Oakley Breaks Out of Boys-Club Mentality, Looks to Attract Women

Marketer Improves Designs, Places More Women in Leadership Roles, Launches Women-Specific Ad Campaigns and Starts Education Program Dubbed 'Female Speak' in Stores

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Oakley is a powerful brand in the eyewear and sports-performance arenas, but it's long been seen as a bit of a boys club.

Oakley's latest campaign takes a jab at the workout-wear-as-leisure-wear trend.
Oakley's latest campaign takes a jab at the workout-wear-as-leisure-wear trend.

The 38-year-old brand "shrinked it and pinked it" in 2005 when it launched apparel and sunglass collections for women, conceded Josée Perreault, Oakley's senior VP-global business and the brand's highest-ranking female executive. "Companies don't think about the special needs females have. It's a trap that male-dominant companies fall into. We're totally [past that] -- though there's still some pink in our collection."

As part of the brand's effort to boost its women's business, Oakley has improved its designs, placed more women in leadership roles, launched women-specific ad campaigns and started an education program dubbed "Female Speak" in stores.

"We have to attract women across the brand," said Ms. Perreault, who joined Oakley nearly 19 years ago and has worked for the brand in Europe and Canada. "When you're mostly a male-recognized brand, there's a lot of testosterone flowing in [the] building, and you need to change perception. [You] need to train people, shift attitudes. Everyone wants change. Everyone recognizes the great opportunity we have."

The numbers are compelling: Fitness apparel and accessories is a $14 billion industry, and sales and are growing twice as fast as fashion retail. Sixty-seven percent of women say exercise and fitness are important to them. Yet Oakley's women's business accounts for just 10% of its overall revenue.

Ms. Perreault wouldn't provide specific sales targets for the brand's female focus, but said growth has been slow but steady over the last four to five years. The company is being very deliberate in its strategy for women, she added, with a focus on Oakley's more than 80 stores in North America and partners, including Sunglass Hut.

In the early days of Oakley's women's push, women were often part of the product-development teams, but now they're managing those teams, Ms. Perreault said. That's led to teams that are truly thinking about the design elements that women want -- from stylish performance sunglasses with no-slip grips to skorts made of antibacterial fabric.

In the sunglass category, in particular, a blend of fashion and function is helping Oakley stand out. The standard for active sunglasses is the oversize, bug-eyed styles seen on bikers competing in the Tour de France. "Not very sexy," Ms. Perreault summed up. Oakley's women's styles, however, are "100% style, 100% performance," she said. "It's a positioning that does not exist. We own it."

The brand's latest campaign, from Factory Design Labs in Denver, reflects that sensibility and takes a jab at the workout-wear-as-leisure-wear trend with the tagline "Made for more." Copy from the latest campaign includes phrases like, "This is for running, not running errands," and "for exercising, not socializing." Ms. Perreault insists there's an "epidemic" of women wearing training apparel and glasses to the grocery store or to pick up the kids rather than for exercising.

Oakley's latest campaign
Oakley's latest campaign

The campaign even includes an "agreement" that Oakley is asking women to sign, which states in part, "It's not carpool-chic. It's not grocery-store casual. It was made for more than that." Women are then asked to fill in the blanks, stating what they will and won't use their new gear for. To date more than 1,600 women have signed the document, and the brand is expecting 5,000 more signatures in the coming weeks, given its sponsorship of the New York Road Runners New York Mini 10K.

"Our purpose as a brand is to inspire, disrupt and design," said Ms. Perreault. "We like to use disruptive messages."

It's a marked departure from the brand's first campaign targeting women: "Perform Beautifully." That effort, launched in 2010, was out for a few years, but didn't really move the needle. Ms. Perreault said that campaign was beautiful and emotional, but not effective at differentiating Oakley from other sportswear brands.

"Made for more" pairs well with the brand's work at the store level, where Oakley is training employees at its own retail locations and at Sunglass Hut to sell multiple items in one category -- a pair of sunglasses for cruising around town and a pair for exercising, for example. Oakley has collaborated with Bridget Brennan, author of "Why She Buys," on the "Female Speak" effort, which has been in place for about a year.

In addition to teaching store employees about how women shop, the brand is aiming to position its products' tech specs as benefits that feel tangible to women.

"We're establishing best practices in our own backyard," Ms. Perreault said. "I'm giving myself a few years. I'm not planning on being global [right away]."

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