Why are designer sunglasses so expensive? Is it purely the prestige of a well-known name, or are they better quality, making them worth the spend?

Of course there’s a high degree of subjective opinion here: whether something is ‘worth’ spending money on has much to do with the pleasure you take in the product. But to help inform the decision, it’s worth knowing what the cost difference is all about.

After the break: 5 reasons why designer sunglasses cost so much more.

oliver peoples sunglasses ad
Marketing for Oliver Peoples sunglasses

One company produces most of the product.
If you prefer the quality of Prada’s products to those of Chanel’s, you might lean towards the former in your purchases. But, unlike with clothing, manufacturing can pretty much be removed from the equation. They’re actually both made by the same company.

Luxottica Group is the world’s largest eyewear company. Savvy sunglasses consumers will already be aware of just how many brands are owned or licensed by Luxottica. Ray-Ban, Oliver Peoples, Persol, Vogue and Oakely are amoung the brands they own, while the company also produces – under license – the eyewear for brands including Dolce & Gabbana, Miu Miu, Stella McCartney, Burberry, Chanel, Ralph Lauren, Versace and Prada. While they say they work closely with the designers from each brand, Luxottica does the design, manufacturing and marketing for many of them.

Safilo is Luxottica’s closest competitor, with Safilo’s licensed brands including McQueen, Balenciaga, Dior, YSL and Marc Jacobs.

In short, you can expect that most – if not all – of the sunglasses you pick up in a Sunglass Hut, Bright Eyes or OPSM are made by one of those two companies. Oh – and the Sunglass Hut / Bright Eyes / OPSM store we’re hypothetically shopping in? Also owned by Luxottica. They own over 7,000 retails outlets around the world (others on the list include Target Optical, Sears Optical, David Clulow and LensCrafters).

Prices are less competitive when there’s less competition. But more importantly to note is that your designer shades – regardless of brand – are coming out of the same factories.

Quality does differ between levels of brands.
Quality may not differ so much between luxury brands, but it does differ between cheap high-street sunglasses and designer ones. UV protection isn’t always up to scratch with cheap options, while the construction – often sturdy plastic or metal – of designer frames far outshines many cheap brands. Different types of materials and lens coatings will also influence price, with some being more effective than others. For example, UV protection is embedded into high quality lenses, while cheap offerings often only have their tint stuck on as a film which will eventually melt, peel off or fade (more on the specifics of materials to come in the next part of this series).
Higher margins: the luxury premium.
Luxottica reports that it makes 64 cents gross profit on every dollar. It’s a high mark-up, but some would rationalise that dealing with big brands also means bigger budgets on marketing, distribution, and research & development. Still, it’s been reported that even after costs, Luxottica takes home a net profit of 52 cents in every dollar (Wall Street Journal, 22/07/2010) and – financial downturn be damned – as of the last financial quarter (reported July 2012) the company’s net profits were up 21% to $236.7 million.
Brand recognition.
So luxury brands command higher profit margins. This isn’t exactly a revelation, and sunglasses are one particular objet du désir where brand recognition equates to willingness to spend more. Luxottica and Safilo know it, and as long as their profits keep going up their margins are unlikely to go down. That said, there are young, mid-range brands emerging which produce trendy styles for much lower costs – challenging the big-company oligarchy.
Style.
Buying something for the brand name is one thing, but that’s selling consumers short. Sometimes we’re just happy to spend more on something that looks better. Creating demand for an on-trend style means more people are willing to spend more to buy more of it. Not to mention that – for sunglasses stores, which often have high inventory and low turnover – these styles have to cost more to make up for the losses of styles that fail.

Designer sunglasses cost more, yes; as to whether it’s worth buying them, that’s largely personal. The value of an object often goes beyond it’s worth in dollars. Knowing what it is you’re paying for, though (prestige? quality? the fact that Prada’s quirky cat-eyes are simply too cute not to have in your collection?) is a valuable tool in the step towards curating your wardrobe in a way that will serve you best and longest.

Coming up soon: sunglasses materials, and how to select the best.

Sources: Wall Street Journal here and here; Quora; Luxottica.

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