The Story Behind Oakley’s Green Fade Design for the 2016 Olympics

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Oakley’s Performance collection originated bathed in 1980s neon green. The California-based brand returned to its roots during the Sochi Olympics two years ago by trimming out all its goggles in that same green. Rio de Janeiro, though, provided a new opportunity to fade the green to white and use the two colors on sunglasses worn from the sand of Copacabana to the Olympic track to tell a fresh design and technology story.

Oakley Green Fade Olympic sunglasses

And it’s a story that started years ago, Brian Takumi, head of design, tells HOW: “It was an interesting process, trying to figure out what we were going to do for the Summer Olympics,” he says. “Are we just going to do the green, are we going to do a different color, what are the technology stories? How do we bring it together?”

Takumi and his team went through hundreds of prototypes, but they kept returning to that green the brand brought back two years ago. Oakley wanted to tell a design story using color, but they wanted to talk about technology too.

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For the Summer Olympics, Oakley rolled out Prizm technology, lens tints that filter specific wavelengths of light based on environments for sport-specific clarity. For example, the “trail” tint filters light so that the browns and greens of dirt and leaves pop with extra detail. The “field” lens, worn by Kerri Walsh on the beach volleyball court, helps the white of the ball stand out against the blue sky.

“One of the biggest things we have is the Prizm story,” Takumi says, “so how do you take the green and leverage the equity of the green from the Winter Olympics and tie into the Prizm story?”

There was another wrinkle, though. In Russia, green didn’t have much meaning beyond what Oakley put together, but Rio and Brazil are all about greens. “It is a difficult color with some of the athletes because it is so synonymous with Brazil,” Takumi says. “A lot of them want to wear their country colors, but don’t necessarily want to wear Brazil’s colors.” And the plan all along was to make the green more of an Oakley-specific color rather than an Olympics-only color. “We wanted it to be more about Oakley and the identity it had and build the brand more than building the Olympics, but keep the consistency with everyone wearing green.”

Read more: Explore the history and evolution of Olympic logo designs

With the technology story and the desire to build off green, Takumi says they decided to fade green to another color. The team wasn’t locked into teaming green with white originally, but in the end it made the most sense. They prototyped with various colors, but once they started thinking about Prizm and the sport-specific color contrasting of the lenses, they locked onto white not because it was a neutral color, but because it helped tell the RGB story of all light melding to make white.

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“White is about all light coming together and the Olympics is about all the countries coming together,” he says. “Pulling in the (green) fade is symbolic of how a color gets pulled out of white.”

Using white also allowed Oakley to offer athletes an all-white frame option if they didn’t feel comfortable in the green, even though the vast majority of Oakley athletes opted for the green fade.

But making 100,000 pairs of Oakley green fade frames—the company offered the design on an array of performance frames and the fashion-centric Frogskin style—wasn’t as easy as Takumi had hoped.

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“We had to go frame by frame to figure out where the green-white fade began and ended,” he says. The Radar frame was an easy problem to solve with its minimalistic three parts. The Jawbreaker, though, with 27 parts provided a challenge.

“They literally hand painted all of them because there was no way to create an automated process,” he says. “While the fade seems pretty simple, it was actually a pretty intensive process.”

Oakley had to handle the compact surfaces or sculpted panels found on many of the performance frames while dealing with the relative flatness of a fashion frame, all while hand painting each variety.

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“In the end, we were really trying to balance out to have enough green on there so it was highly visible from a distance or on (television) camera so people knew it was from that collection, but still be able to execute in a way to manufacture tens of thousands of units efficiently,” he says. “We were trying to do the fade consistently across them all.” The final result gave Oakley a 60-40 or 50-50 balance of green.

With Sochi well behind us and Rio upon us, Takumi says discussion remains ongoing on if the green—or Oakley green fade—will live on either for the next Winter Olympics in South Korea in two years, the next Summer Olympics in Tokyo in four years or if Oakley wants to explore new applications for the green—whether new paint, texture or technology stories—in life beyond the Olympics.

“It has been pretty exciting to watch the acceptance of the green-white fade or the white,” Takumi says. Now Oakley has the opportunity to turn its Olympic-centric graphic and color story into a signature color for Oakley moving forward. Of course, it pretty much already has.


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