LOS ANGELES — Patagonia, the action sportswear company that entered the apparel market in 1973 by outfitting mountain climbers, is hitting the beach.
The Ventura, Calif., company, which operates 45 stores, primarily in the U.S. and Asia, will open its first "ocean-based" store on June 2 in the small surf town of Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Calif., near San Diego.
The estimated 4,000-square-foot unit will feature a range of new pieces, including unisex wet suits, rash guards (thin surf shirts), a new men's wear line and "anything an ocean athlete would want to wear when not in the water, like T-shirts, shorts and pants," said Jen Rapp, director of public relations.
Patagonia has previously sold a cross-section of surf items, including the Water Girl line of swimsuits and casualwear, which debuted in 2000, and surf boards designed by founder Yvon Chouinard's son, Fletcher Chouinard. Patagonia views its foray into an increasingly crowded market as an opportunity to bring its anti-trend aesthetics to the water sports apparel category. While the design team based the wet suits, board shorts and women's swimwear on a swimmer fit, Helena Barbour, product line director for the surf apparel, said, "There's a classicism and a timelessness that won't alienate our existing customer."
Violeta Villacorta, senior designer for Water Girl, said the women's line, which includes sundresses and easy-fitting pants and skirts cut from organic cotton, has been fully realized.
"We're really trying to target a more sophisticated woman," Villacorta said. "It's not your cute, stay-at-the-beach-and-parade-around-in-your-bikini [apparel]. The fit is for someone who has muscle."
Solid-colored bikini bottoms come in a range of styles, depending on the amount of coverage the wearer wants. Bikini tops are generously cut, with athletic movement in mind.
"We always want to make a line that is clean, that doesn't have too many gadgets," Villacorta said. "We will never be trendy, but we will have pieces that have good styling."
John Rapp, designer for Patagonia, which had revenue of $240 million last year, said there's room in the market for another surf brand. "I think the existing surf brands are almost a little bit of a different animal," he said. "They're so trendy, so quick moving, and they're going after a younger customer. They do that so elegantly, but maybe they lack that sense of timelessness."When he started Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, an accomplished climber who was manufacturing climbing hardware, sought to replace the requisite climbing getup — cut-off trousers and an old Oxford shirt — with clothes that would heighten athletic performance. Patagonia has since dominated the world's mountainsides — and mountain towns, for that matter — with its high-tech, high-performance fleeces, jackets and casualwear. Along the way, the privately held company has become a model in the apparel and retail industries for its environmentally conscious practices.
Professional surfer Devon Howard will manage the Cardiff-by-the-Sea store.
"The youth surf market is rather saturated," Howard said. "The group that has really been neglected is the 25- to 40-year-olds. They really don't have any brands ... Patagonia has a great opportunity to cater to people who don't go for the super-crazy, backward, aerial stuff."
The company focused on earth-friendly materials — in the products and in the creation of the store.
"Surfing needs an environmental footprint," Howard said. "A lot of surf products are inherently toxic — from surfboards to your leashes [the cord from the ankle to the board] to wet suits and T-shirts. It's something that most of us don't think about. All of our T-shirts are organic cotton and our surfboards are probably about 75 percent less toxic. We're working toward a totally green board."
The company sees the store as an environmental project. "This is what we do — we find a building that needs a little improvement and we redo it with environmentally friendly materials like reclaimed wood, recyclable steel fixtures and [volatile organic compound-free] paint and resins," Jen Rapp said. "We're hoping that the surf industry will catch on — that others will follow suit."
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