The eyewear industry started picking up in June after the easing of Covid-19 related lockdown measures in some key markets. It is expected to gradually return to past levels, underpinned by pent-up demand for ophthalmic eyewear. A phenomenon, that has prompted manufacturers to focus on prescription frames.

Recently, Safilo and Fielmann both announced that their third-quarter results were stronger than expected. The improvement in the market was also confirmed by companies present at DaTE, a small Italian trade fair held from Sept. 19 to 21 in Florence. It was the first sector trade show held this year, excluding Opti 2020 held early January in Munich.

For the past couple of decades, the eyewear market has been driven by sunglasses, as it addresses a larger customer base than ophthalmic eyewear and has become a fashion item involving the world’s major designers and brands. Sunglasses also benefited from the development of integrated retail channels such as the purchase of Sunglass Hut by Luxottica in 2001.

It is too soon to gauge whether there is a structural shift in the market towards ophthalmic eyewear but the current situation has already prompted some changes in companies’ product range. DaTE numbered about 50 small and medium-sized eyewear companies that presented some 80 brands that were nearly all prescription frames.

For about 10 years, the Italian company Spektre has focused on sunglasses and has offered few prescription frames. But since the market recovery in June, orders have been mainly for the latter. Consequently, the company has reorganized its production and at DaTE it exhibited only prescription frames.

Susi Tabacchi, managing director of Immagine 98, which has the brands Mic, Rye & Lye and X-ide, claims that prescription frames have become a fashion item too. She noted that in South Korea, young people wear frames without lenses or with blank lenses.

Most companies at DaTE expect to book a decline in sales of 30-50 percent this year. But, some firms are making up for lost sales and hope to finish the year on a par or with a one-digit percentage fall.

Some startups used DaTE as a launching pad following the cancellation of Mido show due to the pandemic. It is the case of Corrado Rossoni, a former manager at Blackfin, who had scheduled to launch his Light Bird brand in February. He took advantage of the lockdown to further plan the brand’s rollout and claims to be very optimistic about its prospects, and Italian-made eyewear in general.

The Italian exhibitors interviewed at the show indicated that they are receiving orders from abroad, especially from Germany, which is Italy’s third largest export market for eyewear, Benelux, Spain and Poland. They also singled out Canada and Brazil as dynamic markets. In the U.S., which is Italy’s main export market, orders were registered from states where the pandemic is less virulent. Meanwhile, demand from France, which is Italy’s second largest export market, was more sluggish.

Overall, eyewear companies are still largely adopting a wait-and-see attitude hoping that demand will explode when a Covid-19 vaccine is available.

DaTE attracted 1,000 professionals and buyers. About 10 foreign buyers were invited by the Italian trade agency, ITA. The organizers set up a digital version of the show,, which continues until the end of the year. The digital platform was created with the support of ITA.

For the time being the next Mido show in Milan is confirmed for Feb. 6-8, 2021.