Exploring Alternative Materials for Spectacle Frames

Acetate, monel, titanium and stainless steel are some commonly used materials for spectacle frames. Despite much effort spent over the years to market wooden eyewear, the material has yet to see much success in the mass market.

There are various reasons as to why wooden eyewear has not been well received by the masses. Wood and bamboo in general has an inflexible composition which allows minimal adjustments to the spectacle frames during lens and user fittings.  This can result in a poor fit for the users, or requiring extra efforts from the eye care practitioner to adjust to perfection.

Multiple adjustments can also result in weakening of the frames and even breaking altogether.  As wood is unique with its grooves and lines, it is almost impossible to find an identical replacement for the consumer. Subsequently, this material is not widely accepted, by both eye care practitioners and consumers.

The eco warriors

In the interests of going green, wood and bamboo are not the only alternative materials being explored by manufacturers. Green eyewear warriors are constantly on the lookout for eco-friendly materials, and many are turning to plant-based materials.  Two such companies are Hemp Eyewear and Zeal Optics.

Hemp Eyewear is a new player and the company has just launched its first batch of hand-crafted frames in September 2015. Hemp Eyewear is made from hemp, this material can easily grow in most climates and is thus a sustainable material for business.

Hemp Eyewear


Source: Euromonitor International from www.hempeyewear.com

Another example is Zeal Optics.  This company’s sunglasses are produced from cotton and wood pulp fibre. The company claims that the sunglasses are biodegradable after leaving under water or in soil for 18 months.  Unlike other alternative materials, Zeal Optics claims that this material is non-toxic and is able to perform like traditional acetates, bypassing the issues faced by alternative materials, such as inflexibility.

Positioning alternative materials as niche

The spectacles industry is currently heavily dominated by Safilo and Luxottica, making it difficult for smaller players to penetrate the mass market.  Smaller players focusing on alternative materials tend to either go green or go premium.  To enter the niche market, frames cannot be mass produced; premium and unique materials are often used. Buffalo horns is a material commonly found in luxury eyewear. Some small players are exploring unique materials, such as Zachary Tipton Vinylize handmade limited edition spectacle frames, made from vinyl records. Blending music into eyewear is a way to gain attention in this niche category.

Vinylize by Tipton


Source: Euromonitor International from www.tipton.hu

No doubt such distinctive eyewear has its place in the industry; however these alternative materials have yet to prove themselves as a long term successful business alternative to traditional materials.  Smaller players are still exploring opportunities to enter and stay valid in the industry.  To gain popularity, alternative materials have to first fulfill the basic requirement of standard spectacle frames; materials must be flexible, as spectacle frames need to be adjusted to fit different individuals, in order to achieve acceptance by consumers and eye care practitioners.