This is Part 2 of a series on the Luxottica corporation and how its monopolistic behavior is damaging the industry of designing, manufacturing, and selling sunglasses.
The top three reasons you should buy sunglasses from independent labels:
1) You're paying for the product - not the brand.
2) Small brands rely on the quality and creativity of their product.
3) Your purchase supports independent labels instead of publicly traded companies.
Corporations like Luxottica are incentivized to pump out cheap products. Shareholder profits are paramount for big business, mandating high margins and optimized production tactics while product quality falls by the wayside. In the eyewear industry that means using cheap plastics and low-grade metals. Not only that, Luxottica dominates the industry at a near-monopoly level.
As you may have learned from Part 1 of this series, the Luxottica corporation owns or licenses 80% of major eyewear brands, including Ray-Ban, Oakley, Persol, Oliver Peoples, Chanel, Prada, Versace, and many others – and then retails them at Sunglass Hut, which it also owns. It is worth noting here that the Sherman Antitrust Act, which governs anticompetitive business practice in the USA, finds in Section 2 that market share above 70% often constitutes monopolistic power, although Luxottica has yet to be found in violation of such antitrust laws. So not only is Luxottica incentivized to produce low-grade products to maximize shareholder profits, it is able to drive sales with the illusion of variety it creates by selling dozens of "brands" it owns at a markup contingent on the brand, all the while maintaining eyewear market share which meets the legal definition of a monopoly.
The driving force behind the sales of Luxottica eyewear is no longer the quality of the product and creativeness of the designs. Sales are driven by the brand label stamped onto each frame, which Luxottica leverages to create an illusion of variety.
“Protecting the perception that luxury brands are elevated to a higher standard affords Luxottica a very strong margin, along with the ability to focus on flexibility and efficiency, delivering the products that will reflect positively into future shareholder value.”
“Luxottica Sees Itself As King, Raising Questions About Brand Authenticity” – Forbes , Nov ’12
To reiterate the point, Luxottica relies on the exclusivity of the brands it owns or licenses including Prada, Chanel, Ray-Ban, and Versace (and many others) to push products to consumers who identify with the lifestyle associated with the brands; in reality they're all made in-house by Luxottica. This means Luxottica slaps a sticker price on their product that reflects prescribed brand markups.
Brands that were once independently owned and are now covertly owned or licensed by Luxottica are no longer banking on the quality of their sunglasses. Luxottica relies on the façade they’ve created – the illusion of variety – by selling dozens of “brands” at steep markups to consumers who believe they’re buying an item made by the brand they identify with. Instead, they’re usually buying sunglasses at Luxottica’s very own Sunglass Hut (the nation’s largest sunglasses retailer) which were made on the same assembly line as dozens of other brands it also owns. This obfuscation is worrisome and raises questions of true brand authenticity and customer choice. And yet, independently owned labels, many of which have sprung up in recent years, have begun producing eyewear under a new model.
Independent labels have zero licensing costs or brand mark-ups because they’re lesser known and don’t inflate their bottom lines to cater to shareholders. Instead, in order to be competitive, independent labels have to rely on the quality of their frames and uniqueness of designs to drive sales. They are able to handpick materials, manufacturers, and every detail that goes into the production of the final product. Their products are genuine. They’re designed by real people who work at the label. Many independent eyewear labels such as Randolph Engineering and Proof Eyewear even handcraft their frames on-site. The creativity of the designs and thoughtful use of materials to create a standalone brand boosts independent labels to a level of product quality and authenticity unreachable by a corporation bent on maximizing shareholder profits.
Variety means the ability to buy US Air Force issue aviators made in the USA, vibrant colorful frames from Croatia, or handmade Italian zyl acetate wayfarers. Instead of being produced on the same production line at a single facility, independent labels are designed and manufactured in all corners of the world with many different techniques and materials. New independent sunglass labels are springing up every year to compete with Luxottica but are being suppressed by its extreme vertical integration and monopolistic behavior. This prohibits creativity, prevents fair market valuation of eyewear, and limits the variety of materials used to make genuine, quality eyewear. Transparency and public awareness of Luxottica's monopolistic tendencies is needed to revive authenticity and quality in the eyewear industry, which currently exists only in a hidden community of independent labels you’ve probably never heard of. So next time you’re shopping for a new pair of shades give an independent label a try and discover what comes out of the woodwork in a competitive, creative business environment.