Surf apparel maker Hurley International announced a first-time collaboration with iconic surf brand and retailer Hobie to create a line of men’s surf apparel called Hobie by Hurley.
This is the second recent alliance between national brands and local Laguna Beach retailers, which surf-wear industry experts say reflects small-scale surf shops taking unusual steps to remain competitive in a recession. Thalia Surf Shop opened Vans by Thalia, an addition to the successful boutique surf store, in an adjoining storefront last November.
Hobie’s brand strength stems from Laguna designer-inventor Hobie Alter’s ability to design and build ocean products, such as surfboards, catamarans, radio-controlled gliders, water skis, skateboards and more recently, stand up paddle boards.
“Our brand is more known for our hard products. We wanted to team up with a company like Hurley that thinks about apparel in an innovative way,” said Jeff Alter, son of the brand’s namesake, who now runs the company with his brother Hobie Jr.
“Hurley has the resources and ‘outside the box’ mindset to do some really fun stuff and take this iconic Hobie brand to the next level,” according to Mark Christy, a longtime resident and co-owner of Hobie surf shops in Laguna and Dana Point.
Nike-owned and Costa Mesa-based Hurley, a dominant brand in youth surf-apparel, may be seeking entrée into markets for older customers, and water activities like stand up paddle boarding, sailing and kayaking more typically served by Hobie, according to industry veteran Peter Townend, of the action-sports consultant group Active Empire.
“Hurley is only a decade old. It’s a young brand. To team up with a brand like Hobie, which has this incredible DNA as one of the original surf brands, that allows them to expand their presence to the older audience. They’re not doing that to try to appeal to teenagers. They already own that market,” Townend said.
Such a collaboration allows Hurley to avoid devaluing its brand among young surfers and still exploit the SUP boom already targeted by its new partner under a different brand name, he added.
Alter agrees. “With the onslaught of SUPs, there’s new room for technical shirts, trunks and other kinds of clothing that could work with SUPing. Hurley brings a special quality, more toward a watermen’s line, the active men. There will certainly be a stand up paddle board aspect to it, but basically a casual lifestyle collection with a twist of coolness.”
The economic downturn sent many merchants including surf shops paddling for an exit, but Christy asserts his motivation for a pact with Hurley is different. “Many of our competitors may have flown a bit too close to the fiscal sun and extended themselves beyond the point of no return. We’ve seen shops like Killer Dana, Becker and others close some doors, sell or reinvent themselves in some other way. But this economy did not catch us by surprise,” he said, adding, “We like our independence and what we do. We’re not going anywhere.”
Dick Metz, a surf industry veteran and early business partner of Hobie Alter, explains an inescapable reality in surf wear and nearly every other sector of the global apparel industry.
“Hurley, Billabong, Quiksilver, O’Neill, etc. are all trying to play both sides of the street,” said Metz, selling their merchandise to national retail chains as well as mom-and-pop stores. “Sell the big guys to make volume and profit, but sell the little guy because it gives them credibility. But it doesn’t work for the little storeowner for very long. All the manufacturers are owning their own stores now. That’s how the big manufacturers maintain their sales domination. They’re all in the retail business. They all want more shelf space.”
“PPR wanted in our world but didn’t have a brand in it so they bought one,” Townend pointed out, referring to a $607 million bid earlier in May by a French luxury goods maker for the surf-and-skate brand Volcom. “Buying Volcom just put a stamp of approval that surf action sports are legitimate. It doesn’t get any bigger.”
Christy and the Hobie team are intent on keeping the new line true to its roots. “You won’t be seeing it in any big boxes,” he promised. “Hobie is all about tradition and credibility. Not to mention, these guys are too smart for that. Once you’ve seen OP, Gotcha or others stacked on tabletops at the box stores, you’ll rarely see it at the beach.
“This ain’t the first rodeo for this collaborative team and there isn’t a rush to bring the line to market. Instead, they’ll take their time to ensure that they are doing it the right way, the way Hobie Alter wants to see it done.”
A slightly different view came from Simon Haskell, Hurley’s vice president of business development, who as the licensee, has creative control over the new line. “We are looking at the specialty store as our immediate opportunity. I do believe the range will ultimately lend itself to better-end department stores,” he said.
Samples of the line are expected to be available this fall.