Do you really know the history of Oakley Sunglasses? We’ll break down how Oakley came to be, the acquisition by Luxottica and more!
Oakley is one of the largest sunglass brands in the world. In this guide, we’ll detail the history including all the twists and turns that led to the sunglasses you’re wearing.
Unobtanium and The Oakley Grip
In 1975, James (“Jim”) Jannard, an avid motocross fan, wanted to increase the grips on motocross bikes. At the time motocross handles were covered with plastic which were slippery, especially when wet or muddy. In the back of his trunk he created a unique rubber material he coined Unobtainium.
Using Unobtanium, Jim created “The Oakley Grip”. A motocross grip which included a cam shaped design and octopus tread pattern. This technology and subsequent designs of the Oakley Grip II, F1 Grip System and B-1B Guidance System are the inspiration for the motocross and cycling handles we have today.
Fun fact: The name “Oakley” came from Jannard’s dog at the time, an English Setter named Oakley Anne.
Eventually, Jim “The Mad-scientist” Jannard wanted to expand further, landing on eyewear – a field he would ultimately revolutionize!
Hitting the Track and Slopes
As the first foray into eyewear, Oakley released The Oakley Goggle. With a few colorways available, it was originally designed for dirt biking and motocross, leveraging the market their grips had built. They soon followed up with the O Frame and Pro Frame.
Shortly after in 1983, Oakley made the logical step into Ski Goggles with the O Frame. Leveraging similar designs from the motocross lines, this was Oakley’s first expansion beyond motocross.
The First Oakley Sunglasses
In 1984, Oakley released the O Wing grip, which would become its last original grip. This period began Oakley’s focus and efforts on eyewear. Starting with their first pair, the Oakley Lite, followed shortly after by the Factory Pilot Eyeshades.
Both pairs leveraged large visor like lenses and full frame designs made specifically for sports. These began Oakley’s climb to eyewear superiority.
At this point Oakley was completely focused on sports. From grips to it’s early cycling / running sunglasses, it was building top tier equipment. But that was all about to change…
Original Frogskins and the Introduction of Lifestyle Sunglasses
In 1985, Oakley released the Frogskins – their first lifestyle frame on the market. A competitor to the already popular Ray-ban Wayfarer, they were the first Oakleys to feature a dual lens design. Prior to this, all frames featured visor lenses as mentioned above.
Blades and Mumbo
Along with the Frogskins, the 1980’s brought in new innovative sport frames from Oakley. In 1985, they released the Blades, one of the pioneers of sport specific shield lenses.
The Blades were soon followed up by the Mumbo in 1989. They were introduced in a very limited run and eventually would become the M Frame (short for Mumbo Frame). The M frame has continued to be one of Oakley’s most popular sports pairs. They especially have garnered a following in military and first responders, with ballistic versions available plus significant discounts through Oakley Standard Issue.
Introduction of Titanium
In 1994, the first Titanium or Ti frame was introduced. Based on the E Wire frame, the titanium version was aptly named T Wire. The story of how this came to be is equally interesting, as told by Jim Jannard himself:
I was a big fan of titanium and no one had done Ti eyewear. I thought that combining Ti with sculpture would be a really great thing.
There were no factories doing what we wanted… so we bought a golf club casting company in Nevada and converted it to manufacturing Ti eyewear. Carlos was the single person that most contributed to this effort.
We were told by many that what we wanted to do was impossible. The idea of casting long and narrow parts (like the ear stems) was next to impossible. We ignored the warnings.
The next thing we had to contend with was making rigid pieces and putting them together in a flexible package. We used unobtanium “glue” to put everything together. This was one of the most difficult and wonderful programs ever done at Oakley.
Thank Peter, Hans, Lek, Colin, Chris, and many others for what is now one of the most collectible Oakley programs ever conceived.– Jim Jannard https://www.oakleyforum.com/threads/questions-for-jim-jannard.19849/#post-233386
X-Metal sunglasses featured primarily brushed and polished metal frames which highlighted the “mad scientist” era. X-Metals were designed and manufactured at Oakley’s Nevada factory.
If you’re looking for more X-Metal information be sure to check out Cacatman’s quick links guide with everything you could ever want and more!
IPO and Luxottica Acquisition
In 1995, Oakley went public, raising $230 Million during its IPO on the NYSE. A year later Oakley ended up in a pricing dispute with Luxottica, who at the time was already the largest eyewear manufacturer and retailer. Luxottica ultimately pulled Oakley’s from the shelves of its stores including SunglassHut, Lenscrafters and more.
In 2001 and in response to the Luxottica dispute, Oakley began purchasing several eyewear brands and retailers.
Ultimately on June 21, 2007, the Oakley world changed forever when Luxottica purchased the company for over $2 Billion.
Modern day Oakley
Many Oakley diehards, see this as a turning point in the brand. Obviously Jim Jannard is no longer in charge, though the company still retains their Foothill Ranch bunker and innovative culture. In past years, Oakley has even begun re-releasing fan favorite pairs like X-Metals, Eye Jackets, EyeShades and More!
If you’re interested in learning more about the origins of Oakley, check out the questions for Jim jannard thread that Jim answered himself several years back! Some great reads to understand the mind of a true genius and visionary!
There are plenty of other pairs, shoes, apparel, innovations and features that dictate the Oakley history over the years. This is merely meant to show a high level glimpse that has led to the pair of sunglasses on your face.
So what’s your favorite piece of Oakley history? Think we missed something? Leave a comment below and share!