While the Hong Kong Optical Fair focuses on large scale manufacturing and wholesaling, it also delivers a fascinating opportunity to gain an insight into the amazing world of optometry and the true scale of our industry.
The majority of exhibitors at the HKOF are spectacle frame manufacturers – and the number of them is truly staggering – how they all survive, let alone manage to prosper, is nothing short of amazing.
Almost 600 exhibitors from 21 regions and countries displayed their wares and technology at the 2010 Hong Kong Optical Fair (HKOF) in November. With representatives from Hong Kong, mainland China, and Taiwan as well as others from Korea, Japan, Italy and France there was plenty to take in. Within about half and hour of walking along aisle after aisle, my eyes became slightly nystagmatic (is that a word?) and my head started to spin.
Most of the frame exhibitors are original equipment manufacturers (OEM). That means that rather than marketing their own brands, they simply manufacture products to their customers’ specifications. The standard minimum order from nearly all of these manufacturers is 300 pieces with 100 per colour – not really viable numbers for your average one or two store optical retailer! However, there were a couple of factories which did offer a minimum of 16 frames per model for a little more than a few dollars a piece and whilst the styling wasn’t bad, the quality was indeed questionable. The actual manufacture per se isn’t the problem it’s the finishing which is low in quality.
It seemed to me to be more egalitarian, with the largest stands only fractionally bigger than the small booths and relatively fewer in number
Machinery, mainly for frame manufacture, is also a significant part of the exhibition. Interestingly, there was nothing at all in the way of digital lens surfacing equipment on display. Some lens edging / finishing equipment was displayed, in particular, a Chinese concern with a relationship to a Chinese university which has done a great job of copying Nidek’s EX 9000, one of their most popular but older models! Of course, there was a great array of optometric equipment on display as well, with the Chinese manufacturers at the fore in this category.
Besides the aforementioned there were also manufacturers of cases, cloths, lenses, accessories, sunglasses, acetate sheet and pellet, rim wire, joints, hinges and wires and frame coating technologies.
The floor layout differs enormously from our own ODMA fair and I believe is something we could learn from. It seemed to me to be more egalitarian, with the largest stands only fractionally bigger than the small booths and relatively fewer in number. It really is difficult to differentiate big companies from the small. One Japanese factory that I know employs more than 275 staff, had just two sales people at a small table in the Japanese pavilion – and they shared the space with a number of companies!
It would be good to see a similar layout at the ODMA fair. If the big players were a little less dominant, the smaller companies would be given a chance to compete on a more equal footing!
Not Much New
After scouring nearly every booth, walking aisle after aisle looking at all those displays jam-packed with frames, what did I find that was truly new and innovative? Well not much really, but the conflict between form and function is certainly alive and well in Hong Kong.
In terms of frame fashions, there is a lot of what we have seen for the past four or five years – shallow rectangles made from stainless steel with bright colours and wide sides with laser cut patterns. While the heavy retro trend is popular in Australian inner city areas, it is huge amongst the Hong Kong youth out there on the street.
The noticeable trend in fashion eyewear was the really heavily built faux retro acetate or celluloid frames (yes celluloid!) with multiple charnier riveted hinges. The build quality and finish of many of these frames is far superior to their predecessors from the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Carbon fibre frames also appear to be making a comeback, but seem to be better made and far more spectacular than their predecessors from the 1980s. The full frame versions use very thin moulded carbon fibre sheet made into a reverse bevel or ‘inline’ configuration that requires grooved lenses. The original weave pattern of carbon fibre cloth features heavily in these frames, particularly on the sides.
There are more nylon mounts than we have ever seen before and a reasonably strong trend is the move to sides made from the plastic called TR90. TR90 is not adjustable and for a traditionalist like me, it really doesn’t ‘cut the mustard’ as a frame material.
Fashion Trends Seminar
Isabella Morpurdo of ‘Verdere’ magazine from Italy gave a very informative talk on the coming eyewear fashion trends as she sees it for the next couple of years. Ms. Morpurdo presented a short pictorial history of spectacle frames and the various changes that have occurred since the 13th century. She also explained how the frame themes keep repeating themselves.
Ms. Morpurdo said that since the 1980’s spectacle frames have basically followed the trends from the fashion industry and that we will see strong natural themes with frames containing elements such as wood and leather, as well as prints and patterns of animals such as zebras and leopards. She said we will also see a return to ‘handmade’. Straight sides are back as well as retro inspired aviator shapes, and cats’ eyes! ‘Important temples’ and ‘full bodied acetates’ will also feature heavily.
Ross Vance, CEO of Sama Eyewear, a producer of luxury sunglasses and a licensed optician for 31 years in the U.S.A., discussed how the discerning consumer is now looking beyond the ‘brand names’, seeking out exclusivity and as he termed it, ‘the luxury experience’. He pointed out however, that the concept of ‘luxury experience’ can only be sold when the staff is knowledgeable, well trained and passionate about their product.
One of the most important aspects of coming to a show like this is the people you meet. Mr. Gilbert Chamby of ‘Minima’, a French manufacturer and designer of minimalist rimless titanium eyewear, encapsulates the passion so many of these people have for their eyewear product. At 80 years of age Mr. Chamby looks more like 60 and speaks of his product with a deep passion and enthusiasm.
He began his optical career 65 years ago with the forerunner to Essilor, and worked on the development of some of the first rimless frames the firm ever produced. Following a long career as a licensed optician in the United States where he owned 55 stores, Mr. Chamby turned his mind to the design and manufacture of his own minimalist range of frames for people who don’t want to wear glasses. Having started Minima 15 years ago with only five staff, the company now has a workforce of around 60 and produces all of its own frames in house.
Interestingly, Mr. Chamby observed the relationship of the environment to the development of fine high end manufacturing. He believes refined crafts developed in the cold mountainous areas of France, Italy and Switzerland, where people have little to do during the long winters. He also said that having visited Japanese frame manufacturers, be believes that their craftsmanship too, has been influenced by similar cold mountainous regions!
Is Hong Kong Worth a Visit?
So should the average Australian optical retailer with one or maybe two stores bother coming to the Hong Kong Optical Fair? My answer would be a definite “yes”!
You may not be able to purchase much; the minimum volumes required are simply too big to be worth it. However, for an insight into how our industry ticks and its broad scope, a trip to the Hong Kong Optical Fair is definitely worth while. For dispensing opticians and optometrists alike there is a big wide world of optics out there beyond the dispensary and consulting room to be explored and enjoyed.
The 2011 Hong Kong Optical Fair takes place from 3 to 5 November. For details, visit www.hktdc.com/fair/hkopticalfair-en
Murray O’Brien is the President of A.D.O.A. Victoria. He is also the Company Principal of Designed Eyes, an optical fitting laboratory based in Rosebud, Victoria.