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As the world celebrated Earth Day on 22 April 2013, we take a look at wooden eyewear and how this product strives to balance beauty, function and the environment.  In recent years, there is growing interest in spectacles made from wood, a material that many view as being eco-friendly and lightweight. While wooden eyewear has been around for some years, however, it is only in recent years that interest has spiked.

Wooden Glasses

McCall Mahogany wooden sunglasses by Proof Eyewear

In a recent Euromonitor International Analyst Pulse Survey conducted in February 2013, it was observed that wooden eyewear features among the top five global eyewear fashion trends observed around the world. Makers of wooden eyewear take pride in their workmanship and believe in creating art pieces as opposed to mass-produced plastic and metal frames. “Wood is unique and sustainable unlike many plastics on the market. If you want something different and functional, you gotta go with wood”, says Taylor Dame, President of American company Proof Eyewear.

Environmental, ethical and social impact

Being eco-friendly is certainly not a new concept and while large organisations try to incorporate eco features into their product offerings, many fail to do so due to high cost implications. With mass consumers now willing to pay a premium for these, alongside growing awareness of environmental issues, more eco-positioned wooden eyewear products are becoming available, offering potential growth opportunities.

Wooden eyewear companies are also seeking to win over consumers by actively giving back to society via charitable organisations. For instance, Australian company Grown Design contributes to ‘Gift of Sight’ programmes run by international eye care charities while Proof Eyewear donates a percentage of its profits to charity. “We have hipsters, tree huggers, hip hoppers, all ages interested (in our eyewear) as well. Everyone seemed interested for different reasons. Some liked that we were eco-friendly, some liked that we were doing something new in a sea of plastic glasses, some liked that we give back to charitable organisations that provide sight giving surgeries to those in need”, adds Dame.

Uniquely handcrafted wooden eyewear

Woodeneyewearwoodfarmphoto-final2

Wooden eyewear and accessories handcrafted by Woodfarm

Wood as a raw material allows for uniqueness, from dark wood selections such as ebony and teak to the light coloured bamboo and olivewood and the unique stripes of zebrawood. Urban Spectacles is famed for tapping into the versatility of wood to customise each eyewear piece while UkrainianWoodfarm brand founder Ivan Dubovskyi indicates that each of its wooden eyewear pieces are “handcrafted and made with love”.

At the same time, wooden eyewear brands have been gaining recognition for their craftsmanship. One such company is Austria’s ROLF Spectacles, having won awards such as the Silmo d’Or award (regarded as the Oscars of the eyewear industry), Eyewear of the Year award at the International Optical Fair Tokyo and the Red Dot award (one of the world’s most renowned design competitions).

To further distinguish themselves, wooden eyewear companies are adding subtle detailing through the use of leather, metal or rubber and to enhance comfort. At the recent 2012 Silmo exhibition, Feb31st showcased its initial attempt to marry wood with titanium. In March 2013, Shwood launched a new limited collection of 200 pieces of stone eyewear, which combine slate with premium birch wood. Although the response was lukewarm on its Facebook page, it definitely drew attention to the brand overall.

Creative marketing

In an industry monopolised by Safilo Group and Luxottica Group, these small set-ups have to be continuously creative in marketing their products to grow their brand and expand awareness, tapping especially into the vast reach of the internet. US wooden eyewear companies Shwood and Capital engage in extensive online advertisements. Tapping into social media, Scottish newcomer Aye Spy launched a ‘specs a day’ campaign in February 2013 where each day saw the company launch a new pair of sunglasses or spectacles via Twitter and Facebook. Each pair is said to be one of a kind and sold at a discounted price online. Grown Design’s customers ‘pay with a tweet’ by being entitled to US$10 off when they tweet about the company.

While many wooden eyewear makers sell their eyewear products via a combination of online and retail outlets, Italian wooden eyewear company Feb31st chooses to retail entirely via optical shops as the company believes in the proficiency of a trusted optician in ensuring a perfect eyewear fit.

Regardless of the approach, wooden eyewear will continue to intrigue consumers who want to stand out from the crowd, with the wider eyewear market valued at US$120 billion in 2013. With the strong emphasis on good craftsmanship and high-quality wood, wooden eyewear is well positioned to grow internationally as the eyewear of choice among the masses.

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