Men’s Surf Apparel S/S 2023 Retail Buyer’s Guide
Surfwear at Zara, a surf collection at Ikea, a Hermes wetsuit… Instead of sitting back and watching, endemic brands are going back to their roots, and to retain the upper hand in 2023, are innovating, especially in materials and sustainable manufacturing. This is reassuring. By David Bianic.
Before placing orders for spring-summer 2023, perhaps it’s a good idea to analyse the summer season that has just ended. The big dog Quiksilver has done its accounts, posting a summer 2022 up on last year, “Less traffic but better conversion”, says Arthur Pommiers from Marketing. The brand had been counting on a reduced offer with optimised segmentation, he adds. Lessons from COVID have been learnt, with brands showing more flexibility. For example, when the Russia-Ukraine conflict began to impact the economy, these companies saw it as just another obstacle to tackle as it is “increasingly important to be able to react on a day-to-day basis and adapt to new circumstances and market demands,” says Sofia Dias, Lightning Bolt’s Marketing Director for Europe.
In an uncertain market, you have to provide certainty. This could be the credo at O’Neill, who rely on their pillars: “We continue to see sustainability, community, digitalisation and sport as fundamental for market growth well into 2023”, says Ricardo Campoa, Head of Design and Purchasing, convinced that consumer confidence is achieved when the brand lives up to, and even exceeds, customer expectations.
Turning these constraints into a strength is also the mantra at SOMWR (pronounced “somewhere”), a new brand/eco-movement launched in 2020 by Svein Rasmussen (Starboard). Today the act of buying is driven by an economic/ecological combo: “That nourishes the hope that quality will get a higher priority compared to quantity.” You see there is hope!
Hurley are also witnessing a paradoxical phenomenon linked to the fear-inducing context: ”Sincenobody knows what going to happen in Autumn-winter, a lot of consumers would rather buy what they need & desire now”, states Fernando Rivero.
MARKET: THE WAVE RISES AGAIN
The wave rises and falls, that’s just how it is in clothing. In 2022, all signs seem to indicate that surf apparel is on trend. “The surf lifestyle has always been popular during summer with high street brands,” says Ricardo from O’Neill, “this year is even more evident”. But brands don’t really see this return of the big groups to the surf game as a threat. To begin with, it’s not the first time they’ve seen this happen, and furthermore, these non-endemic brands “are supplying those customers who otherwise wouldn‘t really step into our local surf shop,” says Mark Noble, Marketing Manager at Brakeburn. At the same time, these brands have great difficulties selling technical, innovative products specific to surfing such as wetsuits, rash guards, boardshorts, etc, adds Fernando from Hurley. This trend is an opportunity to shine a spotlight on surf lifestyle, which is becoming part of everyone’s wardrobe: “It will be exciting to see how our customers style our pieces with their everyday wardrobe, mixing surf style heritage and mainstream fashion,” says Alexandra Clarke, in charge of design for Gotcha.
SS23 THEMES: EVERYONE HAS A STORY
Once seen as a purely commercial gimmick, storytelling is now seen by customers as a legitimate feature. They want us to tell them a story, in line with their values: pieces in a collection must express and embody a message.
For many, this means evoking a golden age of surfing, or rather, golden ages. At Lightning Bolt, they are unsurprisingly leaning on the icon Gerry Lopez, and more broadly on the soul surfer identity through the aptly named capsule collection The Surfer’s Soul. Four artworks feature on sustainably produced, vintage-modern pieces: late 70s illustrations, 90s cartoons and graphics on the T-shirts.
On a completely different tack, Lost are staying true to their “bad boy” image in 2023, revisiting the California core of surf/skate, i.e., the Venice skate scene of the 80s, “with bright punk colour pops” and the Orange County surf scene of the 90s, “the gritty suburban punk angst mixed with the still vibrant classic 70s rock influence.” Hurley are also leveraging rock culture in a capsule collection (men’s and women’s), christened the Wave Tour Collection, with T-shirts, crew and crop tops “inspired by the 80-90´s rock band tees trend, but with a big European surfing spot touch”. Gotcha are also tapping into their irreverent roots, with a SS23 collection that “encapsulates the epitome of the Southern California lifestyle – a chill attitude with a penchant for adventure.” Their California Surf Shacket, a shirt with flashy branding on a dark colour, to be worn open with a T-shirt, is a perfect example.
Quiksilver refers to a not-so-distant history, reworking their Saturn logo from the 90s/2000s in aneponymous collection. The silhouettes smack of loose fits and very skateboardy looks.
At O’Neill, the focus is no longer on the icons of the past, but rather on the future, with a Future Surf Society theme that is “Honest, real, and community-focused” in all its diversity. This translates into a clean and colourful collection, easy to wear basics with generous, slightly oversized shapes and simple graphics, all made from sustainable materials. Similarly, O’Neill are renewing their support for the NGO, Surfers Not Street Children through a collection of the same name in a palette of monochrome tones and certified O’Neill Blue (sustainable materials).
And when the themes become the product itself, we think of technically focussed brands like Dakine. With their new All Purpose Gear collection, the brand are going beyond the boundaries of surfing to provide clothing that can be used in the water, in the mountains and “everywhere in between”. The pieces have articulated cuts, technical treatments and are definitely designed to move.
In the same vein, it’s back to O’Neill and their Hyperfreak Actiwear collection of multi-activity products made of innovative fabrics such as the Polartec® Windbloc® jacket or the hybrid T-shirts with Polygiene® treatment.
PRINTS & COLOURS SS23: SOFT CORE
Hearing the different stories being told above, it’s easy to guess what colour palettes are being used as the decor. Take Oxbow whose main collections encapsulate the idea of travel, in Africa with their ambassador Kepa Acero, and Surfing Jungle. The first uses somewhat passé mineral colours, natural tones combined with prints evoking the desert, while the second uses much brighter colours with pop effects (touches of bright colour on a more monochrome background). But you don’t have to travel to the other side of the world to find inspiration; Brakeburn are drawing on their immediate surroundings – Dorset in England – shorts with seaweed prints for example.
In general, O’Neill are thinking that neutral and natural tones are increasingly popular, but aren’t closing the door on flashier options, like neon colours (green, orange, blue) on trims and finishes. As for the classics like camo prints, stripes and tie-dye, O’Neill are revisiting them with different gradients and shades.
Quiksilver are gambling on purple for their heritage pieces, otherwise opting for monochrome (Saturn collection). As for Dakine, despite a highly technical positioning, the pieces do not have the flashiness associated with performance clothing. Instead, nature is everywhere with really organic hand-painted prints, “inspired by the energetic ocean waves, shores and deltas”, in harmony with colours such as Terra Khaki, Galactic Blue, Earth Green, Beachy Keen Blue or Canopee Green, all of which refer back to natural elements.
Colour also tells a story at SOMWR, in line with the brand’s message of course, with an undyed fabric: “It comes as a light cream tone and has the lowest environmental impacts since there are no additional substances needed to dye the fabric.” Salty Crew are again aiming their prints at their “surf & fish” niche, while Mike Niemann highlights the new Feed Frenzy and Navigator prints, and foam, navy and vintage army colours.
If these colours and prints are too subdued for your taste, rest assured, there are still brands like Rietveld to make you stand out. We’re thinking here about the humorous versions of the character Al (Albert Einstein), as well as the Kraken and Surf Skull. You either love it or hate it.
Also, Lost want to stand out with some vintage tattoo prints and psychedelic effects to complement the classic 80s colour pop and 90s mineral colours.
SS23 MATERIALS: BACK TO NATURE
Synthetic materials go hand in hand with technicality and have paradoxically become emblems of eco-production, in particular through recycled polyester. Their use is very broad for example Repreve trimon Gotcha jackets for example or on the Everyday Explore T-shirts from Hurley (with 60% cotton/40% poly H2O fabric that’s breathable, 50+ UPF and anti–microbial). Their use is still very broad – Repreve trim on Gotcha jackets for example – but the real innovation is the work carried out on natural materials, now also synonymous with “techy”. Lightness can also be obtained through materials such as linen or viscose and yet remain consistent with a natural approach like at Lighting Bolt. O’Neill are using more and more mixtures based on seaweed fibres (SeaCell) and oyster shells, with incredible technical properties. For Oxbow, their 85 collection relies on merino wool and Tencel (wood pulp, also called Lyocell at Brakeburn): “Those natural fibres are anti-bacterial and dry quickly,” say Men’s Product Managers Aurélien Silvestre and Manon Jouanine, not to mention their excellent results in terms of water, electricity and CO2 consumption compared to cotton or polyester. Natural dyes are also on the rise, whether plant or mineral-based at Quiksilver, on premium organic cotton. Ethical production comes as standard at SOMWR, the vegan and 100% plastic-free brand who are opting for organic, sustainable cellulose fibre certified by GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard): “We also pay close attention to where our fibres and fabrics come from in order to keep the transport routes as short as possible.”
Rarely has surf clothing been as coherent as in 2023, offering an unprecedented balance between the historical values of surfing culture and production that meets current requirements in terms of technicality, ecology and ethics. The diversity of these themes also allows retailers to make an assortment of collections that are far from boring. It’s all up to you.