Following the announcement of the very first launch of ELIE SAAB eyewear collection, Luisa Delgado, CEO, Safilo, shares the company’s future plans and how they aim to positively contribute to the eyewear industry in South East Asia
VisionPlus(VP): You have recently announced the launch of the very first ELIE SAAB eyewear collection. Could you please tell us a little more about it?
Luisa Delgado (LD):ELIE SAAB stands for the utmost sophistication, lightness, intricate details, precious materials, sheer beauty and savoir faire – the dream of true Parisian luxury evocative of unique Beirut roots. ELIE SAAB eyewear will reflect this exquisite personality of the brand. It will be positioned in the Atelier segment, and is being developed with the highest sophistication in terms of product design, materials and craftsmanship. Also, we will adopt a commercial distribution strategy of partnering worldwide with selected retailers. The very first ELIE SAAB eyewear collection will be presented in January 2017.
For Safilo corporately, the brand adds important strategic value to our portfolio, opens a new high growth consumer segment, and spearheads the entry into new markets, of which, several are as of yet global white spaces for us. Through the product requirements, we will evolve further our atelier manufacturing skills and techniques stretching our historical savoir faire further. This new license therefore is fully coherent with the choices announced in our 2020 Strategic Plan, and has excellent potential to contribute to us achieving our related objectives.
VP: Prior to joining Safilo, you were associated to P&G for more than two decades. How has your experience from there helped you to understand the eyewear segment?
LD: At P&G I learned how to build Brands across a series of different categories and countries, understand the dreams and desires of consumers particularly in the beauty sector, innovate in product development, partner with retailers, and design and manage businesses and organisations with discipline. Throughout these experiences in a globally demanding context, I was forced to hone my leadership skills. Today, this learning helps me to approach the global eyewear market with long professional experience yet personal humility. I have been eager to learn eyewear, and have built great determination to lead the needed change.
VP: What are the changes that you have introduced in terms of business strategies in order to strengthen Safilo’s presence globally?
LD: We have become global, dismantling the previous holding approach in which three independent mega-regions operated as stand-alone companies. As a consequence, we are today focused on bringing our total brand portfolio of nearly 30 brands across five market segments (fashion luxury, contemporary lifestyle, mass cool, sports/outdoor lifestyle, atelier) to the whole world. This entails a huge change namely for South East Asia, where we used to sell less than a handful of brands, concentrated in fashion luxury. This also means that we now need to get better at understanding local needs and make our products relevant to specific market requirements, both in terms of fit and design flavour, which we are doing through our newly established worldwide network of design studios, the 5th of them is due to open in Asia during 2016.
With a clear commercial strategy and policies, partnering with Safilo has become transparent, with high standards, and opportunities to grow have increased for retail partners who share with us a commitment to brand building and product design of qualitative standards.
VP: The sunglass market in SE Asia, particularly Singapore, is not as developed and mature as one would expect it to be, considering that the climate is nice and sunny throughout the year. Why? And how does this effect Safilo?
LD: It is also our observation that there is important growth potential for the sunglass market in SEA. There are a number of anecdotal factors that may explain its relative under development as of yet, although no definitive data is available. Those include e.g. the higher prevalence of myopia in the population (which means that consumers tend to wear their clear spectacles outdoors), cultural perceptions, and in some countries lower disposable income.
We are starting to see a change in consumer behaviour that is prompting growth of the sun market. One is the increased contact lenses usage facilitating more sales of plane sunglasses. The other is the discovery of sunglasses as a first step to enter prestigious fashion brands. There is also, slowly, more awareness of the importance of protection from UV rays for children. We are observing and supporting some of these developments with great interest, and anticipating the resulting potential through strong investments in the commercial growth capability in SEA, Brand communication programmes, and focus on fitting and designs tuned to the Asian consumers style and face shape.
VP: How in your opinion is the Asian market different compared to say Europe, US or the Middle East?
LD: Asia is home to ca. 60 per cent of the global population with China and India accounting for more than half of Asia’s total population. Demographic shifts entailing changing demand consumption patterns, and resulting potential for consumption growth as a consequence are significant trends shaping the Asia region. Importantly, we are also seeing in the highest consumer segments an evolving very positive attitude towards luxury brands with an Asian connection or origin, and a bit less of logo and more intrinsic design and material statement. Furthermore awareness of vision correction needs and UV protection namely for children is starting to emerge. And very importantly, the Internet usage has risen sharply in Asia too, with e-commerce and mobile in particular being very advanced in Asia. This represents a huge potential also in our industry, which we want to be part of led out of Asia.
Despite widely different geopolitical complexities and economic dynamics across the region, the most remarkable difference is the eyewear product itself: it’s common currency within the eyewear industry that frames fit certain ethnic groups differently – and in particular, that they fit Asians differently from Europeans. The Asian-fit style is especially created for an excellent fit for the Asian women i.e. built up slightly so the frame sits higher on the bridge of the nose, which is typically more shallow than on a Caucasian face. We have decided in Safilo to look at these differing needs for fit “perfect fitting”, and to recognise them in their differing manifestations across the world, beyond Asia. Therefore, you would see our collections catering for these requirements, some of which are specific to several Asian sub regions.
VP: How do you manage to ensure that in spite of being international, your designs are able to meet the local preferences of the customers in various regions?
LD: Our philosophy is to be global wherever we can (e.g. global manufacturing, planning, internal services), and local wherever we must (e.g. fit, design flavour, consumer facing communication plans, customer partnership). Not middle of the road on everything. This means that we are very clear that as regards Asia, we must become excellent at understanding the local consumers’ and opticians’ needs in terms of design fit, and design aesthetics, while we offer the scale and portfolio that only a global company can show.
We are for e.g. opening design studios around the world to scout local trends that have global potential on the one side, and local specificities that are key on the other. We are also increasingly seeking licenses of brands from across the world, beyond Europe and US that we have had historically. With such brands, e.g. havaianas from Brazil and Elie Saab from Beirut/Paris, we learn about different origins of inspiration, and aesthetics that have a broader worldwide consumer base.
We also engage our designers to learn from brands that represent uniquely new geographies, and study their design concepts and philosophies, from any category. For the Asian markets, we are also planning to build a locally installed design studio during 2016. After all, finding the right balance between global and local is a key dynamic in any multinational, and I see that with the right top talents, they lead naturally the best of both.
VP: You are one of the biggest players in the world when it comes to optical trade. How do you think that your direct presence in the region impacts the business that Safilo gets from South East Asia?
LD: The direct presence in the SEA region allows us to understand better the market needs, build broader and deeper relationships with the opticians, and is fundamental to our Group’s plans to deliver long-term sustainable growth for the region with a high level of rigorous commercial quality control.
To be clear, direct presence is not sufficient. We have had our own offices in Singapore and Malaysia since 2002. We have been strengthening this presence most recently and it does show our commitment to the SEA region, for us strategically important, in which we want to strengthen our business going forward. What we learned is needed is the leadership and expertise to represent the values and strategies of the Safilo Group. We believe that we are now beginning to have these in place, and we trust you see the impact for the brand portfolio, our willingness to invest in visibility that drive sustainable sell out, and further opportunities for product development, all resulting in growth potential for our optician customers’ business.
LD: Safilo is committed to being your trusted partner and together serve your shoppers. You can count on us for an unbeatable portfolio of brands and product of highest quality and attractive design, that we will increasingly design to address the Asia specific needs also aesthetically, and through which you can differentiate your stores in the market. We will invest in you giving our brands visibility and support their sell out.