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Soaring Sales Make Wayfarers Anything but a Risky Business

Though more sunglass buyers are looking for protection from the sun’s harmful rays, fashion still sells. Just ask the folks who make Ray-Ban sunglasses.

Bausch & Lomb Inc. was ready to discontinue Ray-Ban’s thick-rimmed Wayfarers style sunglasses in 1981 before GQ, the men’s magazine, featured the sunglasses in a fashion article. Sales soared from 18,000 pairs to more than 200,000 pairs in 1982, and suddenly the frame, introduced in 1952, was a hot item.

The Wayfarers got another plug in the summer of 1983, when actor Tom Cruise wore them in the film “Risky Business.” That year, Wayfarer sales jumped to 360,000.

Last year, the company sold 2 million Wayfarers and has orders for 4 million this year. The company isn’t sure it can fill all its orders, although it is “trying like hell,” says Norman Salik, a Bausch & Lomb vice president.

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“Orders are exceeding our wildest expectations,” he says. “We actually forecast a decline in sales.”

Although Wayfarers might be hard to get, the style isn’t Ray-Ban’s best seller. The firm has orders for 4.5 million aviator style frames, introduced in 1937. Sales of those frames have grown by 40% a year since Tom Cruise wore a pair in the 1986 movie “Top Gun.” Says Salik: “He must be a popular fellow.”

Ultimately, ultraviolet protection is more important to the consumer than fashion, Salik says. “We’re in the fashion business, but only accidentally.”


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