Not all the Chinese eyewear manufacturers are as bold as Moulin International, which has led the way in securing a foothold in the global market at the wholesale and retail levels by acquiring brands and licensees in Europe and a big retail chain, Eye Care Centers of America, in the USA. The majority still prefer to continue as simple of OEM manufacturers or to exploit licenses for Asian markets, but there are more and more exceptions.
Arts Optical, one of the major Chinese manufacturers based in Hong Kong, could be the next company to make an investment in Europe à la Moulin, albeit on a smaller scale. Trenti, the Italian company specializing in children's eyewear that won the SILMO gold award for the past two years in a row with highly technical models from its Lilliput collection, will not comment for the moment on rumors that it has sold a 13 percent stake to Arts Optical. It confirms however, that it is looking for synergies with international partners that will probably materialize in the coming months.
Elegance, another big Hong-Kong based manufacturer partly owned by Safilo, is researching a name for a new brand of its own making that it plans to launch on to the European market next year. The company is researching what type of brand to create and is trying to set up a suitable management team. Elegance has already launched two of its own brands - Oej, a brand of unisex optical frames aimed at the Japanese market which was launched in 2002, and Rococo, launched two years earlier for distribution in other Asian markets such as Hong Kong and China.
Aspac, a Chinese firm which holds eyewear licenses for Pierre Balmain, Carven, Maxim's de Paris, Philippe Charriol and Guy Laroche at the global level or only for China and Taiwan, is planning to launch a medium-to-high-end house brand in May or June of 2005. Aspac purposely started out with reputable labels in an attempt to create an image for itself. By showing that it can produce high-standard merchandise, the company feels it is paving the way for its own brand. Aspac employs more than 4,000 people at its factory in China, where it currently makes about 90 percent OEM eyewear and 10 percent licensed items.
Most manufacturers of OEM products are of two minds when considering house brands. Many of the smaller ones have no interest in starting them, noting that the research and marketing spend required would be overwhelming. Even some larger manufacturers, like Swank, which has offered its own brands (Nicolet, Spon, and Great American Looks) in China for about ten years, tend to balk. Swank says it is in discussions to get new licenses, but the marketing costs are simply too large to do a new brand by itself globally.
On the other hand, some manufacturers, like Prosun, started with their own brand or with licenses and only picked up OEM business later. Prosun, which holds licenses for Disney, Polaroid and Real Madrid eyewear, started in 1998 and does most of its business in China. Being a known quantity can help: Aspac hopes to take advantage of its established network of distributors to defray marketing costs.
Winntics started as an OEM, but has had its own brand for more than 20 years and likes the flexibility that it provides. Winntics started to market Winntics and Chevron when it realized some smaller customers couldn't afford the quantities required by brands it didn't own.
Other OEMs have vague plans, but have not really set them in motion. Union Eyewear has registered the names Okapi and ZB, but has not yet firmed up its plans for the labels ? including such basic issues as pricing. The group intends to establish its brands in China first before moving on to Europe, where it makes most of its OEM sales now, and to the USA.