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Sustainability and Coronavirus Dominate Discussion Among Optometry’s Next Generation

There is an old adage about what is required to be a gentleman: “Manners maketh the man.” If you suffer from poor vision and require the use of eyeglasses, then you will know a similar adage also holds true — this is that “glasses maketh the man (or woman),” and that getting the right pair of glasses matters.

For those of us who wear them, spectacles are glued to our faces all day and accompany us throughout almost every aspect of our lives, except perhaps, for sleeping. Despite prognostications of their imminent demise — especially with the increase in the use of contact lenses — eyeglasses are resolutely here to stay. They will remain an integral part of the eye care industry, thus getting the right pair for the right customer will always be of paramount concern.

Getting the Right Frames for the Right Face

Certainly, it has become far easier to get the right pair of spectacles for the “right face” over the last decade. When your correspondent started wearing glasses at the age of 7, the options offered by his country’s national health service were fairly limited. It was expected that you would like round and brown, for that was pretty much your only option.

Fast-forward to 2018 and my last eye test — yes, I know I’m overdue … apologies to Specsavers Glasgow — but there is something of a pandemic going on and options for the glasses-wearer abound. Every time one goes for a test it seems as if there are more frames, lenses and styles to choose from than ever before. It is also easier to find the right frame for the right face as opticians increasingly use facial recognition technology to make frames to fit faces virtually.

So, the questions on everyone’s mind should be: What’s coming next in eyewear; and what can the new generation offer to patients and clinicians alike? That was the hot topic of discussion during Vision Expo’s online symposium entitled Virtual EYE2EYE Series: Coffee Talk — The Next Generation of Eyewear. Held last June (entirely online of course), the seminar was one of many, described as a “complimentary series of virtual panels and interactive conversations inspired by Vision Expo’s EYE2EYE educational series.”

Participants during Coffee Talk — The Next Generation of Eyewear’s webinar offered the best advice and insight for optometrists, as well as the latest creative movements in the eyewear industry. The session was chaired by Tarrence Lackran, a.k.a. @TheOpticalPoet (on Instagram), and the director of partnerships and programming at The Vision Council. Lackran is an eyewear ambassador and a social media influencer.

Lackran was joined by four main panelists: Kyly Zakheim-Rabin, owner of Zak; Wes Stoody, founder and CEO at Article One; Ahlem Mani-Platt, founder and designer at Ahlem Eyewear; and Christos Karabelas, owner at SOMA Optical. All young opti-entrepreneurs, representing both the vendor and retail aspects of the eyewear business, talked about their creations, innovations, inspirations, and how retailers and vendors can support one another during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Focusing on Creating a Sustainable Environment for Clinician and Customer

The seminar began with a round of introductions from all the participants. Some, like Mani-Platt, had no familial background in optometry, whereas for other participants there was a clear family heritage in the business. Mani-Platt used this section to speak about the importance of sustainability in eyewear, and how she couldn’t sleep at night if she thought her products were easily damaged.

“If someone says their glasses are made from bottles from the beach that’s great, but that’s not sustainable. You’re green, you’re trying to clean the world, but you’re not sustainable, this is a human factor and it’s about how your team works,” Mani-Platt said.

As companies move to secure their sustainability, more of them are moving to online only operations. Karabelas discussed his experience moving more into online sales, embracing social distancing conditions and altering his company’s working practices. He has adjusted his customers’ eyeglasses in his own car, and rerouted his company’s phone number to his cell phone.

Stoody echoed these comments, pointing out that at his company there is no pressure on the employers to work from the office. Conversely, customers are no longer able to randomly visit stores in many cases. Mani-Platt used the analogy of the personal shopper, and how providing a more tailor-made experience for the customer can help improve their experience, while also ensuring social distancing compliance.

Community relations and the correct use of social media also dominated the latter part of the webinar. The participants broadly agreed that a positive aspect of the coronavirus pandemic was that it enabled them to improve their e-commerce and social media platforms. There is also improved connectivity within their own companies, as well as the communities they serve.

Emphasizing the Link Between Community, Customer and Clinician

“Millennials are taking eyewear to another level, we are all excited about the direction in which it is going,” said Lackran.

“Some of my favorites, the legends and pioneers in the industry, have set the tone and cleared a path for the next generation of eyewear. These four vendors [from the main panel] and retailers represent that next generation,” Lackran added.

The Virtual EYE2EYE Series holds a seminar every Wednesday and can be accessed from the platform’s own website or on its YouTube page. The series is produced by Reed Exhibitions and supports the American Optometric Association’s Think About Your Eyes campaign.

Editor’s Note: Vision Expo’s Virtual EYE2EYE Series: Coffee Talk — The Next Generation of Eyewear webinar took place on June 10, 2020. Reporting for this story also took place during the event.

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