By  on August 20, 2007

NEW YORK — After months in limbo over its apparel license, Rusty will stay in the surf, thanks to a new long-term deal with La Jolla Group for the North American apparel line.

The Irvine, Calif.–based La Jolla, which also holds the apparel licenses for O’Neill Clothing, Lost Clothing and Metal Mulisha Clothing, will release its first collection of Rusty apparel for spring 2008.

The news clears up controversy over the 22-year-old brand’s North American license, which began shortly after founder Rusty Preisendorfer sold the majority stake to longtime Australian licensee Rusty Australia/Vegas Entertainment in August 2006. Although Irvine-based C&C Cos. had held the U.S. apparel license since 1988, earlier this summer the Superior Court of California ruled that C&C’s involvement with the Rusty surfwear brand would be terminated after the fall ’07 season shipped.

“There are a lot of concerned retailers out there, so we’re making sure we have the right product—and enough of the product—in stores as early as possible,” said Rusty North America’s new president, Charlie Setzler, who was plucked from his position as vice-president of sales for La Jolla’s O’Neill Clothing.

Although he no longer owns the company, Preisendorfer told DNR that he’s excited to see his namesake apparel line manned by La Jolla. “They’ve got a great track record, and they really understand the culture of the brand,” he said. “We’re all like-minded, we’re all surfers. I think we’ve got a great future together.”

One change certain to come in the new incarnation of Rusty will be a more youthful fashion flair, thanks to guidance from its Australian parent, now called R. & Everything Else Inc. “There’s room in the marketplace to have a surf brand that provides a point of differentiation, with more of a fashion element,” explained Setzler. “The surf market doesn’t need another ‘Me Too’ brand. We wanted to provide some more progressive elements.”

Preisendorfer agreed, adding, “There is potential here to play to a youthful, fashion-conscious customer. [Rusty] Australia proved that they could reinvent the brand, and take it in a more youthful direction. That’s the goal of the brand globally.”

La Jolla’s debut season of Rusty apparel will waste no time in providing retailers with a taste of its fashion-forward potential. Because he hasn’t yet had time to appoint a design team, Setzler will lean on Rusty’s Australian spring and summer lines for his own spring ’08 offering.

Since the Australian market tends to be trendier than that of the U.S., Setzler said, he promises to inject the more traditional elements of Rusty’s U.S. identity into the line. “We’ll modify or change things as necessary to continue to give U.S. retailers what they have come to expect from Rusty,” he said.

Setzler’s aesthetic visions coincide with those of R. & Everything Else’s Perth, Australia-based CEO, Geoff Backshall, who has expressed an interest in upping Rusty’s fashion quotient in the U.S. Although he could not be reached for this article, in an interview with DNR last August, Backshall said that Rusty’s apparel is “a bit disjointed in the States, and probably [hasn’t attracted] as young or as hip customer as [it would] like.”

But don’t expect a complete 180-degree revolution, cautioned Setzler. He is set on maintaining Rusty’s current U.S. distribution: predominantly specialty surf shops, with a smattering of specialty chains and department stores.

Still, Setzler believes there is tremendous opportunity for growth. The brand’s volume is currently around $15 million, a figure he believes La Jolla will easily anniversary for the current year, double in 2009, and spike to $40 million or $50 million within the next five years.

“It’s going to be an evolution,” said Setzler. “2008 is going to be a transition year. 2009 will be the year we truly prove ourselves.”

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