Back at home, I do some research online and find an Oxford University graduate with degrees in anthropology and psychology who recently launched an eponymous sunglasses line tailored to the Asian customer. “It came out of my own frustrations of bad fit,” says Fei Wang, a native of China now living in London. “I thought, I’m going to do this myself.”
Turns out she’s got the right idea, as a number of eyewear giants already sell different fits for their markets in Asia. They are decreasing the frames’ curvatures, beefing up the molded nose pads or narrowing the bridge sizes.
Good news, right? Sort of. Though most of these styles aren’t readily available in the U.S., some firms do provide options in markets where the Asian population is high. Oliver Peoples, for example, carries a large selection of Asian-fit glasses at its South Coast Plaza boutique in Costa Mesa, California, and a smaller smattering at its Madison Avenue outpost in New York. Some large manufacturing companies, however, are only making Asian fits for their labels with high brand recognition among Stateside Asian consumers. For Safilo, that’s Gucci, Dior, Giorgio Armani and Yves Saint Laurent.
But there’s another reason consumers aren’t more aware of these specialized frames: Marketing such a fit is a delicate matter. “You’re targeting an audience here,” says Safilo’s vice president of product design and development, Timm Parker. “The last thing we would want to do is offend them. We’ve debated this internally a thousand different ways. I mean, what’s the right word? Asian fit? Custom fit? Special fit? Alternate bridge? We haven’t come across something everyone feels comfortable with.” It goes without saying that Safilo has yet to advertise the category.
Oakley does market its particular styles as “Asian Fit” on its Web site and explains the various differences between those constructions and its non-Asian types. But the decision to go with the Asian-fit name hasn’t been without controversy. According to Wade Cleveland, the firm’s eyewear business unit manager, Oakley has received several complaints about the moniker, primarily via customer letters. “A long time ago we tried to use the term ‘alternative fit,’ and that turned out to be worse,” he says.
Marketing strategies aside, perhaps more manufacturers should take up the notion of sizing. Marchon, for one, provides millimeter measurements of its sunglasses’ bridges, lenses and temples. But if they do, it will be largely up to the person behind the counter to steer a shopper toward the right frame. Thus, sales training is key, a sentiment echoed by one exec after another. It’s a lesson I learn on my own, while on the major-store circuit. At one spot, two associates are utterly lovely, but their sales strategy quickly devolves into having me try on as many glasses as possible to see which will work—a disheartening affair by the end. At another, a salesperson who is far too overworked leaves me largely to my own devices after an initial push toward a pair with metal nose pads. And at a third, a young woman ushers me to sunglasses by Derek Lam because “he’s Asian American,” then to Oliver Peoples because they’re “made in Japan.”