ANFAO President Lorraine Berton: Revolution In The Eyewear Industry

Lorraine Berton has been elected to lead ANFAO, the National Association of Optical Goods Manufacturers. As the new President, she is the first woman to hold this position and will be leading the Association for the next four years. Lorraine Berton succeeds Giovanni Vitaloni, who served as the President from 2017. We are honored to invite Lorraine Berton to share her insights on the revolution in the eyewear industry:

Italy is the leading producer and exporter in Europe of sunglasses and frames and the second largest exporter in the world. There is a historical reason for this: the birth of some districts, such as Belluno and Varese, of Italian eyewear have very distant origins: the first factories in fact dating back to the second half of the 1800s. Since then, the Italian eyewear industry has changed considerably in the production sphere, going through periods of growth and periods of crisis. Technological innovations, design and trends changes, sustainability practices, circular economy initiatives, markets dynamics, globalization have disrupted traditional practices over the past few decades. Let’s explore each of these points in detail.

▲ Lorraine Berton, ANFAO President

Technological Innovations
In recent years, a great importance has been given to the research and development of new technologies in the use of innovative materials, such as carbon, which have led to the creation of flexible or ultra-light frames and temples that meet the needs of comfort and practicality for those who use them daily. Technological evolution and R&D lead to the creation of new high-tech materials, the design of more efficient lenses, or even improve the quality of the optical components, that can also be lightweight and durable, such as memory metals and high-tech plastics, thus improving comfort and flexibility for wearers. Sustainable materials – such as bio-acetates and resins made with organic raw materials instead of chemical – are also an effect of the innovative manufacturing processes that have been fine-tuned during time, with a paramount acceleration in recent years.

Another quite innovative technique in eyewear production is the 3D-printed eyewear, which allows for more personalized and customizable eyewear designs, offering consumers unique options to fit their individual styles and facial features. The use of this technology also brings many advantages, including the flexibility of the materials. This process starts with a digital image of the frame, using 3D design software. The designed file is then printed using materials such as acetate rollers. The final product is a customized and unique pair of eyewear made according to the customer’s specifications.

Technical research has also led to what are known as smart glasses’, which overlay digital information onto the wearer’s field of view, enhancing the experience and providing useful data, allowing the user to perform activities such as listening to music, taking photos, answering calls, making videos and connecting with the online public.  Also wearable health tech integrates sensors and monitors capabilities into glasses frames, to track various health metrics, such as heart rate, blood pressure, and activity levels, providing wearers with valuable health insights. Another innovative technology is the Virtual Try On, which brings with it countless benefits for retailers and shoppers. Made possible through the evolution of Augmented Reality, it can be used by leveraging the camera of a computer, smartphone or tablet. Virtual Try On is the mode through which it is possible to virtually test a product even before physically trying it out. With AR technology, it is easier to build customer loyalty by making them feel more confident about their online purchase, minimizing returns.

Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence algorithms represent an increasingly crucial opportunity for companies because it makes production processes and business organization more efficient, reducing costs and improving production quality. In the eyewear industry, AI finds application, for example, in product customization to specific consumer needs, by scanning facial shapes and allowing for a choice of hundreds of finishes, fronts and temples, sunglass or prescription lenses. AI can also find application in business organization, scheduling production for example, facilitating the research and supply of raw materials or facilitating document management. All this keeping in mind that human creativity, in an industry like eyewear where the creative process and contribution of designers cannot be replaced by any technology, remains of major importance.

Design and Fashion Trends
Since the big fashion brands, starting in the 1960s’ began to diversify their proposals by introducing accessories such as frames and sunglasses, the collaborations gradually intensified until they grew considerably between the 1970s and 1980s. Product development and design made it possible to revolutionize the concept and use of eyewear, no longer as a simple optical instrument but also a fashion object, a customizable accessory, tailored to the user. The concept of eyewear is thus revisited, no longer as a “mere” optical instrument to reduce ophthalmic deficiencies but also as a wearable accessory capable of reflecting the personality of the wearer. In recent years in particular there has been a relentless increase in collaborations with fashion-designers, artists and influencers. In parallel, there has been an intensification in the fashion world of the demand for customization. Indeed, it is worth noting that nowadays customization allows to personalize the functions, content or appearance of an item according to their own wishes. This aspect is becoming increasingly important in the eyewear industry too. Growing attention is being paid by consumers to the customisation of products with names, with tailor-made glasses, limited and numbered editions, all of which is of course made easier and quicker through advanced technologies.

Sustainability Practices and Circular Economy Initiatives

A matter which is increasingly at the center of global attention since the past few years is sustainability; in fact, the market is moving toward greater consumer awareness of eco-friendly issues, which often also influences their consumption choices: according to several  researches, in fact, 47% of consumers consider it essential to pay attention to the eco-sustainability of their favorite fashion brands, while 83% believe that the design of a product should reduce its environmental impact (materials, packaging, industrial process, etc.). These reflections lead to the recognition of a contingent need for companies that want to be at the forefront by setting their sights on issues of transparency and sustainability. Precisely in this respect, ANFAO presented the Certified Sustainable Eyewear label to help all companies that already operate in accordance with the concepts of transparency and sustainability: in fact, through this label they will be able to certify it in an official and voluntary manner, offering this benefit to consumers who want to make responsible choices.

The program, makes it possible to certify the sustainability of both individual components and the finished product within the eyewear sector, so as to enhance the companies’ commitment to improving the environmental performance of the supply chain through the adoption of this specific LABEL. Through this CSE process, everyone will know how, when and where each product is made.

We can’t talk about sustainability without talking of circular economy, a model of production and consumption that involves reusing and recycling existing products for as long as possible. A system capable of self-regeneration and proceeding indefinitely, but with finite resources. This process also belongs now to the eyewear world: some brands especially promote a circular model with minimal waste production. For example, there are brands that create sunglasses to protect the marine ecosystem by recycling nets and turning them into new raw material in the form of pellets that are used to make the frames, or brands that create sunglasses and frames from recycled materials or waste, recycled plastics and bio-based materials. Sustainability does not only mean environmental protection but also attention to the entire production process.

Market Dynamics
Another theme that cannot be ignored today is online shopping, which had an obvious explosion during Covid, undoubtedly represents a significant slice of the market even if the relationship between customer and professional remains fundamental to ensure that the shopping and the choice experience are unbeatable. The professionals working in the millions of optical centres around the world bring with them a whole lot of skills and experience that no technology can replace. E-commerce is important even though if consumers are given the choice when purchasing prescription and even sunglasses, they prefer the physical store. Opticians are one of the great assets of our country and our supply chain, and especially in recent years they have had the courage to change, innovating furnishing formulas and offering personalized services.

Content: Lorraine Berton, ANFAO President
Photo: Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images for Mido