06 September, 2009

My pathetic attempt to buy non-Chinese eyeglass frames

For about a month I tried to buy a pair of non-Chinese eyeglass frames using my vision insurance. I finally gave up and bought a set of cheap Puritan frames at the Wal-Mart vision center. Here's a brief summary of my not-so-valiant attempt.

The last time I bought glasses, I bought Safilo frames from a local chain called Eye Works. They're a really nice pair, made in Italy. Not only was I happy to buy Italian, but it was convenient: Eye Works is next door to my eye doctor.

Naturally, I visited Eye Works again, but for some mysterious reason they no longer carry Safilo. Instead the salesman wanted to sell me frames that were made in China and cost nearly $300, when my old Italian-made frames cost less than $200. I object to that sort of thing. I (might) understand that under the current trade and political regimes, manufacturers find it cheaper to move their manufacturing operations to China; otherwise, they won't be able to compete with those who do. I am far less keen on the notion that they move operations to China, thereby cutting costs, yet jack up their prices all the same.

Admittedly, I make things hard on myself by having non-standard tastes. On the one hand, I tend to be impervious to modern fashions: I want a pair of circular frames, or as close to circular as possible. I also want thin frames, preferably black—although I can put up with a color different from black, as long as it isn't flashy. Sadly, modern frame fashions are rectangular, frequently thick plastic, and very flashy. I am, needless to say, the frame salesman's worst nightmare.

Okay, next up: the local mall. Our local Sears and JC Penney's don't have optical departments. Don't ask me why not; I don't know. That's just the way it is. Nor did the national chain in the mall carry anything remotely resembling my tastes. Why does everyone have to be so flashy and fashionable these days? Can't a fella just buy a modest pair of glasses?

Actually, a fella can, but he has to buy them online. In fact, I found two Safilo styles that suited me just fine online, the Safilo Team 3899 and the Safilo Team 3900.

A call to my vision insurance provider revealed that they don't cover online purchases. Dagummit.

Next up: a local store, Heritage Vision. The clerk didn't seem particularly happy once he heard my specifications. (It probably didn't help that it was near closing time, either.) He did find a pair of glasses on clearance from Brooks Brothers (?) that were round and made in Italy. They used to be made by Safilo, he explained, but have been discontinued, which is why they're on clearance. They were also too flashy for my tastes. To show how difficult I make it for the companies: most businessmen would probably be happy with these glasses, because they were gold with soft patches of brown. I won't put up with that, uh-uh. Gold, okay. Brown, okay. Gold and brown? Too immodest.

Wal-Mart was in the same parking lot as Heritage, so I popped by, even though my wife and I avoid Wal-Mart whenever possible, which is to say, most of the time. (We also save money that way, because my wife is quite good at hunting deals at the regular grocery stores, whereas Wal-Mart savings tend to be superficial, and let's not get into the quality of the fruit. Ugh.) I went in, and whaddayaknow: Wal-Mart sells Safilo. (Read that again. Wal-Mart sells Safilo.) However, they didn't have the style I wear now, nor any Safilo styles similar to it. They also weren't able to special order any frames from Safilo; what they have is all you can get. One of their Safilo frames came close, but it was half-rimless. I won't put up with that stuff: I want a full rim around the lenses, dagummit. (How do you describe those frames where the bottom has no rim? I don't know.) I also noticed some circularish glasses from other brands that came close to my specifications, but they were made in China. Like, say, a Puritan brand for—brace for it—$38. Again: $38, about one-fifth the usual brands that are made in China. Putting some fashion designer's name on my face isn't worth paying five times the price of manufacture and distribution. They ought to pay me for the advertising space.

I tried two more stores after Wal-Mart. One said that they'd be able to special order the frames I was interested in, then called back a few days later to say that no, one frame I was interested in was discontinued, and the other was back ordered until September 29th. I visited them anyway to see what they had, and was disappointed. More of the same: flashy this, rectangular that.

At least Wal-Mart had something vaguely similar to what I wanted. Oh, well: I went in and re-selected the half-rimless Safilo frames. At this point the salesman informed me that they required special polycarbonate lenses because they are half-rimless. My vision insurance, which doesn't accept online purchases, only covers basic plastic frames. So I'd be paying a premium not only for the frames (the insurance only covers frames up to $100, and these frames were a non-negligible amount more) but also for the lenses.

At this point I lost all my desire to fight any more. I didn't even like these frames that much. And what was I fighting for, anyway? According to the Italian Wikipedia entry on Safilo, they shut down their Italian operations this year and started manufacturing frames in—you guessed it—China, although they continue to label their frames as Made in Italy:

Nel 2009 viene chiuso lo stabilimento di Precenicco (UD) e mandate a casa 300 persone, sempre nel 2009 nello stabilimento di Martignacco (UD), vengono mandati a casa 450 persone su un complessivo di 600, in contemporanea viene aperta un fabbrica in Cina con 3000 operai. La Safilo timbra ancora i suoi occhiali col Made in Italy.
(I've been told that Italian bicycle manufacturers have a habit of doing this, too, but I don't know whether it's true.)

I had learned that a few days before, but had held on to my goal of buying Safilo frames in the vague hope that by buying frames made in the past year or so I'd still be buying Italian frames. At this point it was clear that I had confused principle with vanity, and it was too much of a hassle, anyway. I went back to the wall, grabbed a pair of Puritans that are nearly identical to my current frames, my stupid vision insurance covered everything except a $15 deductible for both frames and glasses.


Anonymous said...

I liked very much your story, very very similar to mine!
Just for your info:

- Leonardo Del Vecchio is the founder and chairman of Luxottica, a $3 billion (sales) designer and manufacturer of high-quality eyeglass frames. The firm owns the Sunglass Hut and Lenscrafters chains with a total of over 6000 stores. According to Forbes magazine, he is the second richest man in Italy, after Michele Ferrero with a net worth of 6.3 billion dollars (Forbes, 2009) and 71st in the world rankings (also Forbes 2009). The company listed in New York in 1990, and in Milan in December 2000, joining the MIB-30 (now S&P/MIB) index in September 2003. The listing enhanced the company’s ability to acquire other brands, starting with Italian brand Vogue in 1990, Persol and US Shoe Corporation (LensCrafters) in 1995, Ray-Ban in 1999 and Sunglass Hut, Inc. in 2001. They went looking for more retail companies, acquiring Sydney-based OPSM in 2003, Pearle Vision in 2004, Surfeyes in 2006, and Cole National in 2004. Most recently, they acquired Oakley in a US$2.1bn deal in November 2007.

- Claudio Del Vecchio, a son of Leonardo Del Vecchio, is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Retail Brand Alliance, Inc., the owner of Brooks Brothers. So, the clerk who said Brooks Brothers frames was made by Safilo was completely wrong.

In any case, Safilo has 3 production sites in Italy. See http://www.safilo.com/en/1-global-location.php , where they are still manufacturing your loved metal frames!

Have a great 2010!

jack perry said...

Thanks for the information. From the link you gave, I see that Safilo's Chinese plant produces only the materials used in glasses, whereas the glasses themselves are made in Italy (or elsewhere). Is that correct?

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your story - it could have been written by me!!!
I, too, try not to buy anything with the stamp "Made in China" - no matter what it is, it seems to fall apart or break after several uses and so begins a vicious cycle of buying and throwing away. I found Warby Parker on-line - maybe they have similar glasses your looking for at a great price. Good Luck!

chergui said...

Again, as the other posters have said, "this could have been me." I discovered a few years ago that even if a frame says, "Made in Italy", "Made in France", "Made in Denmark", it is likely that what it really means is that the metal and/or plastic is made in China, shipped to the country stated on the frame, and then assembled in that country. There are very few eye glass frames completely manufactured in Europe. You have to do your homework. At this time, I know that Morel eyewear is completely manufactured in France. I'm on a quest now to find some new frames completely made in a European country. I'll keep you posted if I find any.

Marian Smith said...

I typically bought eyeglasses frame at the mall store than online, but some of those frames are made in China.

Kate Williams said...

Hey, it is well written article post, all the frames for the most of the brands are made in China only.

Anonymous said...

I loathe Luxottica, try getting away from this monopoly. Luxottica is the owner of Lenscrafters, Sunglass Hut, Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, Target Optical, Eyemed vision care plan, and yes, Glasses.com. Brands they own or make frames for, Ray-Ban, Persol, Oakley. Chanel, Prada, Giorgio Armani, Burberry, Versace, Dolce and Gabbana, Miu Miu, Donna Karan, Stella McCartney, and Tory Burch.

They are a major factor why in the US prices are so sky high.

I prefer independent shops over these corporations stores, they may not have the selection that Luxottica can supply their stores but I find the independents tend to get a different variety from smaller manufacturers, most can order a frame for you that you want, they will get the fit better, take their time to get it right. The staff at independents usually are the owners or they cherry pick the few people they hirer.

I just found a pair of Safilo that I purchased at an independent.

John Perry said...

Thank you for the comment. I had read somewhere else about Luxottica's near-monopoly. I'll try to look into independent shops; we have a few around here that seemed independent, but their frames were both unappealing and unreasonably priced (for me). My latest pair of frames is the Korean-made "George" sold at Wal-Mart Vision centers: not too expensive, and not made in China.

Anonymous said...

I bought frames made in Italy at Sam's club and whe I went back to pick them up, they looked like the same glasses but they were no longer stamped made in Italy! I told the vision people these glasses don't say made in Italy and so said those are the ones you picked!!! She ignored me like I was crazy and I know for sure when I chose my lens frames they did. Well that's the last time I buy frames at that place. So frustrating to know it's happening with everything!

Anonymous said...

I never use to chose my frames without paying any attention to where they were made. My next-to-last pair fell apart so quickly, I thought I just bought some that were too cheap so I got another pair but paid more. They fell apart even faster. Then I noticed both pair were made in China! Not too many years before, I had seen a network news story on almost all frames being made in Italy, no matter what brand name. So my dissatisfaction with frames made in China is not some kind of prejudice or my imagination. And as someone else commented, they cost as much or more than the good quality frames did. TY for info on finding non-Chinese frames and how to be careful about it.

jack perry said...

Glad you found it useful, Anonymous!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed especially your story, fundamentally the same as mine!............ i love Eyeglasses Thanks For Sharing

Mr. Siddharth said...

Thanks for sharing such a nice blog. It's very informative for buy eyeglass frames online.