Oakley Leffingwell Sunglasses | Review - Outdoors Magic

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Oakley Leffingwell Sunglasses | Review

Surf-inspired sunnies with frames made from castor beans – Oakley’s latest collection combines the brand’s trademark style and premium optical performance with innovative sustainable materials

Why We Chose them: Stylish, high-quality, innovative and sustainable frame materials

Cheap sunglasses are basically a disposable product. With lenses and frames made from brittle plastic, they are not designed to last. And like any disposable product, that’s a problem, because sooner rather than later they tend to end up in landfill, which just adds to the global issue of plastic waste. But many high-end sunglasses are little better – often, they’re made from materials that are only marginally better than beach knock-offs, despite carrying a huge mark-up. Basically, you’re paying for branding.

OM tester James Forrest using the Leffingwells on the Cumbria Way. Photos: Joe Whitmore

Oakley sunglasses are different though. There is a reason that the brand is pretty much at the pinnacle of the performance eyewear game. Unlike a lot of high-end brands, they’re doing a lot more than just slapping on a logo. Most of their designs are produced in house – in fact, Oakley currently holds more than 600 patents for eyewear, materials and performance gear. They’re also known for the premium clarity and optical quality of their Plutonite Prizm lenses.

There’s just one problem. Up to now, most of their frames have been made from their proprietary ‘O-matter’, a nylon composite – in other words, a thermoplastic ultimately derived from petrochemicals. Admittedly, O-matter is lightweight, pretty strong, fairly flexible and sweat-resistant too, which tends to make for long-lasting products. That’s a good thing in terms of sustainability through longevity. But ultimately, O-matter is still not a particularly environmentally friendly material.

So, the brand has been looking for eco-friendly alternatives that give the same performance characteristics. The solution, introduced this year, is ‘BiO-matter’ (see what they did there?). It’s a plant-based resin made from castor beans.

What Are The Oakley Leffingwell Sunglasses Best Suited To?

These are sunglasses that work well for active lifestyles inshore or at sea. Style-wise, they’re inspired by vintage surfboards and surfing culture, with loads of nice little details including antique-finished decorative elements and textured temples. Unlike the shouty, in-your-face Oakleys of old, the logos are also a lot smaller and more subtle. All in all, it’s a very classy, understated package.

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In terms of shape, they feature a full rim, square lens that works well with lots of different face shapes, so they’re a fairly versatile design too. Of course, as you’d expect, the Leffingwell also comes with Oakley’s Prizm Lens Technology, designed to enhance colour and contrast to see more detail across the water and beyond.

Eco Credentials

The headline here is the new BiO-matter plant-based frame material. It’s made from a resin derived from castor beans, which have long been cultivated in countries such as India (with over three-quarters of the global yield), China and Mozambique, as well as Ethiopia. Castor bean plants grow well in such warm climates and are not a food crop, making them a good renewable resource.

Notoriously, castor beans are the source of the poison ricin, a favourite espionage weapon for assassins, but commercially it’s normally turned into a lubricant for fuel or machinery, as well as for constituent ingredients in the cosmetic and food industries.

However, in 2017 it was discovered that castor beans can be turned into polyamide 11, a thermoplastic similar to nylon polymer. It is lightweight yet strong, with an impact strength higher than that of polycarbonate, as well as most other bioplastics. Oakley have embraced this material wholeheartedly, adopting it for their BiO-matter frames. It’s a big step forward for the brand.

“Lightweight but robust frames with quality lenses.”

The next challenge will be to see whether the company can come up with a similarly eco-friendly replacement for polycarbonate, the plastic that is still used to make most of its ‘Plutonite’ lenses, but for which no recycled substitute currently exists.

Construction and Performance

These are lightweight but robust frames with quality lenses. Oakley Plutonite offers full UVA/UVB 400 protection. Its impact and scratch resistance are similar to those of standard polycarbonate, but the clarity is far superior, rivalling that of the clearest optical glass available.

We were similarly impressed with the overall level of finishing and the components used. It’s worth noting that the Leffingwells are assembled in the USA too.


There’s plenty of competition in the sustainable sunglasses sector, but it mostly comes from start-ups and challenger brands that just don’t carry the designer cachet of luxury goods manufacturers. (That’s not to say they aren’t great products, just that it’s a tough sell). That’s why it’s great to see a major player like Oakley turning to more sustainable solutions for their products. After all, this is an international mega-brand with global distribution – they sell millions of pairs of sunglasses every year, and that’s why BiO-matter will make a big positive difference to the planet.

Oakley Leffingwell

Selected for our Green Gear Guide 2023
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