Oakley headquarters is a hulking compound of sculpted metal and glass¿high-security access and industrial styling lend an ambient tension. The futuristic structure stands in contrast to the arid surroundings in the foothills of Southern California¿the place looks alien. Inside, it’s like a sci-fi movie set. A mounted Mark 84 torpedo rests in the lobby. Huge turbine fans spin slowly overhead. We wait for Gus Buckner, boardsports director, to take us on a tour. Sitting in fighter-plane ejector seats, we see the shell of a top-fuel drag racer hanging on the wall. I’m thinking, “All this for sunglasses?” Buckner greets us and quickly waves us on to begin. After signing security waivers, we’re handed access badges that will change color in a few hours when they expire. Weird. Behind a locked double door emblazoned with a mushroom cloud and the Oakley logo, we tour a neutral-environment lab where outerwear is tested. A short symposium on fabric technology falls on deaf ears as we poke around the contraptions that test and analyze things like differential density and thermal bonding.
A level down, in a noisy manufacturing area, we’re shown a bank of giant furnace units that heat metallic compounds until they vaporize. This is where their Plutonite lenses are coated with colored iridium. Workers in white coats and Oakley safety glasses inspect, assemble, and package eyewear. Hundreds of people moving like worker bees process the product and send it along the line. A few doors down, a hall of workers assembles goggles on long tables. Everyone is wearing Oakleys.
In a dark lab room, a tank of acrylic resin is blasted with precision lasers and creates 3-D models of shoes and glasses. As our tour guide explains this process in terms simpler than can be accurate, a model slowly rises out of the vat. Liquid laser prototyping they call it. In long corridors, we pass countless doors¿to studios, laboratories, and offices. Hyperactive artists hustle around with flip-flops and headphones. In a test area we see a metal spike dropped from several feet onto a dummy head sporting Oakley shades¿it bounces off the iridium lenses, leaving barely a scratch. Oakley’s mantra, “Purpose beyond reason,” plays over in my head. Strange music sizzles from unseen speakers everywhere.
Founder Jim Jannard got his start with 300 dollars and a dog named Oakley in 1975. The innovative Oakley motocross grip was his first product, and was well received. Success in his early years led to eyewear design, and today Jannard mans the mothership of mad science that Oakley has become¿technical eyewear, outerwear, footwear, and accessories.
From the neon glory days of Razorblades and Frogskins, performance of the product drew riders in motocross and BMX toward the brand, while the loud, peculiar over-styling turned on the layman. There was an explosion of popularity in Oakley’s Day-Glo adolescence¿growing pains that brought copycats and criticism.
Oakley’s unrelenting pursuit of this “purpose beyond reason” has been its course, for good or ill. But there’s no debate when it comes to the company’s snowboard team¿riders who in their own right are committed to the progression of style. The team is a heavyweight lineup¿Terje Haakonsen, Todd Richards, JP Walker, Bjorn Leines, and Trevor Andrew, among many others.
Demanding A-list pro riders fuel the Oakley fire, and in turn help direct the output of products. Buckner offers his approach to working with the team: “The main thing is the athlete support¿the riders we have are the reason we’re here. They show people what Oakley is all about by doing what they do. We try not to burden them with what we have going; we let them do their deal and support them the best we can.”
Oakley Team List
Anne Molin Kongsgaard