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From Motorcycle Grips to Global Icon: The History of Oakley

The history of Oakley starts in 1975 with James Jannard and an investment of $300. The Oakley brand has become one of the top-performing sunglasses and sports equipment companies in the world. It all started in 1975 with “The Oakley Grips,” which were motorcycle grips unlike any other. The grips performed so well because of the attention to detail and eye for future trends that James had from the very beginning. The same material from the grips is used for earsocks on Oakley glasses, and many of the nose pieces today. The company also produced a number of unique products related to racing and BMX during this early growth period.

After years of moderate success, Jannard released a pair of goggles called “The O-Frame” in 1980. This was where the history of Oakley changed. With the ‘Oakley’ logo present on the strap, the brand garnered increasing recognition and prominence throughout the sports industry. This success allowed the brand to release its first pair of ski goggles, helping it reach new audiences and expand the Oakley brand identity.

Oakley - Early Marketing

The company released its first pair of sunglasses in 1984, called the “Factory Pilot Eyeshades,” which resembled goggles. The sunglasses were marketed to sports fans and athletes alike, helping cement the brand as a sportswear brand in the eyes of prospective customers.

Oakley - The Eyeshade Spectrum

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In 1985 they came out with the “Frogskins”, which were originally made in Japan. These trendy pairs came in what seemed like every single color and helped catapult the brand further into the fashion consciousness.

Oakley Frogskins

During much of the early to mid-1990s, Oakley was seen as the corporate personification of American counterculture. People viewed it as a brand that made the wearer look cool, no matter your age or where you lived. Worn by the top athletes and celebrities alike, the company looked to go public in 1995, raising over two hundred million dollars. Oakley was able to keep this momentum from the 90s into the new millennium. Through cultural adoption in a variety of avenues, such as movie placements and commercial spots with the top stars, the brand began to grow exponentially. Whether with ads featuring NBA star Michael Jordan, in movies such as “Mission Impossible”, or memorable moments in “X-Men”, the brand’s exposure was slowly becoming ubiquitous.

Into the mid-2000s, Oakley was busy buying up smaller corporations to add to the brand’s portfolio. This included buying Lacon Inc, an owner, and operator of several mall-based sunglasses stores. Around the same time, the company signed a manufacturing deal with Fox Racing, which exposed the company to a whole new audience that might not have otherwise known about Oakley. All of this was done as James Jannard, the founder, bought up larger and larger amounts of shares in Oakley, eventually owning over 60% of the company by 2006. By the following year, the company owned Oliver Peoples Group, which Oakley paid upwards of 50 million dollars for, ensuring a firmer stake in the fashion industry, which would eventually lead to even bigger deals.

By the end of 2007, Oakley was sold to Luxottica for two billion dollars and continues to blow up the eyewear space to this day with releases as iconic as the brand history itself.

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