Is Now the Time for Smart Eyewear?

There was a period in the mid-2010s when many fashion and consumer electronics industry watchers thought smart glasses, especially paired with designer or other licenses to give them a stylish slant, would represent a growth category. But while some deals were done—Diane Von Furstenberg with Google Glass in 2014, for example—neither the category nor licensing activity really took off at the time.

There are signs that the sector is starting to regain strength, however, and that property owners are eyeing the space again. A handful of agreements have been announced that may foreshadow more activity ahead:

  • Authentic Brands Group has licensed two of its brands, Eddie Bauer and Nautica, to Innovative Eyewear for smart glasses “powered by” the licensee’s in-house Lucyd brand. The Eddie Bauer partnership was announced in December 2022, following the Nautica deal in October of that year.
  • Paula Abdul debuted her smart audio glasses, marketed under the IdolEyes brand, at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in January, in partnership with 1 of 1 Custom, a marketer of audio gear. The unisex glasses are available in seven colors for $199.
  • EssilorLuxottica, which is a partner in an innovation hub called the Smart Eyewear Lab, and Meta, which bought smart glasses company Luxexcel in December of last year, partnered for a line of smart eyewear under the Ray-Ban Stories brand. The first products, in Wayfarer, Round, and Meteor styles, launched in 2020, with an expansion in color combinations, functionality, geographic distribution, and styles (including the addition of Transitions) in 2022. So far EssilorLuxottica has not applied any of its many designer and lifestyle licenses to this program.

All of these products possess Bluetooth connectivity and allow users to listen to audio content, check emails, complete phone calls, participate in online meetings, take photos and video, and the like. Some brands will include virtual reality capability. In addition, the styles offer standard eyewear features such as prescription lenses and UV and blue-light protection.

This generation consists of smart glasses that are lighter and more comfortable than earlier iterations, have better functionality and privacy features, and are stylistically more on-trend. The last characteristic is where fashion labels and other IP owners come in. It seems likely that we will start to see more licensing and collaboration activity in this space in the years ahead, not to mention the addition of new players with the potential to serve as licensees. Even Google Glass, which was discontinued two years after its initial launch, is back again in a 2.0 version in the form of a prototype introduced last year.

The question is whether consumers will feel they need a pair of smart glasses, no matter how fashionable, when their phones and smartwatches already offer the same connectivity and capabilities (aside from VR). It will be interesting to see how the market develops this time around.

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