Factory Tour: Oakley’s Dystopian Inspired SoCal Headquarters and Production Facility

Oakley Factory HQ

Rising like a shining city on the hill, Oakley’s sprawling dystopian-esque headquarters in Southern California is guarded silently by a fully functioning tank, several strategically placed canons (again, fully functional), and an incredibly unique design ethos that is visible in both the building’s architecture and the company’s products.

Everyday between 1,500 and 1,700 employees converge on this location to produce 70% of the sunglasses and goggles that Oakley sells globally. So take a jump past the break to tour the extraordinary complex and our special sneak peak at a new product launch…

Oaklay Chairs Entrance

The Oakley building exterior and layout was designed by  CEO Colin Baden. A former architect, during the design process he crafted the signature entrance in one bout of inspiration. The boss wasn’t stoked on the look after construction had begun and demanded a redesign, so Colin added the two bullet tips  that frame each side of the doorway.

The ejection seats in the lobby, blast walls, and industrial aesthetic was intended to be timeless and inspire those within. The feel of this mad scientist lair was galvanized by three of Hollywood’s  greatest science fiction films. As we take a look at the office, see if you can guess them.

Oaklay HQ Entrance Fan

High above the lobby is a freestanding “fan.” It doesn’t actually rotate of it’s own accord, but the story goes that a mischievous VP once crawled into the recess and rigged up a chain and motor to the fan. He wanted to see how long it took for employees to notice the slowly articulating arms. He was laughing for over two weeks until others caught on.

Oakley HQ Entrance

Directly across from the entrance is a small retail area with cases of premium sunglasses. This mechanical angel lays watch over guests and shoppers.

Oakley Marketing Cubicles

On the opposite side of the ominous lobby walls lies an ordinary office environment. Only filled with nicer cubicles and more expensive eyewear than most of us are used to.

Oakley Office Bikes

Anyone else love Mavericks? We did a double take when we saw this one! The frame may be a few years old but the owner has it kitted in all the latest goodies, including a Kash coated Fox fork, XTR groupset, and custom wheels. 

There are also lots of bikes lurking around every corner. Many employees go on lunch rides and the surrounding hillsides are littered with mountain bike trails.

Oaklay Factory Media Artwork

Filling the walls with creative inspiration are designs from campaigns and product sketches from past and present.

Oakley Museum

Down yet another corridor is the Oakley museum. The timeline marks momentous occasions in the company’s history and each case holds some of their most seminal products.

Oakley grips

At the very end of the hallway is a rare find – The Grip. It’s a product many of you with roots in MX and the early days of BMX will remember fondly.

The grips were designed by Oakley founder James Jannard after he dropped out of the USC undergraduate pharmaceutical program. With $300 in his pocket, James set out in his vehicle for a summer just trying to survive, but his grips revolutionized the industry.

The grips utilized a new material he dubbed “Unobtanium,” long before James Cameron stole the name for his film with the translucent teal aliens. The material was comfortable, tacky when wet, and felt better and better the more you abused it. Jannard’s grips where nothing like the hard molded rubber that was prevalent in the industry at the time. This material is still used today at Oakley to produce the grippy nose and ear pieces found on many of the active wear sunglasses.

Oaklay Production Floor Entrance

Today it’s optics (and over the top designs) that Oakley is famous for and it’s sunglasses you’ve probably come to see. Unfortunately, this is as close to the production floor as we could get with our camera, but behind these doors is a factory that produces 70% of all Oakley sunglasses. The factory floor employs three different shifts working around the clock to produce forty thousand sunglasses a day.

Due to the large demand for the company’s optical products, they’ve had to expand. The company now produces sunglasses in identical factories in both Italy and China. The benefit to this model is that by producing product closer to market, they’ve been able to cut down on shipping costs, the associated environmental impact, and turnaround time to distributors.

Oakley Polycarbonate

Lenses are made from poly-carbonate pellets that are sourced and tinted locally at a lab in Huntington.

Oakley Lense Production Process

The material is heated then molded using direct injection. Polarized lenses are made slightly differently. The polycarbonate is baked to 500 degrees, to just under what would alter the optics of the filter by creating carbon deposits.

Oakley Single Sunglass Construction

All lenses are cut at HQ, even prescription orders. To ensure the best optical performance, lens pairs cut together stay together. Once cut, the lenses are hand washed, put through an ultrasonic cleaning to remove contaminates, agitate minerals, and then a hard coat is added.

For glasses with iridium coatings, lenses go into special trays and are then placed in vacuum sealed closets. Then lasers heat metals within the closet to vaporize and bond the coating to the lenses. The lenses are then assembled into frames that are also sourced from a local vendor. At the end of the assembly line, each pair of sunglasses is inspected up to four times before being packaged.

Oakley ANSI Laser Testing

What truly sets Oakley sunglasses apart isn’t the state of the art production facility buried within its global HQ, it’s the grueling torture tests and optical standards each product must pass. Overlooking the factory floor is an R&D facility that frequently pulls samples from the production floor for evaluation and is always testing new prototypes and models.

While we weren’t allowed to tour the R&D facility, we did get a look at some of the equipment they use to test their optics. The first of four tests we were shown was this prism test:

Oakley ANSI Laser Test

A set of lasers is fired through a pair of sunglasses. The laser sights  simulating the viewers line of sight and should line up together where they intersect the wall. When we place non-prescription lenses in front of our eyes, the optics can bend light, which is why the points shown above are not centered together.

When optics alter our line of sight, the brain has to work overtime to correct for the signal. This is particularly disruptive when playing sports that require quick physical reactions to rapidly changing visuals, like the kind frequently encountered during technical singletrack descents. That kind of eye strain can actually lead to migraines.

Oakley ANSI testing

The next test is a clarity and refractive test.

Oakley ANSI Test

To the naked eye it’s easy to make out the definition matter, but the image on the left shows how poor optics can distort clarity. You can find a comparison test between Oakley’s sunglasses and some of their major competitors here.

Oakley Impact Testing

In addition to trying to achieve the highest performing optics, Oakley tests all of their active wear sunglasses to the same standard (the ANSI Z87.1 tests) as the safety glasses you wear at the shooting range or in the lab. Their military issue sunglasses are built to withstand even more abuse.

Each pair of sunglasses must pass a high velocity and high impact speed test. The high velocity shown in the first part of this clip is where a quarter inch steel bearing is shot at close proximity at the lenses. The bearing hits the lenses at a speed of 102mph.

In the second test, a metal spike weighing over a pound (500 grams) is dropped from just over four feet (51.2″). Want more carnage? You can see video of other competitors’ sunglasses tested here.

Generic Sunglass Competitor

This is what a competitors pair of sunglasses looks like after testing.

Oakley Frogger Torture Testing

The Froggers are a popular pair of lifestyle sunglasses that aren’t designed to meet the same standard as Oakley’s top of the line active wear lenses, yet they held up easily to the bearing and spike test.

Oakley Torture Testing Results

This is the pair of sunglasses abused in our video. The double impacts on the top right corner are where the metal spike was dropped, twice. The small impact on the bottom left is where the bearing glanced off the lens.

Oakley Factory Area

Now that we’ve seen (but mostly read) about the testing and manufacturing process, we can slip out of the factory and look at the toys.

Oakley Marketing Door

When the walls aren’t elaborately ensconced in dramatic dystopian costume, they’re littered with artwork from classic campaigns and impressively themed graphics.

Oakley Redbull Toy

Also hanging around the office are things like this. Originally commissioned by the design staff to compete at the company-wide downhill soap box derby, this cart beat out 23 other competitors in both speed and style, and would go on to represent the company at…

Oakley Redbull Details

…what else but the Redbull Soapbox Derby.

The Mustang inspired racer hangs over a large stairway that has also been used as a backdrop in an  Oakley sponsored BMX edit.

Oakley Mario Kart

Just a short jaunt down the hall is a little red mario kart racer and whatever that thing is in the background.

Oakley Tricycle

We’re not entirely sure what to call this, but it took lots of self restraint not to try and take it for a spin.

Oakley Dirt Labs

It was particularly hard not stealing the three wheeler with the Oakley pump track situated just outside the building. Alongside the track are a set of monster jumps for sponsored athletes to ride and a new line utilizing one of the former Red Bull Rampage Oakley Sender is currently in the works.

Oakley Thunderdome

Just past the toys was the final stop on our tour – the Thunderdome. This theater can seat up to four hundred and forty and has hosted everything from company meetings to Ricky Carmichael (aka the GOAT or Greatest of All Time) boosting down the stair set on his race prep’d 450 dirt bike.

Oakley Thunderdome Teleprompter

Here at the floor of the Thunderdome, note cards aren’t necessary. A large screen acts as a teleprompter should you need one, and to the right of this view – the exit back to the lobby.

Have you figured out yet what three films influenced Colin during the design of the building? I just gave away the first…

The three films where Mad Max, Aliens, and Blade Runner.

Sneak PeakOakley Sunglasses Re-release

Later this year Oakley will be launching it’s heritage collection and I had the good fortune to find and photograph these pre-production samples. These three models shown from left to right are the Eyeshades, Razorblades, and Frogskins.

Oakley Limited Re-Release

For cyclists, these two models should be of particular interest. After all, they’re what Greg LeMond was sporting when he won his three Tour de France titles.

2014 Oakley Sunglass Colleciton

Looking to the future, the company is also releasing a special “30 years” of innovation edition of their RadarLock, Radar, Flak Jacket XLI, and Racing Jacket. Each will have a 30 graphic laser etched into the corner of each lens, and a printed stripe graphic that utilizes the same colors of the original sunglasses.

Special thanks to Justin & Alyssa for the great tour!

Comments

Mitch - 01/29/14 - 4:23pm

Damn, I thought it was based off of Batman & Robin with George Clooney.

Craig - 01/29/14 - 4:59pm

After watching the video of the impact testing I had to say to myself…ya…it’s great that the metal spike didn’t pierce the glasses and stab the mannequin in the eye, but it did bounce of the lens and strike the mannequin in the head. That had to hurt. More protection needed.

Padrote - 01/29/14 - 5:14pm

I liked the half life video game series but i dont think that means I want to work in it

DRC - 01/29/14 - 5:21pm

I’m a big Oakley fan and I had the (what I thought was) awesome opportunity to check out their HQ building a few months ago. Was in the area visiting friends and it was only a few minutes away.

I stopped by on a friday a little before lunchtime. Parking in their lot is non-existent. I’ve never seen such a huge lot be completely full. Had to park down the street on the curb and hike up the hill nearly a mile to get to the door. The tank and torpedo out front are cool, the buildling is freakin huge, way bigger than I’d imagined from the pics.

Get inside the lobby and that’s basically all there is. There’s a store in teh lobby that’s no different from any other Oakley store in a mall. I asked the receptionist if there were tours or anything else to see, and she said nope. Even though there were lots of people milling about in the lobby. I was highly disappointed.

I’ve been trying to get an engineering job there for years. Always apply on their site and never hear a damn thing back.

Love their glasses though…

pfs - 01/29/14 - 7:00pm

DRC – I imagine its like any other factory/HQ where people are actively working and its super distracting and annoying to have tour groups milling about all day. Seems odd they wouldn’t have a self guided museum tour though.

Feldybikes - 01/29/14 - 8:01pm

Saris,

“Then lasers heat metals within the closet to vaporize and bond the coating to the lenses. ”

Is it really a laser or an electron beam. The latter is far more common in thin film deposition. Though I wonder if they just said laser cause most people are more familiar with lasers — Dr Evil didn’t want sharks with freaking electron beams (though that would also be cool)

JohnnyBaby - 01/29/14 - 9:04pm

This is why I laugh when people insist that Oakleys are overpriced pieces of plastic no better than 10 dollar sunglasses at the convenience store. My favorite is when people insist they “make all their crap in China just like everybody else.”

Dave B - 01/30/14 - 8:46am

This is a typical “plant our report made by people who don’t have the manufacturing experience and knowledge to separate facts from PR fluff and get a lot of the facts wrong.

Except for the weird architecture, “fully functional” tank and cannons (yeah, right) in the parking lot, and screwball toys in the halls, Oakley isn’t doing anything that other makers of high quality eyewear are doing.

Those impact tests reported as so special are ANSI standards for safety glasses and everyone who makes “impact resistant” eyewear has to pass them too.

Sure, they are much better optically and safer than the Dollar Store sunglasses but so are the products of many other competitors. Overpriced? They sure are.

Gibbs - 01/30/14 - 10:00am

And to think that that place is allmost 20 years old….do they still fly the jolly roger so it can be seen by Nike just over the hill?

Aybars Oge Surucu - 01/30/14 - 10:15am

They do everything perfect and they don’t reply any complaints…

I have a pair of Juliet’s need to serviced which are failed on rubber internal nose couplers…

Ilikeicedtea - 01/30/14 - 10:23am

Feel better, Dave?

Did an Oakley kill your daddy?

jaas - 01/30/14 - 10:28am

Dave B says ‘get of my lawn’

NotAMachinist - 01/30/14 - 10:57am

Oakley makes nice lenses, but I gave up on the company after they decided to stop honoring the lifetime warranty on the M-Frames that kept cracking. The letter they sent out said something like “Due to the high number of failures and associated warranty claims we will no longer honor the lifetime guarantee.” Not a class act. Good luck Oakley, but I’ll spend my money elsewhere.

Dave B - 01/30/14 - 11:59am

“Feel better, Dave? Did an Oakley kill your daddy?”

Naaah, I’ve never owned Oakley’s or any other boutigue sunglasses. I wear prescription glasses and they suffice. Actually, my rant wasn’t aimed at Oakley at all but at the cloying and unsophisticated review Bike Rumors gave them. It read more line a corporate-sourced PR campaign that a real look at the business.

Manny - 01/30/14 - 1:42pm

Oakley is owned by Italian Luxottica Group S.p.A. is the world’s largest eyewear company, controlling over 80% of the world’s major eyewear brands. Its best known brands are Ray-Ban and Persol. Ever wonder why brand sunglass prices are high? Monopolies work.

Chris - 01/30/14 - 3:56pm

Tank?? Sorry, but just because something has tracks and turret doesn’t make it a tank. Not even close. That’s a BMP, a Russian armored personnel carrier. On the battlefield it would last maybe 7 seconds against an actual tank.

I’ll never get the Oakley mystique. Most of their glasses are hideous and don’t seem to hold up very well. I’ve had the same Smith glasses for nearly 10 years while my Oakley wearing friends seem to need a new pair every couple of years because they keep cracking.

John h - 01/30/14 - 7:21pm

Actually oakley is now part of the luxe brand, Moët , Luis Vuitton an companies. When you buy a pair of oakley, you pay for massive branding, an incredibly oversized office, very little new products and a ridiculous amount of sponsorship. Basically, your that guy in the hockey rink who actually paid for your tickets… I know they make a great product but are by no means a unique product and I work for Zeiss optics, so I know how brand counts.

Claudio - 01/31/14 - 12:47pm

Easy to shoot to a glass lenses against Polycarbonate. Try to shoot at one Rudy Project ImpactX lenses and than you will see how stronger are compare to O !

Kory W - 02/01/14 - 1:57pm

John h- Where did you hear that Oakley is part of LVMH? I work in the sunglass industry and have not heard a peep of that one.

Eric Riser - 12/16/14 - 1:33pm

Want to know is there anyway i can get a clear lens for the oil rig frames, even if they are production scrap.

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