Oakley sunglasses lead the field

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California-based Oakley Inc. started life in the 1970s as a one-man business run by Jim Jannard making handlebar grips for motorcycles.

It is a classic tale of a small backyard outfit growing into one of the biggest and best-known designer sunglasses brands in the world.

Jannard raised $300 in 1975 to launch his company with the Oakley handlebar grips that he sold out of the back of his pick-up at motorcycle rallies across the west cost.

They quickly became the grip of choice among the top UK motocross riders thanks to Jannard's invention of a unique material that gave increased grip as the hands perspired.

Jannard patented his special material he called 'Unobtanium' and went on to make gloves, elbow and chin guards and goggles.

It was in 1980 that Jannard unveiled his O-Frame goggle with the Oakley logo emblazoned on the strap.

The branding paid off and soon Oakley were the goggles of choice for professional motorcycle riders.

The Oakley Lexan lens and Unobtanium material combined wearable comfort with great peripheral vision and eye protection.

The success of the O-Frame prompted production of ski goggles. They mirrored the success of the motorcycle goggles, becoming the eyewear of choice on the mountain slopes.

The first Oakley sunglasses were unveiled in 1984, aimed at the sports enthusiast and resembling the famous goggles.

The Oakley Factory Pilot eyeshades were valued by sportsmen for their lightweight frame and excellent optical features.

They were quickly followed up by the Oakley Frogskin sunglasses aimed at the casual wearer and the Oakley M-Frame sunglasses, launched in 1989, that quickly became the sunglasses of choice for many of the world's top athletes.

But it was the 1990s that propelled Oakley sunglasses into the top ranks of designer eyewear. Wraparound sunglasses and tinted lenses took the fashion world by storm.

By 2000 Oakley sunglasses were being sported by some of the biggest names in performance sports when the company signed a deal to manufacture Fox eyewear and bought out the Oliver Peoples' brand before being snapped p themselves in 2007 by Italian eyewear behemoth Luxottica for an enormous $2.1 billion.

Today Oakley sunglasses and goggles still hold pole position in the sports arena. In 2012, they sponsored the US Olympic team and much of their output is developed with extensive trials with athletes in the field.

Oakley glasses are standard issue with the US military and law enforcement while the brand continues to dominate the sports performance market.

The company likes to place itself at the cutting edge of new technology with electronic gadgetry that includes head-up-display on its new Oakley Airwave snow goggles and more than 600 patents that take it first past the finishing post in performance eyewear.