INTERVIEWEE: EUROPEAN SURF MANAGER GABRIEL DAVIES
How has the wetsuits market evolved since last winter in terms of products, categories and SKUs?
For Fall16, we have expanded our collection of YULEX suits from 2 to 21 styles. Our new range covers a wider water temperature rating from 23°C down to 0°C, so our suits are going out to more water users than ever before. New additions include a new R1 Lite for warm water and a R5 for Northern Europe’s darkest coldest months. We have also extended our W’s offering and added our new Yulex suits for Kids.
Is the demand for frigid water wetsuits still growing?
Surfers want to hit the water at every opportunity, travel to remote locations, and make the most of the European prime time wave season and less crowded waves that the winter season brings. Due to demand, largely driven from the European market, we have added a R5 suit to the line that accommodates water temperatures from 3 to 0°C.
Which new trends do you see on the 2016 wetsuits market?
We wouldn’t say it’s a trend, but we are taking a purposeful step away from the status quo. We weren’t happy with the environmental impact of neoprene, so after 8+ years of research and development with Yulex Corporation, our team have worked incredibly hard to bring to market this new Yulex wetsuits line, which is now 100% neoprene free. Increasing our reliance on natural rubber over petro-chemical alternatives reduces CO2 required by ~80%. We will again share this innovation with other companies, like we’ve done in the past, hoping to create a shift toward cleaner and better materials throughout the surf industry. It is a positive change for the sake of the surf industry and the planet at large.
How have price points evolved and what are the main price hot spots?
We try to keep our prices in line with our current suits. The end consumer now has an interesting choice to make when he looks at ‘like for like’ products. Their end decision will come down to fit, quality, durability and environmental choices, rather than one based on price.
|Patagonia F16 Yulex M’s R2 – Back|
Please tell us more about your neoprene-free wetsuits.
We will introduce the world’s first neoprene-free, wetsuits made with plant-based material – a groundbreaking innovation that doubles down on our initial entry into natural rubber with another industry first and expands our Yulex offering from 2 to 21 wetsuits for men, women and kids.
The entire line of Patagonia’s new, high performance full wetsuits are made with a natural rubber developed by Patagonia’s partners at Yulex and Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC) certified by the Rainforest Alliance.
By using natural rubber in the suits we are reducing the CO2 emissions required to produce traditional neoprene suits by up to 80%. The FSC certified rubber is blended with 15% neoprene-free synthetic rubber for the benefits of increased ozone and UV resistance to meet Patagonia’s rigorous demands for durability and strength.
Tell us a bit more about the lining benefits of your wetsuits?
Patagonia’s 2016 wetsuit line has new fast-drying thermal linings. The new and exclusive inverted micro-grid linings dry faster than ever and create lighter suits while maintaining excellent warmth. Exterior and interior linings incorporate the highest possible recycled polyester content while meeting Patagonia’s demands for performance and durability.
What’s new in terms of fit and panel construction?
We have reworked our Front Zip and neck panel making it more water tight and easier to get in and out of. The zip is reinforced and designed to cope with stress, but it is also replaceable if it does happen to snag or fail. We design our suits to last way beyond one season. The increased flex in the Yulex also means our suits will fit more body types than they ever have before.
Please list some of the best selling arguments for a wetsuit.
The new, neoprene-free Yulex® wetsuits perform better than Patagonia’s traditional neoprene wetsuits and they’re extremely durable. By using natural rubber in the suits Patagonia is reducing the CO2 emissions required to produce traditional neoprene suits by up to 80%. The FSC certified rubber is blended with neoprene-free synthetic rubber for the benefits of increased ozone and UV resistance to meet Patagonia’s rigorous demands for durability and strength.
|Patagonia F16 Yulex M’s R2 – Front|
Please take us through three key products that retailers should put on their order sheets.
Every surfer in Europe could use an R3 during the winter months, then I would top and tail that selection with R2’s for Southern Europe, or an R4’s or R5’s for Northern Europe. Also we have redesigned our boots and gloves within our accessories line, to compliment the assortment.
Is eco-friendliness an issue for you and how do you approach it?
Patagonia’s mission statement is to “build the best products, cause no unnecessary harm and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis”. When we got into making wetsuits we knew where the less than friendly material leaps but there was no other way around at the time and we knew that the perfect world for us was develop an alternative. For the last eight years, Patagonia has been pioneering and proving the use of natural rubber in wetsuits and sharing our groundbreaking and R&D work with the competition to help the industry shift to better and cleaner materials. With the introduction of neoprene free wetsuits, it’s a radical change that’s giving surfers a chance to choose plants over petroleum and renewable over non renewables. By inspiring and implementing solutions to the environmental crisis it’s a mission driven initiative that embodies our purpose as a company. After 60 years of neoprene dependency it’s high time to set surfing free.