Founded by three friends in 1983, Melville-based Marchon Eyewear Inc. has grown to become the third largest manufacturer of optical and stylized eyewear in the world, and with its new DVF | Made for Glass collection it's the first manufacturer of designer frames for Google Glass.
Acquired in 2008 by VSP Global, a California vision care company insuring 66 million U.S. patients through its network of 30,000 eye doctors, Marchon holds license agreements with more than 20 designer and brand names, including Calvin Klein, Sean John and Nike.
Guiding Marchon's worldwide manufacturing operation and its two production facilities in Italy and China is Claudio Gottardi, 58, an Italian-born veteran of the eyewear business with a degree in electronic engineering from the University of Padova. He joined the company in 2009 before being named CEO in 2011.
Why did you make the jump from the world of engineering to the world of fashionable eyewear?
In the '80s I was captured by the success that Italy started to have in the fashion industry, but as an engineer I couldn't really enter the fashion industry because it has nothing to do with engineering. At that point I got interested in eyewear. It was exactly the right mix of engineering and fashion.
Marchon is the first manufacturer of designer frames for Google Glass. Is wearable technology a fleeting fad or the wave of the future?
We're speaking today to what would be the equivalent of the first cellular phones. How that is going to evolve is very difficult to predict, but looking at what Google Glass does today, you can fantasize about a world of tomorrow where people wear eyewear to communicate, measure their health and do almost everything. Google Glass is only the first attempt at something that will develop into something extremely cool and important in the future.
What is your company's greatest challenge going forward?
Right now our biggest challenge is production. We own the production for our products made in Italy, but we don't own the production for the products made in China, which we outsource through a joint venture. How do we bring production back internally, and how are we going to grow our production in the future? Those are the biggest of the challenges. China has been very competitive in labor over the last 10 to 20 years, but now with the push in cost of labor, they're becoming less and less competitive. For the future we are looking to reinvigorate our production in Italy as well as finding other locations outside of China to start production.
Marchon holds licenses for more than 20 designer and brand names. Why are glasses a product they contract out?
In our industry none of the high-end or even the mass brands own their own eyewear. They may own their fragrance business, they may own their leather goods business, they may own their apparel business, but they never dare enter eyewear for the simple reason that it's too complicated. It's all the engineering, the technology and understanding the relationship with doctors that goes into it. So they end up making partnerships.
How many pairs of glasses do you own?
Maybe 20 pairs. Every time something new in our company comes out I want to try it and see how it feels, so I have a pair made for me. After wearing them for a week or two, I'll go back to the ones I like. You might have 20 pairs of shoes, but you always walk in the same three pairs. I'm the same way with eyewear.
Do you see your company as a fashion company that makes glasses or a glasses maker that works in fashion?
I think the answer is in between. Both fashion and technology end up serving one purpose: How are you going to get the best possible product with the best possible technical value that has the best possible look for a patient or customer. In reality we are a customer-service-focused company.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
As an executive? Time machine. It's the best superpower you can have because you can just go back and forth, change bad decisions or go look and see how decisions will turn out, come back and change it again. How can you beat that?
CORRECTION. The number of people insured by VSP Global, a California vision care company, is 66 million. An older figure was used in a previous version of this story.