The biggest name in designer sunglasses, Italy’s Luxottica Group, recently filed a lawsuit against the owner of three boutiques in Hampton, New Hampshire. The lawsuit alleges that the boutiques and their owner are causing irreparable harm to Luxottica by selling knockoff Ray-Bans obtained from a Chinese distributor.
As you might expect, Luxottica claims that the knockoffs are both harming its reputation and posing a danger to customers unaware they are buying products with inferior craftsmanship. As for the boutiques’ owner, she is claiming ignorance. She says that she thought the glasses were okay because the spelling of the brand name was different.
While the lawsuit makes its way through the courts, it tells us three important things about the eyewear industry and sunglasses:
1. Knockoffs Are Alive and Well
The first thing is that knockoffs are alive and well. Perhaps that was never in dispute, but the case reinforces the reality that manufacturers and distributors in faraway countries are still more than willing to produce counterfeit goods and ship them to the U.S. If it’s not designer sunglasses, it can be anything else, from handbags to shoes.
Having said that, there is a difference between knockoffs and products that merely look similar. If you were to compare a pair of Ray-Ban aviators against a competing pair made by Utah’s Olympic Eyewear for example, you might not be able to tell the difference in the absence of branding printed on the lenses or frame. Take away that branding and the sunglasses might look very similar.
Such a case would be an instance of counterfeit goods. There would be no intent to pass the competing sunglasses off as Ray-Bans when they really weren’t. In fact, the competing sunglasses are designed, manufactured, and branded completely separate from the Ray-Ban name.
2. People Are Willing to Buy
Next, the Hampton case is a reminder that people are willing to buy counterfeit goods. Some buyers might be young people who legitimately think they are getting a high-end brand for next to nothing. Others are adults who know better. They are people who know that true Ray-Bans do not sell off the rack for $6.95.
The unfortunate reality is that the counterfeit market exists because people are willing to buy the goods. It also proves that such customers are not really concerned about superior quality or craftsmanship. They are buying a name. If they can get the name for under $10 as opposed to $100, that’s fine with them.
3. Designer Pricing Can Be High
Finally, the case reminds us that designer pricing can be a bit high. A pair of authentic Ray-Bans can easily cost in the neighborhood of $100. However, other Luxottica brands can go for two and three times that amount. It is quite possible to spend more than $350 on some models.
Given that almost all sunglasses are made from injection-molded plastic and plastic lenses – both of which can be manufactured incredibly cheaply – it is evident that high-end brands cost as much as they do because of the names associated with them. Yes, the craftsmanship may be slightly better. But plastic is plastic. Craftsmanship doesn’t warrant such high prices.
As long as the market will support branded sunglasses at high price points, there will be a companion market for counterfeit products. That is just the way it goes in the fashion industry. It is up to consumers to understand exactly what it is they are buying before making a purchase. If you want the real thing, you have to understand that it doesn’t come cheaply.