SKD Tactical (a store you need to bookmark if you haven’t already) had a pretty deep discount on their Oakley line in a sale a few months back, so in spite of the fact that I’ve deliberately avoided purchasing a pair in the past and opted for Smith Optics instead, I decided to pop my big-O cherry in order that I at least be able to form a slightly valid opinion of the brand.
I’m going to make an analogy now that some folks won’t agree with and even less will like, but it’s one that occurs to me none-the-less. In this bloke’s opinion, Oakley are the Apple of the apparel world. Whether that is a good or a bad thing to you personally is entirely subjective. I wouldn’t use the word ‘bad’, but personally I’d not say it was an entirely positive trait overall. The reasoning behind this analogy isn’t massively complex nor is it all-encompassing, but comes down to a couple of key points. First is the area of the market which Oakleys fill, i.e. high/top end, but also functional without being a purely 100% aesthetic or fashion product; of course the prices are reflecting of this. Their prices average around the $140-150 mark but you can go down to around $100 or right up to around $200 depending on the actual style, lens features and colouration. Overall, from what I’ve seen of offerings within the realms of tactical eye protection, ESS and Revision products tend to price a bit lower overall with Smith Optics filling in the middle. This tends to apply to both purely functional military type eye protection as well as impact rated sunglasses from all of the aforementioned.
That said, the truly stand-out point about the entirely Oakley operation that causes me to relate them to Apple is found within their product descriptions. Apple phones and computers use just the same basic technologies and types of systems as all their competitors, but Apple have done a great job over the years of convincing the uninformed that their shit is somehow hotter than everyone elses by attaching meaningless, superfluous names to various features of their releases. As if somehow calling a type of liquid crystal display a ‘Retina’ makes it a totally different beast entirely; the truth is of course they’re just great at marketing and all the clean, white and crisp imagery combined with the affluence-oozing terminology does a top job of shifting units. Does this make iPhones bad? No, clearly not, I just wouldn’t choose to buy one and carry it around with me, using it frequently throughout the day, because I do not like companies who try to bullshit me. Given the nature of modern smartphone hire-purchase type contract arrangements, it’s not like you can easily dip in and out of a certain platform a couple of times each year, however with a pair of sunglasses the bar of commitment is far lower, making the Oakleys a more viable purchase for me personally and with the SKD discounts I ended up getting these SI Gascans (entirely standard base model) for a few notes under $100.
Now let’s take a look at a few of these BS terms for reference:
1. ‘O MATTER® frame’ – Sounds pretty sci-fi huh? Fact is, these shades are not weightless, they’re not bulletproof, they’re not indestructible and to be honest they actually feel slightly more brittle than my Smith equivalents. Are the frames high quality? Absolutely, the plastic is incredibly smooth, moulded perfectly and shaped to near-enough perfection. It’s still just plastic though. It’s not been mined from recovered meteorites or birthed from between Jennifer Lawrence’s thighs.
2. ‘XYZ OPTICS® lenses’ – According to Oakley, the quality of their lenses assures 100% viewing clarity regardless of which direction your actual eyeballs are pointing. XYZ of course being a pseudo-clever sounding reference to the 3 axis within which we all can travel, implying freedom of space and movement, stirring up feelings of limitlessness. Can I say I’ve noticed any blurring or additional darkness when viewing through the edges of the lenses in another brand of eyewear? No I cannot, be they Smith/ESS or cheap, no-brand, entirely pedestrian sunglasses. Again, I’m not saying the Oakley lenses don’t appear to be of a very high quality, but I would infinitely rather hear some of the actual details of how exactly the lenses are supposed to be the best, rather than there just being an arbitrary label slapped on to them.
3. ‘PLUTONITE® lens material’ – The lenses within these shades will block all UV radiation and are touted as entirely scratch proof. Great features to have for sure, I’m not going to shine a UV source at my eyes or deliberately rub my shades against the road to test these things, but I’m happy to trust the features are indeed present. However, do not treat me, the consumer, like a moron; tell me how and why (obviously within the bounds of not giving away company secrets) this lens material is made to be the best possible thing to have in front of my eyes. I’ve looked at various eyewear retailers FAQ sections and YouTube channels and they are chocked with explanations and videos that go in to the meanings behind these utterly stupid non-words. Why are they chocked with them? Because when you look through the comments on video reviews it’s clear how many people read the marketing terms and are simply left wondering what the hell they’re actually buying. It’s just a polycarbonate and on the very base level, I’m sure it’s the same as everyone else’s.
Problem is of course, just like iThings and despite all the bullshit, you handle these products and go a little bit gooey inside and just want to buy them, because they just look and feel so bloody nice. In the case of these Oakleys I’d certainly say they’re a great way to protect your eyes because the materials used in both the lenses and frames are absolutely up to the job and will resist both physical forces and degradation by chemicals and extreme environmental conditions. As long as you don’t run them over with a car they’d quite possibly last a life time of flat range usage.
They’re supremely light and comfortable, they look and feel sleek, the arms lock in to place when opened very positively and they’re made in America. The storage bag is made in Cambodia which seems like an odd choice since they’re ludicrously simple items that a child learning to use a sewing machine in school could construct without much difficulty. But if you buy your Oakleys from SKD you do get a free (and oh so tacticool) US made storage bag in multicam from Patrol Incident Gear.