Silmo Gears Up for First Post-pandemic Global Show

·5 min read

PARIS — With major international trade fairs on hold since 2019, the eyewear industry is raring to get back to the show floor.

The organizers of Silmo, the Paris-based fair for the optical industry, as a result have high hopes for their upcoming edition, which will take place from Sept. 24 to 27 at the Villepinte exhibition center north of Paris.

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“This is really the show where we all get back together after two years with no major events of international scope,” said Silmo president Amélie Morel. Pre-registration was in line with expectations a week ahead of the event, Morel said, although visitors have been holding back on making a decision about attendance given the current context.

More than 500 companies will be exhibiting — just over half the 970 that showed at Silmo in 2019.

This is largely because it is difficult for exhibitors and visitors from Asia to attend the show, given requirements for quarantining on return, Morel said. “Asia in the past represented a lot of our exhibitors, and this year, they won’t be coming,” she explained.

While their lack may be felt on the show floor, “there are other companies, and there is a lot of creativity,” Morel assured.

There will be around 60 new companies exhibiting.

Indeed, Morel said, much of the feedback exhibitors and visitors have given has centered on the desire for novelty — with in-person meetings impossible, it has been more difficult for opticians to discover new products. “Digital can’t replace human interaction, that’s become really clear,” Morel said. “The show is a really important vector for opticians.”

In most markets, opticians remained open as health care providers during lockdowns, she said. “We’re lucky, ours is a profession related to health and service, the market has held up.” Consumers, meanwhile, unable to travel, have been spending more on personal luxuries, including premium eyewear.

While the market took a significant hit last year — it is estimated that global sales of optical products including spectacles, contact lenses and sunglasses fell by around 13 percent, with the latter particularly hard hit because people were unable to travel — things have been looking up this year, with the industry’s leaders reporting sales numbers for the first half of 2021 well ahead of 2019 levels.

Among them, EssilorLuxottica saw sales of 8.77 billion euros for the six months to June, up 5.7 percent at constant currency rates compared with the same period in 2019. The firm upgraded its outlook for the full year, and is anticipating constant-currency growth in the mid-single digits as compared with 2019.

Safilo Group, as reported, said its first-half sales gained 7.7 percent at constant exchange versus the same period in 2019, to 510.7 million euros, buoyed notably by strong demand in the U.S. and growth in sunglasses online.

Longer term, the global eyewear market is expected to see a compound annual growth rate of 8.5 percent between 2021 and 2028, according to data from Grand View Research.

“There are plenty of market opportunities out there, like myopia, the aging population and digitalization,” Morel said. The past 18 months, during which people all over the world have spent increasing amounts of time in front of screens, has brought to the forefront concerns about eye fatigue and blue light protection, she said.

This is one of the main areas driving innovation in the industry, Morel said, and will be a focus at this year’s Silmo.

Developments in sustainability are also expected to be a highlight. Italy’s Marcolin, for example, will be presenting designs under its license with Adidas Originals featuring frames made from 99.7 percent recycled polyamide and lenses with 60 percent pre-consumer recycled content.

Among pre-registered visitors, around half are international, raising hopes that Silmo will conform with its positioning as the premier global optical fair. Of these, 60 percent hail from elsewhere in Europe, 23 percent from the Middle East, 6 percent from the Americas, 6 percent from Africa and 5 percent from Asia. “Figures so far suggest distribution of France-international participation similar to that of 2019 and lead us to believe we’re on track for a global fair,” stated show director Eric Lenoir.

In 2019, before COVID-19 put a halt to international travel, Silmo attracted a total of 35,888 visitors, with 56 percent hailing from outside France.

This time last year, Silmo chose to hold a scaled back edition called Outside the Walls mainly for local opticians in a tent alongside WSN’s trade shows in the Tuileries in central Paris, with just 70 exhibitors, before taking the show on the road with a similar format in three more French cities. While the concept was deemed a success, responding to the needs of the French market, international scope was clearly lacking, and many of the major players were absent.

Alongside new products and innovations, among the highlights at this year’s edition will be the Silmo d’Or awards, highly respected in the industry, which reward innovations in technology and design.

The Silmo Next area will focus on areas of innovation for the future. In the trends area, four key themes will be highlighted: Absolute Design, focused on streamlined elegance; Neo-Stalgia, a contemporary take on vintage styles; Archi-Tech, with reinventions of structured shapes into elaborate frames, and Pixel Street, centered on a digital-meets-street feel.

The organizers have also pulled out the stops to facilitate visiting, Morel said, including providing on-site COVID-19 testing facilities, notably for international attendees without a European sanitary pass — obligatory to attend the event under current French regulations — or who need to get tested before returning home.

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