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Sunglasses are Now a Luxury Billion Dollar Industry: How Did We Get Here?

It would be fair to say that you could live without your sunglasses. Yes, clearly if you are out and about on a sunny day, they provide you with the relevant comfort you might need, but they are not by any stretch of the imagination a necessity.

However in 2020 it’s likely that pretty much every man, woman, and child, in the western world has a pair or two. That wasn’t the case in previous generations and that is in many ways down to the way the product has been marketed to the masses. I.e. very effectively indeed.

As of the most recent records to hand, 2018,, a total of 519 million units of sunglasses were sold in the US alone, resulting in revenue of close to $6bn, that figure increases to a massive $60bn when you factor in all associated costs. And 13% of all eyewear sales are in the sunglasses market, these statistics show an industry that is well and truly monumental.

Continued Growth

As a consumer product sunglasses were not considered an essential purchase until somewhere in the region of the 1980s, up until this point they were an occasional item. By this I mean it was not a necessity outside relevant regions where protection from the sun was a distinct need.

Clever marketing, branding and the evolution of sunglasses as a whole have meant that the audience and purchasing power has well and truly rocketed. 

Let’s not forget also that continued concerns of climate change, and the increased sun exposure affecting most populated areas of the world, has led to a beneficial uptick in sales as well. 

Form Over Function

One great way of milking your industry for as many dollars as possible is to use ‘style’ as a driver for cost. Think of it this way. Eyewear for the purpose of improving vision comes at a cost because it has a defined purpose. Namely the cost is justified by the function. 

The sunglasses market, when it works best, garners the most profit when it uses style to increase cost. So a company such as Ray-Ban can justify the high-end cost of it’s sunglasses, not due to a ‘function’ but due to its form. 

This helps make an industry like sunglasses develop into such a huge profit making machine.

An interesting, and relatively new, amendment to the form over function debate comes in the form of contact lenses, such as those offered at GlassesUSA.com, which in many ways readily straddle both aspects.

Contact lenses are an unobtrusive way to resolve vision concerns and they do so without requiring super expensive frames, or a high-end brand name, this is very much the market adopting a function over form path, one afforded to them due to advancements in technology.

Adapting and Growing Demographic

Whereas for many years the sunglasses market was geared primarily at a young, youthful market, there have been continuing efforts to expand the catchment area and recent moves to do so have proven very effective.

Those big players in the market have put a lot of effort in moving towards prescription sunglasses which simultaneously helps in two ways. Firstly this offers a genuine function aspect and secondly helpfully increases the range in other demographics, namely the more mature customer, who clearly will be more likely to need the product due to vision deterioration.

As with anything in the marketing industry, the motto “Evolve or Die” is very true in the sunglasses market and seems that the major players in this arena know very well just how to do that.


Author: nohoarts