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VENICE, Calif. — Lightning Bolt, the surf brand started in Hawaii 38 years ago by surfers Gerry Lopez and Jack Shipley, is staging a comeback in the U.S. with the help of surfing scion Jonathan Paskowitz.
Paskowitz, the second of nine children whose eccentric upbringing of chasing waves in a 24-foot camper was chronicled in the documentary “Surfwise,” is spearheading Lightning Bolt’s efforts to bring the Seventies vibe back to the surf industry. Its men’s shorts stop at midthigh. It also cut its boardshorts out of sanded cotton — instead of nylon — because the fabric is softer, although it takes longer to dry. Corduroy is another material used for shorts enhanced with lamb-chop pockets. The palette is subdued in neutral hues such as brown, cream and green, often paired in colorblocking, with a flash of the bolt logo and a restrained use of prints.
“The design all over is going toward trim, slim, simple, sparse design,” said Paskowitz, who heads a four-person team.
Bryan Porter, the sales director who worked for men’s streetwear label N.S.F. and helps designs Lightning Bolt’s men’s offerings, added: “You don’t want the clothes to dictate you. You want to dictate the style.”
Lightning Bolt’s story may sound familiar amid the revivals of dormant brands steeped in nostalgia. Ocean Pacific and Maui and Sons are among the pioneering surf brands that have tried to recast themselves for the 21st century. Certainly, Lightning Bolt hopes to avoid the pitfalls faced by Op, the surf brand that tried to stoke shoppers’ sentiment for Seventies styling at better boutiques like Fred Segal before being sold exclusively at Wal-Mart.
“The market wasn’t ripe for [Op],” Paskowitz said. “They were a little ahead.”
Lightning Bolt is backed by TMG, a Portuguese apparel manufacturer, which, Paskowitz said, generates annual revenues of 500 million euros, or $715 million at current exchange, from its manufacturing business that counts Raf Simons as a client. After buying Lightning Bolt three years ago, TMG has produced a sportswear line under the label in Europe, where sales surpass 20 million euros, or $28 million, a year, he said.
TMG tapped Paskowitz to head the U.S. business from among candidates with M.B.A.’s. His pedigree is different. Paskowitz was director of marketing at Gotcha, an executive at eyewear label Black Flys and a consultant on the surfer movie “Blue Crush” starring Kate Bosworth. Through his family’s surf camp in San Onofre, Calif., his students have included Barneys New York creative director Simon Doonan and Vanity Fair editor in chief Graydon Carter, who
coproduced “Surfwise” with Paskowitz.
Lightning Bolt entered the U.S. market this spring with a smattering of T-shirts and boardshorts for men and women. It added corduroy pants and shorts to the fall lineup, and is readying for a full launch next spring with men’s striped chambray walk shorts and jeans, along with rompers, floor-grazing dresses and tie-dye bikinis for women — all retailing for $40 to $150.
Kara Smith, an alumna of Los Angeles contemporary label Geren Ford, oversees the men’s and women’s designs. From working with silk at Geren Ford, Smith wants to incorporate brushed or sanded silk into next year’s fall lineup.
With orders from stores including Revolve.com and Planet Blue in Santa Monica, Calif., Paskowitz targets $1 million in first-year sales in the U.S.
“I would just like to offer the surfers and people who aspire to be surfers something a little different,” Paskowitz said. “There’s a whole new customer out there.”