By  on April 16, 2007

High-performance eyewear brand Oakley is revving up its women's sunglass business.The company, based in Foothill Ranch, Calif., primarily known for its men's products, is beginning an aggressive push for female shoppers this month with three new pairs hitting stores and a full-scale marketing campaign to promote them. Oakley quietly entered the women's sunglass category last year with three styles, two of which are continuing."We soft-launched last year with a collection, but it was really in preparation for us to go big this year," said Jennifer Bradley, Oakley's women's program manager. "The big difference [with the women's sunglass collection] is that we designed specifically for women." Oakley women's sunglasses retail from $120 to over $200, in metal, acetate and plastic models. Prior to last year, Oakley did not make sunglasses fitted for women. Instead, the company produced unisex frames or feminine colorways of men's sunglasses. Still, certain styles, including the unisex shield Riddle released in 2005 at $120, gained a female following, suggesting to Oakley that a wider audience could be reached. To develop the women's collection, Oakley questioned its sponsored team of women's professional athletes about their sunglass preferences. The team wore the male styles in the past and found that they slipped off during activity. To accommodate smaller female faces, Oakley narrowed the frames' bridges and shortened the temples."We bridge the gap between fashion and function," said Bradley. "A lot of those girls love to wear Gucci outside of what they do."For its advertising campaign, summed up by the tag line, "Uniquely Oakley," Oakley selected members of its team with life stories that appeal to the company's customers, sporty women typically between 18 and 35 years of age. The spring campaign, which largely consists of in-store, Internet and magazine ads, features four surfers and two mountain bikers. For fall, Gretchen Bleiler, a silver medalist in the 2006 Winter Olympics, will join two other professional snowboarders in the campaign. "We are not just looking at how great their bodies are," said Bradley. "Our approach to the campaign is to inspire people and not try to be another fashion brand, which is what a lot of other companies do. They [the athletes] would truly be Oakley girls."The company's introduction of women's sunglasses last year was one reason its optics revenues climbed nearly 19 percent, from $465.1 million in 2005 to $552.9 million in 2006. Oakley would not estimate women's sunglass sales for this year, but Bradley said the company expected "an ongoing, positive contribution from the collection."Oakley, traditionally strong in surf and action sports stores, has made strides with its women's eyewear into retailers such as Neiman Marcus' offshoot Cusp and activewear chain Lucy that did not carry the brand in the past. Bradley believes there remains considerable room to grow in department stores and optical shops. Adam Hoffberg, a regional manager for Optical Shop of Aspen, a high-end chain of 20 stores acquired by Oakley last year, has not seen the latest women's collection yet, but said the chain would probably pick it up to freshen its assortment. However, he doesn't expect the Oakley items to attract the following of the fashion brands the chain stocks, such as Kieselstein-Cord, Chrome Hearts, Blinde, Chanel, Gucci and Christian Dior frames, among others. "For the most part, our customer comes into our store looking more [for] fashion. We have Oakley to offer a sports-friendly option," said Hoffberg.

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