the eyewear industry has become notorious for the number of mergers and acquisitions by high-flying conglomerates as they bid to consolidate market share and control distribution.
Companies have also been keen to expand their brand portfolio as end-users become increasingly brand conscious.
Italy-based Luxottica Group, for example, has acquired many proprietary and licensed brands including Ray-Ban, Oakley, Persol and Vogue with direct control over production and distribution.
It looks like being a busy time for the eyewear industry as big brands jockey for position in this ever-expanding market.