Another retailer wipes out
Some look at the loss of Wet Seal as simply an example of the rise of online shopping and the demise of middle market shopping centers. Others cite the failure of the Southern California fashion world to keep up with competitors, starting with brands co-opting the allure of the SoCal lifestyle, like Hollister, and then less expensive fast fashion stores such as H&M, Zara and UNIQLO.
Others would say that surf industry giants like Quiksilver grew too quickly (losing a reported $1.3 billion buying Rossignol didn’t help matters) and became too busy trying to sell shirts and boardshorts to teens in Middle America. By trying to scale the surfing lifestyle and culture to the masses, they forgot to focus on their core. That audience includes Orange County kids who for decades chose the winners and losers in the industry by buying favorite brands at coastal surf shops, and not inland shopping malls or online.
Most likely it’s some combination of all those factors, plus a nasty recession to push things along and changing tastes and trends that don’t favor heavily branded and logoed apparel.
Which is not to say we’re seeing the death of the Orange County surf industry. Many veterans of the industry have spun out of the creative incubator of the local fashion industry to create new and innovative brands not necessarily tied closely to the sport of surfing (see Kelly Slater’s Outerknown menswear line for an example).
There are Orange County and Irvine surf and youth apparel companies still alive and well, and doing innovative things.
Take Billabong USA. The Irvine-based surf brand just announced a collaboration with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts to produce a collection of “surf-inspired products for men and women, including boardshorts, swimwear, tops, tees and accessories” that will feature Warhol’s art (think graphics of flowers and palm trees rather than images of Marilyn Monroe or tomato soup cans) on Billabong designs. If the combination seems a bit offbeat, recall that in 1968 Warhol made an underground surf film in San Diego, and once said, “I came out of the womb on a surfboard.”
Other Irvine-based surf and youth-oriented fashion companies include LRG, Tilly’s (may we have another mural, please?) The La Jolla Group, Lost Enterprises and Obey Clothing, while others (Volcom, Hurley, etc.) occupy warehouse and other commercial space in the city.