Participants from more than 20 regions are expected to attend the ninth Optical Fair in Hong Kong. Despite the global downturn, organisers say they are pleased with the early participation figures, as the number of exhibitors has increased by 7 per cent over last year. The organisers attribute the strong turnout to growing demand for designer eye wear worldwide, as more people are becoming aware of the role of spectacles as a fashion accessory. It is estimated that designer, branded and licensed optical products account for more than 40 per cent of sales in the US, up from 20 per cent a decade ago. Product-wise, corrective/protective eye wear accounts for 67 per cent of Hong Kong's total spectacle exports in the first half of this year. But industry watchers says the category is undergoing a major revolution, helping to propel the optical industry from a medicinal to a consumer-based business. 'Spending on marketing is increasingly becoming a key differentiating factor for spectacles and frames, and designer brands are likely to offer higher perceived value to customers, who are becoming more careful about quality and comfort,' says a TDC report on Hong Kong's major eye wear industry. Serving the demand in this area, Hong Kong manufacturers are entering into licensing agreements with brand holders overseas to design, manufacture and market products. For example, the report points to Arts Optical of Hong Kong which has signed agreements with Theme and the Garfield cartoon brand. Italian fashion houses Prada and Fendi have reached similar agreements with Italian firms. In recent years the trend has been towards frames with rimless and semi-rimless designs. Rectangular eye-shapes are also generating more buzz, as are materials involving metal alloys and new generation plastics.