Eyewear is the next frontier of fashion: Safilo CEO Luisa Delgado

Safilo CEO Luisa Delgado talks about introducing luxury brands like Dior and Elie Saab in India as well as making eyewear more affordable for more consumers in the country


Safilo Group SpA CEO Luisa Delgado. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Safilo Group SpA CEO Luisa Delgado. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Luisa Delgado, chief executive of Italian eyewear company Safilo Group SpA, whose portfolio of brands include Carrera, Polaroid, Smith, Safilo and Oxydo and the licensed collections of Dior, Fendi, Gucci, Banana Republic, Bobbi Brown and Boss, was in New Delhi last week to chalk out the company’s expansion plans here.

As CEO of the world’s second-largest eyewear company, she spoke in an interview about introducing luxury brands like Dior and Elie Saab in India as well as making eyewear more affordable for more consumers in the country. Edited excerpts:

This is your second visit to India this year which is still a very small market.

April is when we declared India as an important market for Safilo, in terms of brands, customers and also our interest in getting to know Indian consumers. Today, if you go to our headquarters, or even our plants or designers, they will tell you we know India is key for us. That’s a big change from the past. By 2020, we will bring all our 30 brands, owned and licensed, to India. We have also renewed licences of brands important for Indian market such as Jimmy Choo and Max Mara. Plus, we signed a new licence for Rag & Bone and acquired Lenti, the graphic lens maker, which is very important for the luxury eyewear segment.

All of these give us more ammunition to come to India. The India plan is not only ready but we have now started to launch different elements of it—from capability to distributors to customers to getting the marketing plans and, of course, getting approvals for all the budgets required. I can say today that my second visit is to explain to the whole organization all the details of how we are doing it. The India team has grown the business at double digit growth rate, and we are not only in line with our milestones, but slightly ahead of what we wanted to do from April to today.

What are the brands that you will launch here in the next few months?

Very clearly, we want to bring Dior to India (1 January 2017). It shows our craftsmanship in very a very sophisticated way. We will not sell Dior sunglasses at more than two stores, perhaps, in Mumbai and Delhi. Over a period, maybe a handful of stores.

Another brand which is coming to India in coming weeks is Elie Saab, which is positioned higher than Dior. It comes with incredible craftsmanship, material and design. This is a couture eyewear, probably the very first. The idea is to establish a new brand in eyewear that is the highest in desirability.

Havaianas is next. It’s the flip flop, mass cool brand, a segment that is growing very fast in the eyewear industry. Price is lower and volumes are higher and distribution is very wide.

The issue is not why we don’t have all 30 brands here. The issue is what we have done with what we already have here, because, selling it in a few points is one thing, selling it really with marketing communication and distribution is another.

Will Safilo be restricted to the top metro cities?

Every brand has a target in terms of top line and a plan to achieve that. We measure our business by number of doors, productivity per door and, of course, number of brands per door. We have set our targets in the top 60 cities and set ourselves targets in terms of how many distributors we want to work with and what coverage they would get in different states, targets in terms of brand awareness, Polaroid and Carrera in particular, over the next two-and-a-half years.

What’s your revenue target in India?

In the past six months, we are above target with the right product at the right price points. We can’t give a number. Our objective is to treble the business in two-and-a -half years. At present, the business is not huge.

We believe India is one of the countries where consumers are most aware of the brands, wish to engage with them, and also start using eyewear as an opportunity for self-expression, style, design, as opposed to only a medical device.

Medical device is important part of our business, but there is more to the opportunity in eyewear for style and a visible accessory.

How are you positioning Safilo in India—as a style statement or a medical device?

The reason this industry is interesting is because there is an intersection of trends— there’s an ageing population with the need for glasses, there’s an emerging middle class in big countries like India that comes with a desire for brands, and third there’s a big development where eyewear is the next frontier of fashion.

We are trying to merge these three. Buying eyewear is not a glorious moment of shopping today. Most people get self-conscious while buying eyewear. If we can make the intimidation go away and make it more playful... The key here is to bring products that discover needs that you did not know you had. This broadens the pie.

How do you plan to broaden the pie in India?

Our target is to first serve the 250 million Indians at the top—that’s the class and that’s the start for us.

Our real dream in India, Brazil, Turkey, Russia and other countries would be to democratize eyewear in a way it would be affordable beyond the 250 million, in a quality way, with big volumes, of course. We want to bring our craftsmanship and our technical knowledge to countries like India and Russia.

India is a price-sensitive market. How would you democratize the eyewear market without price points that suit the masses?

We already sell Polaroid in India, which is priced around Rs3,200. We won’t go to $2 level, and there’s a long space between $2 and $50. Something in between would be great. Yes, $25-30 is a reasonable price point.

Will you launch a new brand for the masses?

Yes, but it will take time. We launched a team in Istanbul and we will have people from India, too. The team, to be led by a Russian, with an Italian designer, which will precisely draw things from Turkey, Russia, India and Russia, to develop products for the masses in these countries. And we will include China at a later stage.

Will Safilo brands be endorsed by Indian celebrities in this market?

Some will, of course. The big brands like Dior have their own strategies for marketing and image building. Indian celebrities will be for our proprietary brands like Polaroid and Carrera. This is not something completely new for us. Like Jimmy Choo is locally endorsed.

Do you plan to start manufacturing in India?

No. We have robust manufacturing capacity with seven facilities globally, and ‘Made in Italy’ is very important for luxury brands. At this point in time, our existing supply network is what we need, and we are investing in it to modernize. I would expect to leverage that. But you never know. If really there is a market that starts to grow in a certain way, we could consider it, but we are very quality conscious and that would never be compromised.

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