Canada is seeing an unprecedented number of new international eyewear retailers enter the country. American optical retailer SEE will be the latest, with its first Canadian location set to open this summer in Toronto.
SEE (‘Selected Eyewear Elements’) was founded in 1998 by optical pioneer Richard Golden, with an aim to provide consumers with affordably priced, fashion-forward eyewear. The company’s reasonable prices encourage shoppers to create a ‘wardrobe’ of glasses, with a variety of styles available. SEE is considered to be the first optical retailer to have created its own brand, and prices are kept reasonable by selling in-house designs directly to consumers. SEE has an in-house design team, and it also works with artisans from 17 countries worldwide (mostly from Europe) to constantly produce new styles.
Some SEE styles are considered to be trendy, with the company’s slogan being “hip without the rip”. Prices in SEE’s American stores start at US $169, including both single vision plastic and polycarbonate lenses. The retailer has 40 stores in 17 US States, and is headquartered in Southfield, Michigan — an upscale suburb north of Detroit, home to a number of corporate headquarters.
SEE’s first Canadian store location is currently under construction at 153 Cumberland Street, in Toronto’s upscale Yorkville area. The boutique will be a bit more than 800 square feet in size, and will be adjacent to upscale multi-brand fashion retailer, Nicolas. The 153 Cumberland Street premises is at the back end of the 130 Bloor Street West commercial building, which includes retail locations for Gucci, Intermix and Hermès on the Bloor Street side, as well as Nicholas, Aveda and Lululemon on the Cumberland Street side. Hermès is moving into a 12,000 square foot space at 100 Bloor Street West later this year, and its current 4,000 square foot Bloor Street space is available for lease.
Canada is seeing an unprecedented number of international eyewear brands enter the market. New York City-based Warby Parker opened its first Canadian location last summer on Toronto’s Queen Street West, and a second location followed in the fall at Yorkdale Shopping Centre. UK-based Ollie Quinn launched a Canadian expansion this spring with nine locations that were formerly licensed Bailey Nelson locations. Aussie eyewear brand Bailey Nelson is opening its first corporately-owned Canadian stores this summer, with plans for as many as 50 stores over the next several years. Trendy New York City-based eyewear retailer Illesteva also opened its first Canadian location this spring, in a skylit retail space on Toronto’s trendy ‘West Queen West’. Cutting-edge Hong Kong-based MUJOSH opened its first Canadian store this spring at West Edmonton Mall, with more to follow as part of a national rollout. With the exception of Illesteva, all of these retailers promote themselves as offering value-priced products.
The growth of optical retailers in Canada might not come as a surprise — according to Euromonitor International, Canadians spent over $4 billion on eyewear in 2016, with strong growth year-over-year for the past several years. The market has also been arguably under-served by value-priced eyewear retailers, and a number of homegrown retailers, particularly those selling pricier designer frames, could stand to lose business with these new international entrants.
Not to be outdone, a number of Canadian eyewear retailers continue to expand their operations. Toronto-based Hakim Optical, for example, continues to expand its operations nationally. A number of other more traditional retailers such as Lenscrafters also continue to maintain strong Canadian operations, and there’s one unique eyewear retailer that stands out in particular — Montreal-based BonLook, also known for its affordably-priced designs, plans to expand its base of stores to more than 20 locations coast-to-coast over the next several years.