Start Ups: Michael Crawley of Valley Eyewear

Michael Crawley has never been a desk jockey. And so when he stopped chasing mag covers for the bodyboard mags and slipped into a gig at his sponsor Quiksilver, it was never going to be moving shapes around a Photoshop pasteboard.  

A likeable kid with an ability to conceptualise marketing and party as if an asteroid was an unavoidable path with earth and could only be stopped by inhaling bottles of expensive beer (on a company tab), Michael was soon looking after the co's main guys, Kelly Slater and Dane Reynolds.  

"I was doing a bunch of the campaign photos and having a whole bunch of fun, really," he says. "But then the surf industry started falling apart. Quik sales declined dramatically and they started to flick the whole marketing department. I was travelling a lot, my expenses were quite high and so I was one of the first to go." 

Not that he was disappointed. "It was pretty good, actually. I'd been there for nearly 10 years so I got a good redundancy payout." 

And it's here, at this crossroads, with a fistful of cash, an iron constitution, and all the freedom in the world, that we see the unfurling of Michael's true colours. Instead of throwing his money, and his girlfriend Tenielle's redundancy cash (she was tapped from Roxy during the purge), they used it to start a sunglasses label called Valley

Sunglasses? It ain't as crazy as it seems.  

Michael had already made a sunglass line once before, for Quiksilver. The company had even flown him to France to learn the process.  

And so, on his own credit card, he found a sunglasses factory and got an agreement with Carl Zeiss to use their prestigious lenses in his frames. The sampling process nearly melted even Michael's newly loaded credit card. 

He wanted six styles, six colours. Three hundred pairs per style. That's an 1800 units drop. Do some maths here and, let's say, the frames are costing $30 to land 'em in Australia. That's an outlay of $54,000. He was smart enough to only sell 'em to boutiques and major retailers like General Pants. 

Surf shops? "No one pays," he says, a sage piece of advice he was given prior to launch. "Now we have no trouble when we chase money."

Two years later, and some masterly use of social media, and 200 stores now stock Valley sunglasses. "It's wild," he says. "We just did a trade show at Vegas and in January we're going to Germany." 

How's he doing? Still digging? "I fucking love it," he says. "It's the funnest thing. There's no rules whatsoever. Someone can come up with an idea and away it goes. My chick designed a pair of sunnies that turned out mental." 

Still, it was a while 'tween pay cheques. "We didn't get a salary for the first 18 months. Even now, we still don't get a crazy wage. We put the money into new stock, campaigns, sourcing new materials, and so much on travel, locations, shooting and content." 

One of the most inspiring parts of having a small, but ferociously hip, brand, says Michael, is how many people want to join his band of acetate-wrapped designers 

"They're feeling the enthusiasm as well. Life's never been so good."  

Michael is currently expanding the Valley line to include optical frames and is building a tech website so you can just punch in your details (hazy, semi-blind or blind) and, soon, your new specs are in the mail to anywhere in the world. Free shipping too. And then there's jewellery. Maybe even furniture.

His one rule? Quality is everything. "If you make a shitty product no one is going to come back. Product is king. It's everything." 

Posted by: Derek Rielly, on December 15, 2014
Categories: Interviews