Olympic Eyewear is a Utah business based in Salt Lake City specializing in wholesale, bulk sunglasses for retailers. They carry on a robust business thanks to retailers all over the country who purchase from them. But what they do today would not have been possible 50 years ago. Why? Because sunglasses used to be just a drugstore thing. Today that is not the case.
If you are old enough to remember when disco was new and people were trading in their residential party lines for unique telephone numbers, you might also remember that the only place to buy sunglasses in the 1970s was the local drugstore or a high-end department store. That was it. The average consumer bought a cheap pair of sunglasses at the drugstore because the choices at the department stores were too expensive. And forget about fashion sunglasses back then. You had to have some green to afford them.
So what happened? Well, it boils down to changing attitudes. The good people at Olympic Eyewear explain it as medical science giving way to fashion consciousness. It is all explained below.
Sunglasses have never been classified under the law as medical devices here in the United States. Yet government classification and public perception are two different things. Prior to the 1970s, people did not think about sunglasses in terms of fashion. They thought of them only as medical devices for protecting the eyes against bright sunshine. As such, they were fairly utilitarian.
Think about some other medical devices you know. For example, there isn’t a high demand for fashion neck braces or crutches. Both are utilitarian and nothing else. But what if someone decided they could use crutches and look good doing so? A fashion market might be birthed. That is exactly what happened to sunglasses.
No one quite knows how it happened, but it became apparent that sunglasses could be as much a fashion statement as a medical device. People began caring about what their sunglasses looked like before purchase. Manufacturer’s picked up on the trend, suddenly having an excuse to start designing sunglasses and frames that would appeal to a person’s sense of fashion.
Manufacturers quickly discovered that in spite of the demand for more fashionable sunglasses, they would not reach mass-market appeal if new distribution outlets weren’t found. People went to the drugstore for medicine and other medical products, not for fashion eyewear. This created the general need to start pushing sunglasses through big-box department stores, mom and pop shops, shopping center kiosks, and so forth.
By the early 1980s, it was possible to find sunglasses at everything from your local gas station to the convenience store at the end of the street. They were still being sold in drugstores – which had suddenly become pharmacies instead – but things were shifting away from the drugstore market to other retail institutions.
And then came the internet. What a paradigm shift that was.
Retail sunglasses these days can be purchased online or at brick-and-mortar establishments. But that’s not even the half of it. Pop-up shops tend to open in some locations at the start of the tourist season only to close down a few months later. Vendors take their sunglasses to outdoor concerts, festivals, flea markets, and on and on.
The folks at Olympic Eyewear will be the first to tell you that sunglasses are no longer a drugstore thing. And that is good, at least for an Olympic. It’s good for consumers too, inasmuch as having so many retailers and brands to choose from means there’s something for everyone.