Earth to Oakley
Earth to Oakleyby Adam Hook & Jason Whitehouse
Though the sight of Lil’ Jon bumpin’ in his Thumps may make you want to stab out your eyes and set off on an Oakley boycott campaign of Michael Moore-like proportions, a read through this article may put the sometimes Crunk -infused and often borderline-redneck eyewear powerhouse back into your good graces. Regardless of your aesthetic leanings, it’s hard to deny that Oakley has sport-specific eyewear dialed. Whether you’re rockin’ the Radars like Lance or thumpin’ like Lil’ Jon, Oakley has a style for any pallet, as well as a well-deserved reputation for bombproof durability and unparalleled performance.
Oakley gave us a rare invitation to check out their well-guarded manufacturing and R&D fortress in an undisclosed location near Foothill Ranch, California. They offered a first-hand look at how the well-oiled machine keeps crankin’ out innovative products and (mostly) killer styles. The engineers and designers behind the O also divulged a few of their lauded secret production techniques, and we’re going to spill the beans. We got the golden ticket and we’re giving the secret gobstopper recipe out to the highest bidder. OK, not really, but at least you’ll get an idea of this company’s dedication to creating some of the most innovative, high-tech eyewear out there.
Let’s put things into context with a little bit of history. In 1975 Jim Jannard and a couple of his buddies made a few motocross handle covers called The Oakley Grip. Jim started selling these grips out of the back of his truck at motocross races in Southern California. Since his products—which were affectionately named after his English Setter, Oakley—weren’t getting enough face time, Jannard decided to make an injection-molded goggle emblazoned with his company logo. Well, needless to say the product took off. This company, which started from napkin-sketch beginnings, now drives the creative forces behind familiar names like Fox Eyewear, Dragon Optics, all-the-while producing a slew of big-money proprietary softgoods and footwear. And just this past June, Italian business conglomerate Luxottica —owners of Revo, Prada, and Chanel—merged with Oakley in a $2.1 billion deal. Growth like this doesn’t happen by chance.
Since day one, Jim and his crew sought nothing less than the highest quality and function in every item they produced. Nothing has changed. Oakley sees no reason for compromise when it comes to fashion and function—their engineers, designers, and team athletes all have crucial input as to how each piece should look, feel, and perform. Every detail of Oakley eyewear has a reason and a purpose, and an in-house machine to build it.
Every frame is injection-molded, whether it’s your metal or O-Matter—Oakley-speak for a combination of nylon and plastic—frames. The injection molding process creates a solid, good-looking frame with enough flexibility to bounce back after hard impact. This flexibility stems from the benefit of a having a custom-molded design and high-temperature bonding, as well as Oakley’s innovative combination of materials.
The raddest process we saw was a batch of Oakley Speechless frames getting tortoise-shelled. This involved unfinished frames and a rack that looked like a giant rotisserie. This Kenny Rogers Roasters-like gizmo dips the frames into a concoction and voila—camo or tortoiseshell frames. Unlike printed frames, you get a seamless, consistent pattern that won’t sweat off while you’re trail-running, cycling, or just looking cool. We also saw how Oakley puts the Iridium reflective coating on the lens. (You might know Iridium as Oakley’s lens coating that will scratch if you use anything but the included magical cloth to clean the lenses.) Anyway, to get the metal coating on the lens, Oakley essentially zaps solid metal into vapor until it adheres to the lens. Seriously. We couldn’t make this up.
There’s even a Mad Science division (that’s really what they call it) that tests eyewear in circumstances that you wouldn’t even dream of putting your glasses through. I had the chance to perform such a test on a pair of Oakleys, as well as a pair of a competitor’s eyewear. Joses Kofford, our guide, handed me a giant dart weighing in the neighborhood of 2lbs. Kofford told me to put the spike in a tube poised ominously above a mannequin head wearing a pair of Oakley shades. I was given the go-ahead to destroy that poor mannequin’s hope for a normal life and dropped the lawn dart-sized weapon down the tube. The projectile hit the dummy’s sunglasses with a sickening thud, yet it left a mere scratch on the mirrored Iridium-coated lens. Try that with your Wayfairers. If the mannequin were alive and kicking, it’d be alive, kicking, and have two eyes in its (his?) head. Joses told us that all Oakley-brand eyewear passes these tests. The Mad Scientists also have a test cabinet in which they shoot quarter-inch BB’s at their glasses at over 100mph to test for impact resistance. Needless to say, the competitor’s shades left the dummy blind and the BB’s vindicated. Say what you want about Oakley’s aesthetic, few companies in the industry put their products through this kind of rigorous testing and development. Oakley just wants you to be stoked on their shades whenever you put a pair on. Chances are you will be.
With a lot more money to play with and an announced shift in focus from basketball-and-hiking-boot hybrids and the like back to eyewear, hopefully we’ll see more and more iconic shades coming out of Oakley’s Inter-Planetary Headquarters in the near future. At the very least some new elements to add to the periodic table (besides Plutonium and Unobtainium).