How affordable acetate disrupted the eyewear market

Not all eyewear is created equal. Much like everything else in fashion, there is an entire spectrum of low to high, basic to couture, affordable to luxury, factory-made to crafted by hand. Acetate remains the most popular frame for glasses, spanning the affordable market for as little as 25 euros for a no frills pair from Dutch e-commerce startup Charlie Temple, to luxury options, such as a tortoise shell acetate and gold inlaid pair from luxury brand Cartier, priced at around 900 pounds.

Five years ago the eyewear market was turned upside down with a new breed of start-ups challenging the big luxury players with low-cost, high-quality alternatives, migrating the prescription and optical market to online, and re-writing the sales book on value and service. It spelled the end of an era of stuffy opticians, overpriced prescription glasses, and boring retail.

Where once low-cost eyewear carried the stigma of being and appearing equally cheap, a surge of new brands introduced novel ways of retailing affordable glasses with a high desirability factor. In the US companies like Warby Parker and Privé Revaux Eyewear debuted designer spectacles starting from as little as 29 dollars for a pair of frames. In Europe, companies like acetate revolutionised the contemporary eyewear market as purveyors of fashionable glasses for 98 pounds. Their visually appealing campaigns are cleverly aimed at millenials, embracing codes of individuality and inclusivity, striking a chord with a generation known for its thriftiness. The era of owning an eyewear wardrobe was launched.

Price focus

Polette, a French startup founded in 2011, goes as far to offer spectacles and prescriptions for an uber low price of 14,98 euros. The company has adopted an aggressive marketing campaign, using slogans such as “Stop getting f*cked by the optical industry” and calling buyers of luxury glasses “stupid” for paying higher prices.

Do you get what you pay for?

Whilst acetate frames may be generally inexpensive to produce, not all cellulose acetate is created equal, either. The higher the quality, the better the gloss and transparency. But pricing tiers are not solely based on materials used and it is difficult to quantify the price of exceptional design.

Whereas companies like Polette are keen to advertise the affordability aspect of their products, the design factor and level of detail in their collections cannot necessarily be compared to high-end players whose products are founded on craft and innovation. There is a discernible difference at product level between a pair of glasses cheap to produce, minimally designed with affordable materials, and those at the higher end of the spectrum, where detail, innovation and pricier materials come into play. Comparing an inexpensive cotton t-shirt by H&M to a t-shirt made by Louis Vuitton should have obvious qualitative differences. We’re all agreed that not all cotton t-shirts are equal.

Yes, the eyewear market has been disrupted with new direct to consumer brands, many of whom are rightly calling for more transparent pricing and eradicating over-priced prescription models. Yet calling potential customers ’stupid’ for choosing to buy a luxury brand is both offensive and unwarranted. In the quest for exclusivity, not all shoppers are in the market for low-cost.

Photo by FashionUnited


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