He’s the ultimate Gold Coast surfer dude, dad and businessman. Meet the man behind the shades you’ve seen on Margot Robbie, Marilyn Manson and everyone in between.
Michael Crawley certainly didn’t plan on becoming the uber businessman – the designer, creative director and owner of VALLEY Eyewear. Had his childhood dreams come to fruition we would have seen him riding waves on the professional surfing circuit or on stage in a rock band.
“I’ve been obsessed with music since a young age – I even went to an AC/DC concert for my tenth birthday,” Michael says. “Being a rock star was always something I wanted to do, but I’m horrible with any musical instruments and I can’t sing to save myself.”
Even though he had to rule out a professional music career, Michael hasn’t strayed too far from the rockstar lifestyle with his business – he’s designing the sunglasses of choice for some pretty famous musicians.
“Most of our celebrity connections are just through friends of friends, or tour managers we know, or people we’ve met in our travels,” Michael says.
Like the guy Michael grew up with in Port Macquarie who put Kanye West onto VALLEY Eyewear. Or Chris Hemsworth, the old friend who used to crash at Michael’s place during his ‘Home and Away’ days. Or maybe even Marilyn Manson, who has been collaborating on custom sunglasses with Michael for so long that the two are teaming up to create a signature range.
“I met Manson through a friend of mine who is a photographer for Rolling Stone magazine. He got me backstage for one of Manson’s shows and we just hung out,” Michael says. “Johnny Depp was there too, I think.”
He also casually mentioned that he popped in to visit Manson during a trip to the United States – they shared a few drinks, had a chat and Manson played his entire new album for Michael.
“It’s all actually pretty organic. We don’t use a PR agency so the attention we get is all from people who like what we do and our aesthetic and get in contact with us”.
So how did this chilled-out Goldy local come to be the go-to designer for Hollywood’s coolest characters? How did he reach the business success that he enjoys today?
“I was actually a high-school drop-out,” Michael says. “I’ve been travelling the world since I was 16 and have really been self-taught and self-dependant from a young age – I had to learn how to put food on the table and follow things through on my own.”
Michael spent a lot of time in New York in his early 20s, where the punk rock anti-fashion inspired him to get into photography and film. He first dabbled in creating sunglasses while working for the surfing super-brand Quicksilver with his wife and high school sweetheart, Tenielle. But when the pair was made redundant with a one-year-old at home, Michael was forced to decide on his next path – the path that would lead him to create VALLEY Eyewear.
“We were jobless and had no idea what to do. I had always wondered what it would be like to be completely in control of the creative process, so we put our redundancy pay towards creating VALLEY,” Michael recalls.
“I had this idea in my mind of all the fundamentals that I wanted from an insane company,” he says. “I wanted to create something that was unlike any other eyewear brand around us – that represented high fashion and the unique part of the fashion world that has unlimited creative ability – whilst also making a high-quality product.”
And he’s done just that. Their frames are handcrafted with quality and longevity in mind, but the shapes, colours and accents make for a truly unique product. Then there are the campaigns, which would better be described as works of art. So far we’ve seen ‘The Happening’, a collection of spooky snowy stills shot at the abandoned Communist Party Headquarters in Bulgaria, and ‘Anarchism’, an edgy nod to all the rule breakers, troublemakers and rioters.
Michael says his favourite thing about being the mastermind behind VALLEY is the creative freedom.
“I have the ability to design shades however I like, then go out and create a campaign creatively however I like, which I then get to bring to life,” he says. “I pick the models, stylist and location, I shoot the stills, pick the film team and then direct that whole package as it’s being created and rolled out.
“I definitely stick to the creative side of the brand – I let the bookkeeper and the accountant deal with the money and numbers and stuff because I hate it.”
Another bonus is the extra family time he gets to spend with his kids, Dash (6) and Seylah (3).
“Having our own business is great because it gives us the flexibility to prioritise the kids,” Michael says. “We get to be there for all the special moments with them, and I’m there for all of their school and fun events – we never miss a school play or event, and we encourage them as much as possible to get out and enjoy life.”
But being the man making the sleekest shades in town obviously requires some legwork – the kind that has Michael running back and forth between the USA and Australia, family in tow.
“I just took the kids to the USA for five weeks for two trade shows,” he says. “Even though it was a work trip, we also did the family things like Disneyland and went out to Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park.”
Luckily, Michael’s little travel buddies didn’t seem to mind.
“Travel is the best for them – they love every minute of it,” he says. “They run amuck around the trade shows and they notice when someone on the street is wearing VALLEY, plus Dash is getting really into his photography so we bring him to the shoots.”
Not growing up in a wealthy family and having to learn a lot on his own, Michael says he was driven to make something of himself and provide a great life for his family.
“Having a good work ethic is everything,” he says. “All you have to do is an amazing job at whatever you do, or create an amazing product. I’m not happy until something is done to perfection.”
His advice? Don’t do anything by halves – just go for it.
“Look for what you want to do, find a niche in that market and bring something different to the table. I really believe in creating great quality and giving someone a great experience.”
But it’s not all work and no play. Michael can often be found taking one of his many ridiculous-looking surfboards out for a spin.
“I have a bit of a collection. They’re the most fun things ever to ride, I love it,” he says. “I get in the ocean as much as possible, it clears my mind and makes me so happy. That’s how I escape… no one can get to you out there.”
And it seems that, despite all of his successes, Michael still hasn’t given up on those childhood dreams.
“If I wasn’t doing this, I don’t know what I’d be doing,” Michael says. “Who knows, maybe I’d finally start that sh*tty band?”
We’re sure his friends Marilyn Manson or Gwen Stefani could give him a few tips.