Men’s Surf Apparel SS21

The first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in the first quarter of 2020 didn’t just trouble the sales of this year’s spring-summer collections, it also forced brands to rethink their 2021 ranges, and in the process, to accelerate certain honourable practices that began before the crisis. By David Bianic.

Traditionally, spring smiles on surf clothes – men’s and women’s – and by the end of summer it’s already time to mark down your last items of stock, before receiving the autumn-winter collections in the shop at the end of summer. Except this year, 2020 was…you might say…abnormal. Most retailers had their closed sign dangling in March, April and in some cases even May and sales didn’t follow the normal cycles at all.

Spring/summer 2020 proved to be a real logistical nightmare for all surf apparel brands; an example from Billabong: “The 60 days shutdown happened while we were still delivering Spring 2020 to some accounts, and the stores reopened just before our Fall 2020 initial deliveries, while we still had to deliver our Summer range,” recalls Alexandre Berthonneau, EMEA Merchant Men, Boys & Accessories. To avoid saturating the market with merchandise, Billabong pushed back the release of some of their autumn collection, “essentially warm weather pieces”, to spring 2021, and extended some products to SS21. Hurley proceeded much the same way and were pleased not to have to cancel some collections, quite the opposite in fact, with the European division being able to introduce new product families like durable denim, caps/beanies, socks and undergarments.

All brands made the decision to extend a part of their SS20 range into the following year, “so dealers knew they were supported by taking styles that would not be dropped from the line once the dust settled”, explains Gabe Davies, Surf Category Manager at Patagonia. Better still, the delay that was forced on collections had reset the timer, as explained by Freddie Sipowicz and Jonathan Gilbert, President and CEO Europe of Lost Enterprises: “We pushed our summer range back to a May launch and Fall back to an August launch offering them more true to season. This shift is most likely something we will stick with going forward.”

The Indian summer is now behind us and the time for accounting is here. Between the economic standstill and the frenzied consumption of the summer, what conclusions can we draw for the surf apparel market? The example from Rhythm is quite typical: after suffering some cancellations to spring pre-orders (“especially in UK and Spain where the lockdown was longer or stricter than in other countries”), they recorded good sales, with many restock orders among them, “especially from the coastline’s stores who benefitted from a good season after all, which enabled us to gain back part of the loss from the lockdown”, relates Marie Azam.

You might have guessed it: surf apparel next spring-summer will look a lot like the season just gone, because of this large number of collections being rerun. This unusual situation has reassured Rhythm in their decision to present a permanent collection, The Classics, continuing year after year, “classic style, timeless design and authentic to Rhythm”, explains Marie Azam, Brand Manager Europe. There’s the same desire at Protest to keep clothes on sale for longer through their original capsule collection, Surfables: “These items have a timeless cool that can take you from the street to the inside of a barrel without an outfit change”, promises Katrina Stronkhorst from Marketing. Examples come in the form of the Rapter 21 T-Shirt with its SPF 50 fabric for sun protection and their short called The Mask “that looks like streetwear and functions like surfwear”, thanks to multidirectional stretch and quick drying properties as well as an elastic waistband to keep it in place.

Another sub trend, the gap between surfwear and outdoor pieces is getting narrower and narrower. Proof with two examples, firstly from Billabong who are launching a collaboration in SS21 from their Adventure Division with outdoor photographer Chris Burkard. Then it’s Hurley’s turn with an Explore collection, “hybrid products designed for an outdoor lifestyle”. We’re also thinking about Salty Crew, “born in surf but we do lean towards the outdoor market”, explains Product Manager Mike Niemann, with pieces that bring together multidirectional stretch, quick drying and antimicrobial properties and sun protection.

For some brands, the mixture between surf/outdoor is in their DNA, as is the case for Patagonia obviously, but also for Dewerstone: “We are not a surf brand, but we live our lives around water. We are not an outdoor brand but we are surrounded by life in the National Park”, explains Stuart Wilson, Sustainable Actions Manager. Surfing, climbing, white-water kayaking, snow sports, the English brand doesn’t want to settle on one sole position.

So with this vein of Heritage styles lasting until next spring, at least there is some tried and tested values to bring a bit of certainty into an uncertain world. We are also thinking about Lightning Bolt who next summer are celebrating 50 years’ existence with an anniversary collection using vintage prints with the effigy of Gerry Lopez and Jack Shipley (the brand’s co-founder) in equally old-school colourways (eg a yellow-orange that really works). The brand are also pushing a capsule collection of t-shirts that evoke the fundamentals of Hawaiian culture: Aloha, Ohana (family), Mohana (ocean and its respect) and Mahalo (thank you). At Billabong there’s another 50th anniversary, this time to celebrate the Pipe Masters with a dedicated collection that echoes the Andy Irons Forever collection to be revealed next spring. Sure-fire future best sellers. Alexandre from Billabong confirms the enormous success of their Heritage styles in recent years, which explains the return of their historical Arch logo as their main logo. Gerry Lopez will also be honoured next summer at Patagonia: his Tiger Tracks camo print is to be rerun after many concurrent seasons and this will coincide with the release of a biopic produced by the brand and directed by Mr. Stacy Peralta. Yes!

Logically, the motifs and tones for SS21 items will follow the trends mentioned above. Heritage styles most often come to rely on the 60s/70s (motifs, tropical colours, Californian sunsets, tie-dye) and/or the glory days of the 90s, or “bright colours, geometrical shapes and fun prints”, explains the Hurley Europe team. As for more travel/outdoor-orientated collections, they display more neutral tones, like in Quiksilver’s Endless Trip collection with its earthy tones. We are also thinking about the colour palette at Lightning Bolt, “a blend of strong tones with the effects of sunshine and sand are recreated through clever colouring techniques and faded finishes”, explains Briana Mori, Brand Manager.

It’s now impossible to tackle one without the other: a garment’s build has to embody eco design and those labels are preaching to an audience who are highly sensitive to the issue. Recycled nylon/plastic will once again feature throughout SS21 on all fronts. Hurley remind us that all their Phantom products have been made from recycled plastic bottles since 2007. The American brand are this time presenting new materials of natural origin, as featured in the Regrind t-shirt collection, made from scraps of wool as well as a new Oceancare Denim collection; jeans using a Wiser Wash process without pumice stone or toxic chemicals: “with only one cup of water” used (per product). Patagonia are extending the use of their NetPlus fabrics (nylon recycled from fishing nets): “The potential supply line for the disused fishing nets as a raw material is huge”, assures Gabe Davies. Another recipe for success seems to be mixtures of recycled polyester and bio cotton, like in fleeces from Quiksilver who are also offering Baja Blues hemp shirts. At Dewerstone, consistency is total, between look, manufacturing and eco-consciousness: one example is their Lifeshorts 2.0 Muted Jungle whose motif intends to make “an appeal against 50 years of deforestation”, made from recycled polyester, without forgetting that “for every Muted Jungle short, we’ll plant 50 trees in Central America”, indicates Stuart Watson.

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