Tasked with ushering in RVCA’s mantra, “Balance of Opposites” under the new leadership of the Boardriders group are European boardsports industry heavyweights Etienne Pinon and Alexis Maillet. Etienne (European Brand Manager) has 20+ years of experience in international sales in the action sports industry, formerly heading up sales for Electric, Neff and Podium all stemming from his love for skateboarding, which he acquired at a young age. Alexis (European Marketing Manager) brings 15+ years of experience to his role having headed up the DC Snow & Action Sports division in Europe, serving as Marketing Director for FOX and most recently Electric where he and Etienne first crossed paths. RVCA is a different beast in Europe than it is in America, with hyped American pastime MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) playing a big part of their DNA across the pond, so Alexis and Etienne have set about cultivating local artists, chefs, models and ambassadors as part of their inspirational “Artist Network Program” to tell RVCA’s stories through a European lens. Interview by SOURCE Editor Harry Mitchell Thompson.
Please could you give us a brand history timeline from birth to today.
Etienne: First and foremost, RVCA is the brainchild of company founder, PM Tenore. It transcends the boundaries of traditional action sports apparel. RVCA was founded in 2001 with the very first intention to create a platform which combines art, music, fashion and a modern lifestyle in an original way. In 2010 it was acquired by Billabong International Ltd to complete the group’s outstanding portfolio (Billabong, Element, VonZipper, Xcel). And if you’re reading this, you probably know that last year, the group was acquired by Boardriders (Quiksilver, Roxy, DC Shoes) creating the biggest action sports company in the world. Today, RVCA sits in the group with a very unique position, benefiting from Boardriders’ expertise while nurturing the “Balance Of Opposites”, the brand’s mantra.
The brand had seen big success in the US in recent years – to what do you attribute the success?
Etienne: I think it started from day one with the creation of the ANP (Artist Network Program), which brought a new approach to how a brand can interact with artists. Going against the mainstream idea of what a business should be, ANP is a platform that showcases the talent of known as well as unknown artists who inspire various generations and push the boundaries of creativity while giving back to the community. It just gives sense to what we do and I think that consumers can feel this point of difference.
Of course, the product is also at the centre of the success. RVCA is known for its creative approach and for its great quality products.
It’s also interesting to see that the brand keeps on growing within each of the five pillars of the brand: Lifestyle/Art, Surf, Skate, Women, Sport with a very controlled and qualitative distribution.
How has the brand’s product lineup and marketing direction changed in recent years?
Alexis: In terms of products we are following the development of our RVCA collection for men and women. The women’s collection, especially the Spring collection is going really well in Europe. It represents more than 30% of our seasonal turnover. The last photo-shoot that we did in Italy was really well received by our customers and the top models we used, such as Clara Berry were part of this success.
We are continuing the development with our regional ANP artists. Another win was the last Roberto Rodriguez Redondo’s capsule collection. The sell-through showed a real interest for this kind of artwork. We’re sticking with this direction and the product department are already looking for new European talents for the following collection.
Regarding our marketing, the main change is that we want to consolidate our position at the beach and at the same time move and develop the brand in key European cities. Thanks to our ANP program we have the opportunity to tell our brand DNA and connect with local communities. As of today, we have a lot to do in terms of brand awareness around RVCA. If someone isn’t connected to surf, skate or MMA, they may not be exposed to the brand or even how to pronounce the brand name, “RùKA”. But the good news is that as soon as they are in contact with us through social media, events or advocates, they fall in love and become so curious and interested in our unique label.
How is the brand perceived differently in Europe to the States and what are you doing to change that?
Etienne: In Europe, somehow the brand suffered from in-house competition within the group and didn’t follow the same growth as in the US or APAC. A few years ago, it was decided to rebuild a full growth strategy with new recruitments and a proper long range plan. We aligned Product, Distribution and Marketing and as a result doubled the business in two years. We are now entering a new phase of investment with Boardriders. On both global and regional levels, we built a growth plan for all the channels (wholesale, retail, Ecom). The idea is to consolidate our current position in the coastal areas where we have a great success (Portugal, South West of France, Spain, Italy) mainly with Spring/Summer products (t-shirts, shirts, walkshorts, boardshorts). And to start a whole new plan for key European cities centred on a lifestyle/art/street approach. RVCA is deeply rooted in sub cultures (street art, music, skate) and it’s now time for Europe to connect with all these communities. Right now, we’re working on projects for the next three years that include the opening of flagship stores in key capitals of Europe. Women will also be a big part of the plan as today it represents more than one third of our business and will keep growing as the brand reaches a new audience.
Please explain the new European setup.
Etienne: The team is fairly small. I recently took over the position of Brand Manager, Alex is leading the European Marketing and Camille Jeanjean is the Head of Product with the support of Julien Dauverchain. Occasionally, we also have the need for the support of some interns. As for our office, we just moved out from Hossegor to the European Headquarters of Boardriders based in Saint Jean de Luz, France where we benefit from the group’s back office (Customer Service, Finance, IT, HR, D&L, Ecom, Retail). We’re very excited to join the campus that is filled with a great energy and amazing talent. We were able to find a great spot within the building where we brought our own universe filled with art, tattoo studio, music and a great space to meet and share with our communities. We can’t wait to write this new chapter.
What makes RVCA different from other brands in the space?
Alexis: Everything comes from Founder Pat Tenore and all his networking. He is still today really involved in the development of the brand. He created an original brand focus on an artistic platform for an authentic community. He gave birth to the ANP (Artist Network Program) and today this is the single most important differentiator for RVCA. The goal is to showcase known and unknown talents, raising and providing a support platform for creative growth.
RVCA is a unique global lifestyle brand inspiring and speaking to diverse subcultures, who don’t limit themselves to one sport or passion. We’re not talking about a classic team but a family, a group of selected advocates. Each person within the Program symbolizes something unique, adding flavour to the brand’s colourful culture of artists and advocates. From a chef, to a surfer/shaper, through a tattoo artist to famous models. Today RVCA is uniting cultures from art to surf, to skate to street fashion, and MMA to music.
The Balance of Opposites concept symbolized by the V an A in the RVCA name, runs through everything that the brand does. To summarize, I think our advocate Aaron Rose and creator of the ANP QUATERLY (Special ART magazine) says it best: “This is the only brand supporting some of the most experimental artists in the world while simultaneously sponsoring the most gnarly MMA fighters. These two should be like oil and water, but somehow with this brand it not only works but makes total sense!”
Talk us through the Basement Gallery in Biarritz.
Alexis: This project comes from different inspirations. First of all you may know that in our HQ in Costa Mesa there is an art residency; a huge studio/dedicated hub for artists to perform and showcase work. This inspired RVCA Australia who set up a RVCA gallery and RVCA Japan too who installed a gallery above the RVCA store in Shibuya/Tokyo. Following on from this, in Europe we created a dedicated and original art platform. Our angle was to find a place with one of our advocates, artists or friends doing what they’re good at. Our goal was to promote our Artist Network Program and for this we had the support of one of our key global ANP artists, Benjamin JeanJean. He agreed to be the curator of the first group exhibition. We also gave birth to a new concept which married food and art, where a new concept was born; art and food! We made a partnership with chef Anthony Orjollet who opened ‘Elements’, the “Best French Restaurant” in 2018 according to acclaimed French foodie magazine, Le Fooding. The collaboration was with his new restaurant called EPOQ, which mixes culinary arts, music, and paintings in the same space. The gallery is now located in Biarritz in the basement of this long awaited new restaurant. July 16, 2019 was the official opening of the RVCA Basement Gallery and it was a real success – the gallery was packed even on a Tuesday evening, where more than 500 people gathered to discover the exhibition.
We presented more than 40 pieces of art, made by 19 artists from all over the world. This group exhibition is called Phénomena. We showcase everything from local to global, from masterpieces to limited edition prints.
Please talk us through the RVCA World Tour and how you are rolling this out.
Alex: We just had the RVCA World Tour in Japan at the end of July over one week and it was a huge success. The concept is based on PM Tenore’s vision of bringing together RVCA advocates from all categories. The “Tour” has travelled from Hawaii’s North Shore to the beaches of Australia and to New York City. The success of these past events, both domestic and international, have inspired what we are now deeming as the RVCA World Tour. Each stop on the tour includes special events highlighting the breadth and depth of the RVCA community. These range from cultural education workshops to public concerts, art exhibitions, athletes and artist signings and much more.
The next RVCA World Tour stop will be in December in Miami during ART BASEL. Then it will be our turn to host all the global advocates in Paris for spring 2020. Stay tuned – this will be an outstanding and unique brand moment.