Confirming our report on the eve of Silmo, the European Sunglass Association (ESA) and The Vision Council of the U.S. announced their partnership on the first day of the Paris fair on Oct. 4, but they emphasized that they still want to cooperate with Eurom 1, the organization that indirectly represents 700 companies in the European ophthalmic optics industry through eight national trade associations.
After discussing a possible collaboration with Eurom 1, ESA decided in the end to work with The Vision Council for several reasons including its considerable human and financial resources, and its experience in representing and promoting specific segments of the industry. Furthermore, ESA and the former Sunglass Association of America, which is now the Sunglass and Reader Division of The Vision Council, have a longstanding cooperative working relationship. Additionally, ESA and The Vision Council share many common goals as well as common member companies.
For its part, Jamie Shyer, chairman of The Vision Council, pointed out at a press conference during Silmo that it had decided in 2009 to change its mission to become “the global voice” for the vision care industry. For this purpose, it changed its name from Vision Council of America (VCA) to The Vision Council. It subsequently took the national associations of sunglass producers and optical laboratories under its wing.
Its collaboration with ESA was described as its first major step outside the U.S., and it may be followed by others, possibly including an offer of its services to the remaining independent laboratories in Europe. The council plans to have its own office somewhere in Europe at some point in the future.
Confirming that Eurom 1 “remains the voice of the industry in the European Union,” Martijn van Eerde, marketing manager of ESA, credited Eurom 1 and its president, Vittorio Tabacchi, for acting as a catalyst of ESA's transformation by calling for greater unity within the industry. With the Vision Council's support, he said, European sunglass manufacturers should be in a stronger position to participate in key activities, including those of Eurom 1.
At the Mido show last March, Tabacchi invited ESA to participate together with Eurom 1 and other European organizations in the Vision Council of Europe, an umbrella organization that would speak to European institutions and European consumers with a single voice on several issues of common interest.
However, ESA will likely lose its current name once it merges with The Vision Council, and the latter should be able to do some specific lobbying for sunglass companies on certain issues in Europe through the European offices of its own lobbying agency, which is based in Washington, D.C. Nothing has been decided yet about this topic, so other options are still on the table.
As we have previously reported, the merger of ESA into The Vision Council is planned to occur within 12 months – most likely in connection with the 2013 Silmo show in Paris. Until then, ESA's current management and its committees will remain in place to ensure a seamless transition, but ESA's members will immediately start to benefit from some of the council's programs and services.
For example, a statistical consumer survey that has been carried out by The Vision Council in the U.S. for over 10 years, Vision Watch, has been extended to Europe, covering key product categories including sunglasses, and some of its results are due to be published at Mido in Milan next March and at a European sunglass conference in June. As part of their accrued benefits as members of the council, member companies of ESA will begin receiving the European optical market data in the May/June time frame.
Officials of ESA and The Vision Council went to some lengths to describe the numerous other benefits that will accrue to ESA's current and future members by becoming members of the council. One of the programs initiated by the council, called Eyecessorize, consists of placing the members' products at the disposal of fashion editors in the U.S. In the last year it has generated more than 245 million impressions, and the council is studying plans to bring a similar program into Europe.
As members of the council, ESA members are entitled to select any of its six operating divisions for guidance, education programs, marketing materials, research and advocacy. They can also serve on its various committees, subcommittees and task forces.
The addition of ESA, which currently has a little fewer than 40 members, raises the total membership of The Vision Council to 724 companies, including some that have been members of both groups. Several companies have recently joined the ESA, which consists mostly of sunglass companies and some of their key suppliers. Big players in the sunglass business such as Luxottica have never been members of ESA, but like several other big European companies, they are represented in the council.
In explaining why they were joining The Vision Council, officials of ESA publicly admitted that their resources had been limited by the concentration of the industry and the difficult economic climate in Europe.
The organization has been without a general secretary for some time, but its financial situation has been cleaned up. In contrast, as co-owner of Vision Expo East and Vision Expo West fairs in New York and Las Vegas, The Vision Council has a permanent staff of about 30 employees located in its Alexandria, Virginia, headquarters as well as other staff working remotely.
Officials of Eurom 1 expressed surprise at ESA's decision, considering among other things the fact that they had invited its management to their own general meeting in Switzerland last July. They said that they plan to meet with The Vision Council at some future stage, and that they would welcome its collaboration in recommending common standards for medical devices and personal protection equipment to public authorities in the Europe and the U.S.
As an associate member of Eurom 1, The Vision Council says it looks forward to future discussions and collaborations with that organization. Like Eurom 1, the council plans to monitor the development and evolution of European regulations and issues in the areas of trade and commerce.
There are apparently several regulatory and standardization issues on which the two bodies could work together more closely. For example, they are both currently involved in important regulatory issues regarding the presence of toxic substances in eyewear frames. Eurom 1 is representing the vision care industry's interests in a project to recast the European directive on medical devices by adding a Unique Device Identification (UDI) on the packaging of the products that would help consumers to trace their origin and guarantee that they don't contain toxic substances.
Similarly, The Vision Council is addressing the UDI issue from a U.S. perspective. The two organizations told us that they plan to coordinate their efforts on this important regulatory issue to ensure harmonization on this industry matter between the European Union and the U.S., and to collaborate on other issues.
As part of its own work, The Vision Council is currently advising its members on claims being made by lawyers in California against eyewear manufacturers and distributors in connection with a state law, called Proposition 65. The legislation is intended to allow local consumers to make informed choices about products that may contain hazardous chemicals through appropriate labeling and in other ways.
The council is recommending to members who are doing business in California that they should ensure that their quality and control testing procedures cover a substance known as phthalate di (or 2-ethylhexyl or DEHP), which is alleged to be present in some sunglasses and reading glasses. According to an organization called the Consumer Advocacy, exposure to this substance can cause cancer and reproductive toxicity, especially in males.