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Firm Focus(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 02,2008)

Hong Kong Optical Design Competition

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Thousands of overseas visitors contemplated new lenses and frames, spectacles and sunglasses, accessories and related equipment at one of the world’s largest optical fairs

The Hong Kong Optical Fair held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre from November 6-8, 2007 once again confirmed its hard-earned reputation as the third-largest event of its kind in Asia.

Industry professionals were firmly focused on what the consumers back home might like the best. "I'm looking for fashion eyewear," said Rick Allsopp, Director of Sydney-based Inta Optical, who added that it needed to be high quality and that he was prepared to pay "a little more" for better quality and finish.

Australia tended to run 6-12 months behind Europe in fashions, he said. "The trend in Australia favours reasonably large sizes," Mr Allsopp noted, and added that there was also a "big emphasis" on temples treated with different colours, patterns and meshes to make a statement.

"Australians have shown little interest in funky, colourful eyewear in the past," he maintained. "But now those items are more acceptable, even while keeping a fairly conservative fashion shape."

Inta Optical has sourced from Hong Kong for many years. "The manufacturers here have the capabilities to make what we want," he maintained.

Falna Plastics Director Sailesh Shah, from Mumbai, India, faces a different situation. "Trendy, colourful frames are becoming accepted in my market, especially by young people," he said, "yet most people still prefer old-style, classic frames."

The Indian market is growing, but not as fast as in other countries because many people are poor. "They'll buy inexpensive optical frames from local markets," Mr Shah observed. "Fewer will buy imported products, so unless our prices are reasonable, we can't sell."

Smart Opticals Managing Director P. Moideen Kunhi knows his home market, the United Arab Emirates, keeps consumers alert to the need for sunglasses. "Our customers like fashionable frames and sunglasses," he said. "The ladies buy contact lenses, but almost everyone uses sunglasses."

He added that Smart Opticals would soon establish its own Smart brand name. "The UAE market is very large and growing fast," Mr Kunhi insisted.

Sunglasses also hold special interest for Chuck Larson, the sole proprietor of California-based OptimEyes, LLC. "I represent manufacturers of sunglasses components that I sell to customers in the US," he said.

Mr Larson noted that large sunglasses were currently popular in the US. "Sports styles drove the market in the past, but now fashion styles have taken over," he added. "The Hong Kong fair comes at a good time for sunglasses companies to consider designs for the next season."

Keeping equally alert for "anything that looks like an opportunity" was Madrid-based Purchasing Agent Juan Carlos Camargo, who represented Spanish retail chain MultiOpticas.

A "mature market with modest growth", Spain follows European trends, which means vintage-style frames are presently popular. "Chinese companies are good at following overseas trends," Mr Camargo observed.

Meanwhile, Purchasing Manager Grace Tan of Philippines-based manufacturer and retailer George Optical was on the lookout for optical instruments.

The Philippines follows trends in Hong Kong and Europe, and was currently into the modern, "very colourful" styles that she finds on her frequent visits to Hong Kong. "I know the Hong Kong Optical Fair is the one trade show that I really need to attend," Ms Tan concluded.

BIG & BOLD

One of the largest shows of its kind in the world, the Hong Kong Optical Fair has gone from strength to strength since its inception some 16 years ago.

The 15th edition held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in early November 2007 reflected this relentless development, attracting more than 540 companies specialising in optical design, manufacturing, retail and related services.

"Hong Kong is now the world's second-largest exporter of spectacles, lenses and frames," observed Hong Kong Optical Manufacturers Association President Hui Leung Wah at the opening ceremony.

Hong Kong exports of spectacles amounted to US$1.29bn in the first nine months of 2007, an increase of approximately 29% over the same period the previous year.

Exports to the EU increased 31%, ASEAN climbed 10% and the Middle East jumped 62%, while sales to Italy, the US, Germany and France rose 49%, 36%, 17% and 12% respectively.

Exhibitors at last year's fair reflected Hong Kong's importance as a major international optical products sourcing centre, coming from 22 countries and regions.

Exhibits ranged from safety and sports eyewear to sunglasses, lenses, frames, contact lenses, parts and accessories and spectacle cases and holders, along with state-of-the-art optometric instruments, equipment and machinery.

The fair's Retail and Shop Design, Equipment and Technology Section featured 38 exhibitors displaying a variety of point-of-sale equipment and technology, furniture and fixtures, lighting technology and packaging services.

The third major section, Optometric Instruments, Equipment and Machinery, included seven Hong Kong companies showcasing high-end optometric instruments, equipment and machinery.

The same exciting selection of hot products and indispensable industry briefings will be featured at this year's Hong Kong Optical Fair, which will run from November 6-8 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Text By John Cairns