A vision of luxury: building a high-end eyewear brand

Interview with founder and CEO of PUYI OPTICAL, Jeffery Yau.

Jeffery Yau is the founder and CEO of luxury eyewear brand PUYI OPTICAL. We caught up with him at the ZEISS Vision Center in Hong Kong to discuss developments in the eyewear industry, and how luxury brands can give back to the community.

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Interview with founder and CEO of PUYI OPTICAL, Jeffery Yau

Please tell us something about the origins of PUYI OPTICAL.

I’ve always had a strong passion for luxury. Some 20 years ago, I saw great potential in the eyewear market and was keen to make an impact on it. I founded PUYI OPTICAL and we opened our first shop. Since then, we’ve been pursuing excellence as a luxury eyewear retailer.

Have you seen a change in attitudes towards eyewear over the past 20 years?

Yes. Back when we started, the biggest challenge was to change people’s perceptions of eyewear. It was a very different market then, with people only considering eyewear as being a necessity – something you wore every day because you had to. But I saw potential for eyewear to be similar to the watch industry. Why was there a big market for luxury watches, but not luxury eyewear? To me they both reflect one’s lifestyle, so I wanted to change people’s minds – to show them that eyewear can be an accessory too.

I also needed to increase market awareness of vision health and its importance. Over time, we were able to achieve what we set out to do, and PUYI eventually became recognized for a creating a new standard of vision care in the market. Our customers expect nothing less than perfection. This is the standard we hold ourselves accountable to every day.

Jeffery Yau Founder and CEO of PUYI OPTICAL

I saw potential for eyewear to be similar to the watch industry. Why was there a big market for luxury watches, but not luxury eyewear?

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Can you tell us a bit about the steps you took to shape the market?

I focused relentlessly on the customer experience – enhancing it as much as I could. This took a lot of time and significant investment. To build a professional image for an optical retailer, I needed the best and most advanced eye-examination technology, and I had to provide the best training and education for my staff. As for the product itself, it needed to convey its complexity to customers such that its value could really be appreciated.

I think the biggest factor in shaping the market is knowing how to react to your mistakes. Many people can persevere, but not many know how to extract insight from their failures. Customers demand a lot in this industry, and the smallest imperfections can detract from the experience.

Would you say your industry demands a mastery of both art and science, and a careful balance between the two?

Indeed. Harmony between art and science is incredibly important in the eyewear industry. Behind every pair of our glasses is a story of craftsmanship and brand legacy. At the same time, a lot of advanced research and experiments have gone into the functionality of the frame’s design and the lenses embedded within it. The congruence between these two aspects – the craftmanship and the science – is very important in our industry.

What can you tell us about your personal beliefs and inspirations?

I am a person who is very meticulous in every single detail of my life. That’s why I keep challenging myself and my team to improve every day. Even though our customers may not notice the change in every little detail, they can certainly feel our pursuit of perfection in their shopping experience. Precision in eye exams and prescriptions is fundamentally important, especially when you consider that around a billion people in the world do not have access to proper vision treatment.

I get new inspirations from small things in my daily life, but also from travelling and appreciating different cultures and histories. I enjoy being outsides of the boundaries of this industry and exploring other areas of luxury, fashion and even hospitality.

Jeffery Yau Founder and CEO of PUYI OPTICAL

The biggest factor in shaping the market is knowing how to react to your mistakes.

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Can you briefly describe the impact of technology on your industry over the past two decades?

We traditionally see glasses as a way to combat refractive errors, such as myopia or age-related degeneration. But thanks to technology they can now do so much more too, such as protecting our eyes from harmful light or further degeneration. Glasses can also be modified to be used in certain environments, such as indoors or outdoors.

What has surprised me is how much eyewear aesthetics have been impacted by technology. People can now fully customize their own glasses. There are some new and ambitious designs that are still very comfortable. I think this trend will continue into the future for quite some time, and we will see amazing new innovations that we haven’t seen before.

What do you think of smart glasses, and other ways of bringing AI-type technology into eyewear?

More and more smart glasses have been launched in recent years, but I think it will take some time before this technology becomes mainstream. It’s also possible that glasses may be uses as frames to encase virtual-reality devices or smart-glass technology, and that environmental changes around us increase demand for the protective capabilities of glasses.

But these developments will require many rounds of experiments on aesthetics and functionality. As glasses are something we put on our faces, comfort is always important. Our faces are the most important part of how we express ourselves, and thus glasses serve a very important cosmetic purpose. Likewise, our vision is more important than any other sense. The future of glasses is a matter of how we can serve these two purposes, and how can we incorporate new designs and technologies.

Jeffery Yau Founder and CEO of PUYI OPTICAL

Harmony between art and science is incredibly important in the eyewear industry.

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What are the challenges you think about for the next two decades?

I think the biggest challenge laying ahead is how to continuously improve, and how to keep creating breakthroughs in our industry.

Our customers are very sophisticated, but they are also changing rapidly. There is certainly a challenge in staying aware of market changes such that we can prepare and react. I am always thinking about the future, foreseeing market conditions so that we can move before the market and respond accordingly.

How is that thinking translating into goals for the decade ahead?

We hope to lead the market in creating more awareness around vision care and health. There is a big issue with near-sightedness – or myopia – among younger generations. It’s estimated that around half of the youth in China are near sighted. We want to make sure people are educated on the issue and that they receive the proper eye care they need.

We also believe there is lots of room to improve the optical market in Greater China in terms of lenses. Currently, as little as 3% of the market in China uses progressive lenses. This is lagging behind many other countries.

We’re doing a lot of work on social impact and responsibility too. For example, this year we partner with ZEISS to roll out a charity program to provide eye check-ups for rural primary school students in Hunan province. This is one of many initiatives we will have over the coming years.

PUYI OPTICAL has the capacity to help the world in many ways. We’re very aware of our current impact and our potential, and we’ll be doing the best we can over the coming years too.

Jeffery Yau Founder and CEO of PUYI OPTICAL

It will be some time before smart glasses become mainstream.

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