LOS ANGELES — Fox’s “North Shore” has heated up summer nights, and ABC’s “Lost” and NBC’s “Hawaii” are hitting prime time this fall, showing off paradise.
Now the small screen’s love affair with everything Hawaiian is spilling over into the resurgence of two surf brands’ take on the island culture.
Pacific Palisades, Calif.-based Maui and Sons and Honolulu-based Surf Line Hawaii have introduced lines that capitalize on the hot surf market and interest in the outdoors way of life while restaking their claims in the industry.
It’s no wonder. The popularity of surf-inspired fashions continues to soar, hitting $4.1 billion in retail sales last year, up 14 percent from $3.6 billion in 2002, according to Board-Trac, an action sports research firm in Trabuco Canyon, Calif. And it’s not too late to return to the party, say industry observers.
“The pie is bigger and there aren’t that many brands out there that are serving the mainstream channels,” said Marie Case, managing director of Board-Trac.
That’s the channel Maui and Sons is pursuing with the U.S. push of its Maui Girl line. Under license by private label manufacturer Unger Fabrik, the sportswear collection in its second season targets a junior customer and sports bright colors in its knits, pants, shorts, board shorts, tanks, camis and sundresses. The line’s updated look is in step with the more directional looks of its competitors but retains a surf edge. Floral halter dresses, heathered tanks and banded miniskirts are a few spring looks, with wholesale price points between $12 and $14. Sears and Charlotte Russe are among the retailers that have picked up the line, which is expected to do $10 million in the first year.
Debuting this week at MAGIC International are denim and loungewear created by licensee Martin Barrack Co. in partnership with TK Mab. The 18-piece loungewear line under the Maui and Sons label includes string bikinis, camis and pajamas. The five-pocket jeans and miniskirts come in four washes, detailed with a strip label on the back loop, floral waistband, hibiscus engravings on the rivets and embroidered pockets. They wholesale from $10 to $15. The loungewear line is expected to pull in $4 million in wholesale volume in the first year.
The company’s growth strategy — seeking a stronger presence in the U.S. — is the inverse of its peers, which have built a sizable presence domestically and have subsequently sought the riches of Europe and Asia.
Maui and Sons couldn’t find its stride domestically after its initial popularity in the Eighties, selling off and on in the U.S. with the help of such licensees as Cherokee Inc. Rick Rietveld, the graphic artist of the team and responsible for the Sharkman icon, Jeff Yokoyama (also founder of Modern Amusement) and Steve Prested created the company in Irvine, Calif. in 1980 after an unsuccessful attempt at the cookie business (now the inspiration for the cookie logo) and grew it to $25 million in wholesale volume. They lost their way when the fashions left their surf roots, leading to bankruptcy in 1988.
Since its purchase out of bankruptcy in 1989 by Richard Harrington, who was the owner of its worldwide international license, Maui and Sons has made a big splash around the world from Peru to New Zealand with the help of 100 licensees in 90 countries and more than 10 stores and in-store shops. Harrington declined to reveal the company’s total volume, but said it’s in the league of Quiksilver, which does about $1 billion in revenues. Most recently, Maui and Sons signed a deal with Shanshan Holdings, a leading retailer in China, to begin distribution there.
“We think we’ve got the brand equity to connect with consumers and have partnered with big-league manufacturers to get the product right,” said James Demet, president of Maui and Sons, during an interview at the company’s headquarters overlooking the ocean on Pacific Coast Highway. His goals include a flagship and a women’s line called Wahine by Maui and Sons for 2006 retailing.
Another familiar name in the business is Surf Line Hawaii, known for its Jams World collection of easy-fitting, ethnic-looking separates targeting women 30 years of age and beyond and selling at Nordstrom, specialty boutiques and the Jams World store in Santa Monica, Calif. The collection has sales of about $11 million a year.
The line started with the Jams product 40 years ago when Dave Rochlen, a systems analyst with Rand Corp. in Santa Monica, gave his wife some bright fabric and told her to make a short “pajama,” one that was cut off at the knee with a sewn-up fly. His board short at the time caught on with surfers and novices alike.
Rochlen’s son, Pua, president of the company, reintroduced the signature piece in January at Surf Expo as part of the Original Jams resort collection. Redix Inc. in Wrightville Beach, N.C., and Ono’s Surf Shop in Destin, Fla., picked up the line, intended to serve specialty and department stores.
For spring, Original Jams has added knits, jackets, T-shirts, pants and shorts and a selection crafted from S2T nylon developed by Dupont, which doesn’t wrinkle and dries faster than cotton. It features dresses, jackets, shorts and capris.
Wholesale price points for Original Jams range from $20 to $35. It’s expected to bring in $700,000 in its first year.
“We think there’s a real interest out there to embrace surf’s nostalgia years,” said Pua Rochlen.