The new Inspecs USA is a joint venture, controlled by the rather unique British eyewear supplier. The minority partner is Gone Vision, a US company set up by Robb and Mary Winn to provide private label frames to US optical retailers. Robb Winn knows the US market well as he was previously key accounts manager of Marine Optical, the US eyewear supplier that was liquidated a few months ago.

Inspecs recently inherited Marine Optical's Austin Reed license, which was distributed in the UK by Vision Express. Inspecs has been very successful lately with its own licensed French Connection and fcuk lines, which involve frames and sunglasses as well as fcuk disposable contact lenses.

It plans to come out for Summer of 2003 with two other major brands under the Speedo and Caterpillar brand names. It's about to finalize a global licensing contract for Caterpillar eyewear which had been previously agreed by a previous licensor, Britain's Overland Group. It already has a European licensing contract with Speedo for optical goggles and sunglasses which will involve, among other items, an innovative model of floating sunglasses with hydrophobic lenses that can be worn also in the water. The contact doesn't cover regular swim goggles.

Inspecs has been trying to penetrate the US market in various ways, including the internet. It has been showing at International Vision Expo for several years, but Winn's presence at its own stand in New York last month drew several important new customers for its products. The new US venture will likely take the non-UK share of Inspecs' total turnover up to 50 percent as of this year.

In 2001, the UK still represented about 70 percent of the company's total sales of about 30 million euros, including a small licensed fcuk drinks business, but it has been developing nicely certain foreign markets such as Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Iceland and Hong Kong. An overall sales growth of anywhere between 30 and 50 percent has been budgeted for this year.

Inspecs has a sourcing office in Hong Kong. It recently transferred its headquarters from South London to a large 17th century castle at Farleigh Estate, near Bath, which is being restored. Most of its staff of 70 persons agreed to move to the new premises.