A single entrepreneur's creation

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Entrepreneurship and BusinessThe innovation of sunglasses

Successful innovations are rarely a product of a single entrepreneur's creation. The vast majority of inventions can be made more efficient at their specific job during years of improvement and experimentation, incorporating many different individuals' opinions and ideas. "The 20th century brought an explosion of new products" (National Historic Landmarks, 2007)[1] which has consequently, over the last century, led to the world we live in being changed beyond recognition. Every manmade object in life has been engineered by an entrepreneur to make peoples' lives easier, and whether the invention facilitates easier social communication, for example the Mobile Telephone of which "an estimated 1.2 billion mobile phones were sold in 2008" (Lowther, 2009)[2]; makes a significant and altruistic contribution to modern science and society, for example the X-ray - "The discovery of X-rays brought this [radiology] discipline into existence and has benefited countless patients" (Adam, 2009)[3]; or, a product such as Hair Straighteners which are purely to gratify the customers need to own a product for personal desire, they all still contribute to our society, whatever the innovation, created for whichever intention. The most successful inventions are the ones you don't realise you need, but subsequently find you cannot live without.

A product that has been invented, is currently the centre of new pioneering developments, and ultimately became an item that nearly every individual owns, is the Sunglasses. "Sunglasses are a visual aid which feature lenses that are coloured or darkened or polarizing lenses to protect the eyes from the sun's glare." (Ament, 2006)[4] However, in their initial stages, 'sunglasses' had nothing to do with sun protection. They were made in China in the 12th century where, "Chinese judges routinely wore smoke-coloured quartz lenses to conceal their eye expressions in court" (Ament, 2006)[5]. The first basic sunglasses produced to combat the problem of intense light - the initial problem that needed to be overcome, were invented by Sam Foster in 1929 (Grant, n.d.)[6]. This original version merely consisted of tinted glass to lessen the discomfort caused when confronted with strong lights. "Pioneering stars of silent movies... Wore sunglasses to protect their eyes from the harshly bright lighting of some early film studios" (Grant, n.d.)[7]. The rising popularity of sunglasses was majorly through this association with aspirational figures, since members of the public aimed to imitate the movie stars via an attempt to replicate and relate to part of their lives- in this case wearing the same accessories as them, providing them with enhanced sense of importance as they feel more connected to their 'role model'. Sunglasses consequently picked up an appealing brand image instantaneously from celebrity endorsement.

However, sunglasses soon changed their unique selling point to a more specific need. Hence how they are now named, the inventors started to concentrate on developing them to combat the effects of sunlight, as this was seen as a broader market, where there would be a lot more revenue as significantly more people are affected by sunlight that studio lights.

They started redesigning the sunglasses, and the majority of sunglasses made from that era till present day are produced in the same manner. They alter external light to provide the optimum brightness that your eyes can handle. This is produced using polarisation in the most simple of sunglasses, ranging to everything detailed in Figure 1(How Stuff Works, 2000)[8] for the more expensive ranges. They "[should] block 100 percent of UV rays and also absorb most HEV [which include UVA and UVB] rays" (Heiting, 2009)[9].

UV protection technology is becoming increasingly more present in many products, for example many foundations, lip balms and car windows. However, like sunglasses, their use is very specific, i.e. lip balm only serves to protect the lips, and foundation for the skin, thus minimising the competition surrounding sunglasses as they are specifically for the eyes. Most niche products that have a very specific purpose don't have a very large range of consumers, however, sunglasses resist this trend as they have proved to be immensely popular despite their small use, due to the 'moral panic'[10] regarding health issues concerning the damage UV rays can do to your sight .

Consequently, there is limited competition as sunglasses seem to have monopolised the market for products that block the sun from individuals' eyes. However, a minority of people dislike wearing sunglasses and therefore substitute them with goods such as baseball caps, sun hats and visors. In sports, for example tennis, certain sunglasses are designed in order "to ensure that the ball is clearly visible... And to ensure that your eyes are offered the best possible protection" (Tennis Sunglasses, n.d.) [11]. Yet, certain players, especially professionals, don't wear sunglasses due to the disadvantage of limited vision, and therefore a cap is preferred.

However, other sportswear designers have made exciting new variations of sunglasses to fit their particular interests and needs. For example, water eyewear has been invented for players of sports such as surfing and wakeboarding, and are designed to be "Robust, have wind protection and reduce fogging" (Extreme Sports, n.d.)[12]. Another area where sunglasses are developing scientifically is the aerospace sector. Because there is no protective atmosphere, leading to more harmful solar rays, "titanium alloy frames than can withstand extreme conditions of space travel" (NASA, 2002)[13] are used, along with gold lenses inserted into the many layers.

Celebrities and the media are a major influence on the fashion aspect and popularity of sunglasses, as they have so much power over the public's perception of the zeitgeist at any one time. Their main appeal today is as a fashion accessory, and there is a lot of competition between companies to get their product to become the sunglasses to own. After the 1960's, when many advertising campaigns were coined, the industry exploded into main stream shops and into the media, where"only a few decades earlier none existed" (Ament, 2006)[14], and the public found the appeal of wearing sunglasses, regardless of the intense sunlight.

A successful implication of the market surrounding sunglasses is the potential for complementary goods. Many products have been created purely as an accessory to the sunglasses, as getting a product that everybody with sunglasses needs will consequently do very well. An example of this is Sunglasses Cases. This creates another niche market which will do very well, as people will need to own something to keep their product safe. A second good that is interlinked with the purchase of sunglasses, albeit not as successfully, is Lens Care Kits. However, the majority of consumers will be swayed to buy products if they can identify it with something they already own.

Many designer companies that have already built up a successful brand image, such as Christian Dior, release collections every year, and inevitably sell very well. However, since they are typically only a summer item, it increases demand as they are not available effortlessly all year round. The consumers always want the newest, latest product and consequently end up buying another pair. This is a major reason why sunglasses are so successful, as when buying sunglasses, the consumer gets comfort from the fact that they do actually need the product to keep their body from harm, hence leading to larger sales as they are an indispensable item. This provides a very positive economic contribution, and although this is more prominent in hotter climates, in a recession, they will still be seen by the majority of individuals to be essential goods. However, with the unreasonable price inflation placed on sunglasses each year, such over-priced products could well be a contributing factor to the collapse of an economy.

Sunglasses have proved to be a popular accessory for everybody, whether for being a fashion item to gratify your social status and style, or a way to prevent part of your body from coming to harm. They are a durable good, target all consumers and provide an excellent product that shops can reinvent every year and know that they will be popular. The fact that they have evolved into such an essential yet desirable product to own, and are still progressing to become even more technologically advanced, shows that a brilliant innovation like this is one of the most successful inventions of the 21st Century.

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  2. Lowther, D. (2009) Mobile Industry [online]. Available at: http://www.gsmworld.com/newsroom/press-releases/2009/2548.htm [Accessed November 5, 2009]
  3. Adam, A. (2009) New Scientist [online]. Available at: http://www.newscientist.com/gallery/scientific-objects-that-changed-the-world/1 [Accessed November 5, 2009]
  4. Ament, P. (2006) IdeaFinder [online]. Available at: http://www.ideafinder.com/history/inventions/sunglasses.htm [Accessed November 5, 2009]
  5. Ament, P. (2006) IdeaFinder [online]. Available at: http://www.ideafinder.com/history/inventions/sunglasses.htm [Accessed November 5, 2009]
  6. Grant, F. (n.d.) Foster Grant Glasses [online]. Available at: http://www.fostergrant.co.uk/about/ [Accessed November 7, 2009]
  7. Grant, F. (n.d.) Foster Grant Glasses [online]. Available at: http://www.fostergrant.co.uk/about/ [Accessed November 7, 2009]
  8. Anon. (2000) How Stuff Works [online]. Available at :http://static.howstuffworks.com/gif/sunglass-coat.gif [Accessed November 17, 2009]
  9. Heiting, G. (2009) UV radiation [online]. Available at: http://www.allaboutvision.com/sunglasses/spf.htm [Accessed November 10, 2009]
  10. A theory regarding the impact of the Medias power in selling ideas to the public, mainly negative concepts to instil fear.
  11. Anon. (2009) Tennis Sunglasses [online] Available at: http://www.sunglasses-shop.co.uk/sportssunglasses/tennis-sunglasses.asp [Accessed November 17, 2009]
  12. Anon. (n.d.) Extreme Sports [online] Available at: http://www.sunglassesinfo.com/sunglasses/sports/Extreme-Sports-Sunglasses.htm [Accessed November 21, 2009]
  13. NASA. (2002) Space Age Shades [online] Available at: http://www.sti.nasa.gov/tto/spinoff2002/ch_2.html [Accessed November 16, 2009]
  14. Ament, P. (2006) IdeaFinder [online]. Available at: http://www.ideafinder.com/history/inventions/sunglasses.htm [Accessed November 17, 2009]

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