There have been a lot of large companies and big brands in all industries that come and go. Out of that stack, there are few that can manage to hold on to their DNA and soul into the tens and hundreds of millions+ of revenue. Oakley is clearly in this category, along with Apple, and my friend Andy Laats’s company, Nixon.

I’ve had a personal relationship with the brand since the late 80’s when I rocked my first pair of Frog Skins. I rocked those bad boys for years when I was a young deck hand on a recreational SCUBA boat out of Ventura, CA. Later, I continued to wear their glasses on the range and in the CQB kill house. I’ve always been a fan, the stuff just works.

I was invited up to Oakley HQ last year, but my schedule has been so jammed that I wasn’t able to take Jason Kenitzer (Senior Designer) up on his offer until May of this year. I’d heard in hushed tones from a few of my action sports friends that the Oakley headquarters in Orange County, CA was off the hook. They were right.

It was the stereotypical southern California day, clear skies and 70 degrees at 10 a.m, as I finished up my pre-flight of the SOFREP.com Yak-52. My flight plan would take me through MCAS Miramar’s air space, direct to the Oceanside VOR (pilot talk for radio navigational aid), then direct to John Wayne international airport in Orange County. The flight took me about 35 minutes, and let me avoid the angry Ranger Rover driving OC soccer moms on I-405.

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Photo: Jason and I at John Wayne Intl. Airport next to the SOFREP Yak

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Jason met me at the private jet terminal, Atlantic, and we were off. Of course the desert camo Yak drew a few stares, and a young Russian lineman came up to me and shared a story about his Russian father taking him to his base in Russia, and he fondly remembered seeing 52s like mine. This is why I love the Yak, it’s not an expensive plane to own and has the same or better ramp presence than a G5 jet.

We grabbed a quick bite at Wahoo’s, then set off to Oakley. What struck me as we pulled up to the main building was the attention to detail in the design, coupled with the simplicity and utility of their corporate building. This is something that is inherent in Oakley’s DNA, and you see it coursing through their veins in the products they produce.

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Photo: Oakley HQ,”The blueprint of innovation shows a monument to the machine age, a building designed to honor invention.”-Oakley’s website

The tour went pretty fast. I’ve done several of these tours in the Defense and Action Sports industries, but you can always tell when people are glad to work someplace, you just can’t fake it. The same could be said at many of the commands I’ve worked for in the Navy, it’s why smart flag officers pay visits. It was clear to me that people were fired up, proud to be working at Oakley.

Many don’t know that Oakley first got their start making bicycle grips. Jim Jannard, the founder, started making grips in 1975 out of his garage. He went on to produce many more bicycle components, but got another “bump” with the “O-frame” goggle that would put the company on the map in the eyewear industry. Fast forward to 2007, and the company is now part of  the Italian company Luxottica in a $2.1B purchase.

No one believed my ideas,” said Jim. “No one would listen.” In 1975, he went into business for himself. Jim started Oakley with $300 and the simple idea of making products that work better and look better than anything else out there. -From Oakley’s site

Oakley continues to make a wide variety of products, but is re-knowned for their technical innovation and attention to detail to the end user. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen companies spend millions in internal R&D without giving a second thought to the end user. It’s a fool’s game that Oakley has never played, and a big reason they continue to be successful in many markets.

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Photo: Inside the main entrance

It was a great tour, and I had time to meet briefly with former SEAL Teammate of mine, Nate Smith, who is now on Team Oakley. I was also grateful to meet Erick Poston, Director of Military & Government, and have an hour-long talk about the industry. We swapped more than a few stories about all the characters we’ve encountered in the Special Ops community, and it was obvious that Erick cared a great deal about getting quality product into the hands of the US Warfighter.

I can’t thank Jason enough for the official tour, and the not-so-official look at HQ’s secret room—sorry guys, some secrets are meant to be kept.  Quality production and people who care are two things we identify with here at SOFREP. You can rest assured you’re in good hands with anything Oakley.

For SOFREP readers I’d encourage you to check out Oakley Standard Issue, their official site for Military & Government sales.

Stand by for more in our “Behind the Brand” series from the editors of SOFREP.  I believe Crye precision is up next.  Out here.

All Photos Credited to: Russ Hennings