Sunglasses represent a unique retail fashion product. Where so many other things in the fashion world change and evolve over time, sunglasses today are pretty much the same as they were in the 1930s, save the introduction of the UV coating we now take for granted. So why is it that we see 'new' designs being released every spring and fall?
The answer to that question begins with a basic understanding of sunglasses. Whether you are talking a pair of designer wayfarers costing hundreds of dollars or an inexpensive pair of aluminum aviators purchased at the pharmacy, the basic function of a pair of sunglasses has remained unchanged since the Inuit people began fashioning shades from bone.
Moreover, every pair of sunglasses that has ever been made accomplishes its primary task by placing something in front of the eyes via frames kept in place by the ears and nose. It is all pretty basic, right?
This brings us to the topic of our relationships with the sunglasses we purchase. There are four things that drive these relationships, and ultimately answer the question of why new styles are introduced every year:
We start with celebrity and its importance in shaping American culture. We will also look at films and music in a moment, so the idea of celebrity here is more generic. Our celebrities include Hollywood stars, politicians, athletes, online influences, and so forth.
By its very nature, celebrity creates a scenario in which people want to emulate those they look up to. So if cat eyes happen to be hot with the A-list crowd, consumers are going to go gaga for them too. But here's the thing: celebrities want new things. Manufacturers are happy to oblige them by introducing new styles every year.
No other industry has done for designer sunglasses what the film industry has. Indeed, Hollywood actors were the first to start wearing sunglasses as a means of hiding their identities way back in the '20s and '30s. Moreover, some of the most famous films to come out of Hollywood in the last 50 years are remembered more for the sunglasses worn by their characters than anything else. The iconic Terminator in basic black wayfarers is a perfect example.
Making it big in the music industry is as much about image as being able to sing or play an instrument. Modern music demonstrates that you do not even need a whole lot of talent as long as you present the right image. Since the start of the rock 'n roll era in the 1950s, sunglasses have played a significant role in creating that image. Think of Roy Orbison and Elton John – just two musicians among a very large field whose image is intrinsically tied to their eyewear.
Last but not least is branding. Most of what we know about branding today was developed by big-time Madison Avenue ad companies that successfully figured out what it takes to make a company and its products memorable. The power of branding is such today that it is nearly impossible to make it in business without a brand.
Branding makes an enormous difference. That is one of the reasons we work so hard to design and produce more than two dozen Olympic Eyewear brands. We know that once a customer is loyal to a particular brand, he or she is likely to buy that brand exclusive of all others.
And now you know why something that has changed very little in hundreds of years is reintroduced with new models every year. Interesting, isn't it?