Michelle Minnie was once a practicing optometrist and now a brand manager at SDM, a leading optical wholesaler.

Sunglasses serve a dual purpose; they are both practical and cosmetic. We use them to protect our eyes from harmful UV rays as well as to express our specific standpoint around fashion. Today it is possible to buy sunglasses from many different brick and mortar locations, a vendor next to the road, to various kiosks in shopping centres, to optometric practices, sunglass stores, retail stores such as fashion and apparel as well as sports stores. Besides, there are many online opportunities to buy sunglasses. The variety available is endless; there is something for every face and taste. It could be quite daunting to select from the range available in each location, so it is helpful to purchase sunglasses from a store that can give you advice regarding the technicalities as well as the fit and suitability of the sunglasses you need. What is probably more disconcerting is that you can buy sunglasses for R100 or R10,000, and in some premium specific brands, even more than that.

What then determines the price of sunglasses? How is it possible that something that looks similar, that serves a similar purpose can differ so dramatically in price? In addressing this question, it is important to realise that, like any product in the market (for example apparel, motor vehicles or cell phones) there are different levels of products to fulfil different needs. One can say the same about sunglasses. Just as all motor vehicles can take you from point A to point B, but with a variety of different experiences, different sunglasses can offer the wearer unique visual experiences. There are many contributing factors, and it is interesting to understand the way your Rands are spent when you purchase a new pair of sunglasses.


The lenses in your sunglasses are the most critical part of your purchase. The lenses can range from basic injected plastic lenses to specialised glass lenses with various technical qualities. At the lower end the of lenses you will probably find a primary plastic lens, which will protect your eyes from UV rays as well as reduce brightness due to the tint applied to them. As you travel up the price ladder, the lenses will have specific qualities, that make wearing them more comfortable. They will be more durable and suited to particular conditions and tasks. These lenses are usually the result of intense research and development.


Frames are manufactured from a variety of materials that vary significantly in quality. Moreover, different manufacturing processes are used. It starts from basic injection moulded plastics, to highly sophisticated handmade organic acetates with manufacturing processes that can take up to six months to complete. Some frames are polished and finished by hand. Hinges and nose pads are applied by hand and require particular processes to ensure correct alignment and fit to the frame.

It is possible to buy 3D printed frames, frames made from wood, recycled paper, and all kinds of other exotic materials. These bespoke materials and processes add dramatically to the cost of the product.


When you purchase sunglasses, the packaging that accompanies the product can vary greatly. Some entry-level products will have a simple pouch, or even no packaging supplied, while others could have boxes, specialised microfiber cleaning cloths, and beautifully detailed cases. All these extras add to the final cost of the product.

Brand costs

For a product from fashion brands to be developed and distributed, the product is usually manufactured under license by a third party. In most cases, this will mean that the owner of the brand will earn royalties from all merchandise sold in the specific category. This results in additional costs which form part of the total cost of the product. It does usually mean that the product is well marketed and forms part of a clear brand lifestyle, making it easier for the consumer to associate with the brand and understand its positioning.

Finally, poorly fitting sunglasses can be nightmarish. Sunglasses purchased off the shelf will invariably require adjustment. Aligning the sunglasses to your facial features is a service provided at no charge by optometrists. Cheaper sunglasses made from lesser quality materials are sometimes difficult or even impossible to align properly. This is a distinct advantage when buying sunglasses from an optometrist. You will be assisted with your choice with the fit and thus comfort in mind.

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