Hardgoods define a skateboard shop. Before the proliferation of skate clothing and shoe companies in the early 90s, skate shops relied almost entirely on the sales of decks, trucks, and wheels. But the popularity of skateboard fashion and shrinking margins on hardgoods has changed all that-the makeup of a typical skate shop now sees nearly half of its floor space dedicated to softgoods and shoes.

Thomas Taylor opened Stratosphere Skateboards in downtown Atlanta, Georgia over thirteen years ago. At the time he sold some surfwear brands like Jimmy’z and Gotcha, but the core of his business was hardgoods. Not so these days, he says. In the last year Taylor has allocated more space in his shop to clothing, and a good part of his business is generated from clothing and shoe sales to non-skaters: “We’re as hardcore as we can be, short of selling Calvin Klein. Even though we’re selling only skateboard brands, people are coming in looking for that skateboard style. There’s no way we could survive without them clothing and shoes.”

To hedge against shrunken hardgoods profits, shops are increasingly relying on softgoods and shoe sales. In a recent survey of 40 shops across the U.S., SKATEboarding Business asked how the role of softgoods has changed over the last year. The results suggest that skate shops are realizing better profits from clothing and shoes than from decks, trucks, and wheels, and are reallocating floor space accordingly.

Over half of the shops we spoke to reported selling an average of 26 percent more softgoods than last year, while hardgoods sales fell fourteen percent. Seventy-five percent reported an increase in the amount of softgoods they carry, covering an average of 46 percent of their sales area. In comparison, 63 percent reported an increase in the amount of shoes they carry, covering an average of sixteen percent of their sales area. At Jer’s Boardshop in Upland, California, Owner Jeremy Lopez says he carries about ten different clothing lines, and that he doesn’t have room in his store to stock all of his inventory: “We have big inventory levels, so we have a huge storage unit for overstock.”

Softgoods are helping shops meet payroll and-God forbid-make a profit, and it would seem to follow that the companies producing popular clothing lines should be focused on increasing their share of this growing market. So when Circus Distribution announced last fall that it had sold its Droors clothing and Dub outerwear brands, it left the rest of the industry somewhat bewildered. Why would Circus sell such a respected snowboard-outerwear line and the most popular skateboard-clothing brand*?

With clothing generally producing better returns than the hardgoods category, only shoes have proven to be more profitable. And that, says Circus President Ken Block, is exactly the point. Without Dub and Droors, Circus is able to focus more on DC Shoe Co. and develop a larger clothing line under that brand name.

Relocating Dub And Droors

It was Circus’ Controller, Clayton Blehm, who first realized that the company was spending more time and money developing its softgoods lines than it was on its more-profitable shoe line. Block says that simple math convinced them to sell the brands. “It was a lot more time and a lot more effort to develop those two lines than it was just to do DC,” he says. “And DC really was where our bread and butter is. We decided that instead of doing three things okay, we’d take DC and make it the best that we could, to concentrate all of our efforts on that.”

But Block and Damon Way, who cofounded and designed the Dub and Droors brands, haven’t divested themselves entirely. They joined with buyer World Industries to form Merge, Inc., the new home of Dub and Droors. At Merge, Block and Way help direct the brands, although their duties at Circus still command the majority of their time. “We’re basically kept on to keep the historical direction and creative input in there,” sa Block.

The ABCs Of DC

At Circus, Block and Way are busy with the DC lines of shoes, clothing, and snowboard boots. While it doesn’t approach the breadth of the Droors line, DC clothing is still designed by Damon Way and Sung Choi, and offers many staple and specialty products at various pricepoints. “We’ve already put more pieces into the DC clothing line, and definitely had a bit more time now that the other lines are out of here to really concentrate on pricepoints and filling the whole line,” says Block. “We want to make it a whole line-a better variety of prices and pieces in there. That’s definitely been a new emphasis.”

While staples like jeans and cargoes aren’t available, the DC clothing line currently features hats, caps, beanies, jackets, cut-and-sew tops, shorts, and warm-up suits, plus accessories like insoles, laces, socks, backpacks, and bags.

Another change for Circus is the hiring of field reps who will work with shops and increase the company’s presence on the retail front. “We’re trying to make our program as complete as possible,” says Block. “In the past we just made a catalog and sent it out to people, and hoped that they’d buy-and we were at the trade shows. Now we’re taking that one step further by getting the reps out there to help us do the in-store displays and make sure we’re in every shop how we should be.”

DC’s shoe program and the Circus staff, says Block, was almost immediately affected by the sale of the clothing brands: “It’s already having a really good effect on the people down in our creative department. Instead of concentrating on three different lines, we’re all concentrating on one, as a unit.”

Merging Worlds

Merge Inc., established as a partnership between World Industries, Ken Block, and Damon Way, is administered by its own management staff and represented by an in-house sales force as well as outside field reps. Merge General Manager Tim Haley says that the company’s mission statement is for Droors to be the number-one clothing brand in skate stores in the next year. “We now have assets and resources that Circus didn’t have,” he says. “We have a newfound focus in what we need to achieve and how to achieve those goals. And we have the outside staff and inside staff to be able to achieve that.”

Under Merge, Dub and Droors will evolve much as the brands have in the past, says Team Manager Doug Proodian: “We’re gonna pick up with what Ken and Damon were doing and take it to another level. We’re gonna be able to focus 100 percent of our attention, whereas they had DC also.”

Merge has retained the same design team that worked with Way on Droors, and will also release a new Dub technical streetwear line. To do that, Haley says he’ll have to change people’s impression of Dub as a strictly snowboard-apparel line: “We will probably change some of the moniker. Instead of `Dub Snowboard Apparel,’ it’ll be `Dub Technical Apparel.’ The options there are much greater down the road.”

Cut And Sew Tectonics

As more skateboard companies seek refuge under the softgoods and footwear umbrellas, new brands are having to jump into the game with more momentum than the average T-shirt-and-hat startup. Scott Tutak opened Just Skateboards in Northwood, Ohio two years ago, and only recently began carrying cut-and-sew lines like Matix and Fourstar. He says that he’s open to new brands, as long as they’re effectively marketing themselves and servicing shops well. “It just depends on what kind of stuff it is, and who’s riding it,” he says. “It can’t just be some big company trying to sell to Generation X-for me they have to be supporting skateboarding, too.”

Increased competition demands better designs, better quality, and stronger marketing from the brands vying for skate-shop-rack space. “I think it’s a lot different than when we started out in 1992 with Droors,” says Block. “There was a lot less competition back then. When we started off with clothes, there were just the skateboard companies making clothes, and then there was Droors. Nowadays there’re a lot more people jumping into it. I think there’s a lot more competition. So the market itself has totally changed.”

Block sees much more sophistication within the skateboard-softgoods market-both in the manufacturers and the consumers: “Skateboard companies have gotten a lot smarter with how they sell their clothing. And I think a lot of the kids who walk into a skate shop and want to buy a piece of clothing really want to buy a piece of skate clothing that associates them with companies whose images they like. They’re skateboarders, and that’s the kind of product that they want to wear.”

New brands, Block says, have the challenge of building the image and the teams that the established companies have, and quickly traversing the learning curve without making any fatal mistakes: “It’s definitely a market that is only so big, and there are a lot of brands already in there. So for someone trying to come in and take business away from Droors, Fourstar, and World, it’s gotta be difficult to break in and really do a decent amount of sales to make it work.”

A Through #

Alyasha Owerka Moore learned design as a young skater in Brooklyn, New York in the late 80s. After working for some major clothing companies, Droors and New York-based Mecca among them, he packaged his ideas and presented them to Mecca’s parent company, International News, in Spring 1998. By September he had the seed money and began assembling the staff he needed to fulfill his vision. The office finally furnished, and having shipped its first line, downtown San Diego’s Alphanumeric is in constant contact with International News in Manhattan, its manufacturing facility in Hong Kong, and the distribution center in Washington state. Moore dreamed big, and straight out of the gate, Alphanumeric has assumed the upright posture of a contender.

One of the first members of the Alphanumeric management team Moore recruited was Director of Marketing and Promotions Sal Masakela, whose experience with other companies in the skate and snowboard industries brings a tempered sobriety to the hype that can overwhelm any new company. “I think that if this was a garage start-up, and we all had to scrape our pennies together to start this thing, the concerns would be there,” he says. “But the one thing we have from International News is a good long-term commitment as far as seeing the brand grow. This IN is a company that’s been in the clothing business for 23 years.”

Masakela feels that the size and resources of International News and the experience in this particular market that he and the management team bring to the company will help Alphanumeric quickly establish itself. “The experience is definitely gonna make a huge difference for us,” says Masakela. “We all come from skateboard clothing companies, we all came from headaches that these people have figured out with 23 years of being strictly about garments and clothes.”

At Alphanumeric’s San Diego office, Moore and his staff of designers have finished their secondline of men’s and women’s urban technical wear to show at the spring ASR Trade Expo. Designer OmarQuimbao describes it as “life-inspired” rather than specifically skate, snow, or anything tangible. “We definitely have influences in other markets,” he says. “It’s like Northface-that same market will go to Northface, but Northface doesn’t chase anybody. If they like us for who we are and what we do, that’s cool.”

“I think WARPmagazine is a prime example of what’s going on-it’s this melding of scenes,” says Moore. “There’s more gray area-it’s less defined all the way around now. The majority of snowboarders skate, and vice versa.”

Alphanumeric will offer its lines through boutiques as well as skate/snow/surf shops. Masakela says that the goal is to establish fewer accounts that will carry the line deeper, and to use this exclusivity t there were just the skateboard companies making clothes, and then there was Droors. Nowadays there’re a lot more people jumping into it. I think there’s a lot more competition. So the market itself has totally changed.”

Block sees much more sophistication within the skateboard-softgoods market-both in the manufacturers and the consumers: “Skateboard companies have gotten a lot smarter with how they sell their clothing. And I think a lot of the kids who walk into a skate shop and want to buy a piece of clothing really want to buy a piece of skate clothing that associates them with companies whose images they like. They’re skateboarders, and that’s the kind of product that they want to wear.”

New brands, Block says, have the challenge of building the image and the teams that the established companies have, and quickly traversing the learning curve without making any fatal mistakes: “It’s definitely a market that is only so big, and there are a lot of brands already in there. So for someone trying to come in and take business away from Droors, Fourstar, and World, it’s gotta be difficult to break in and really do a decent amount of sales to make it work.”

A Through #

Alyasha Owerka Moore learned design as a young skater in Brooklyn, New York in the late 80s. After working for some major clothing companies, Droors and New York-based Mecca among them, he packaged his ideas and presented them to Mecca’s parent company, International News, in Spring 1998. By September he had the seed money and began assembling the staff he needed to fulfill his vision. The office finally furnished, and having shipped its first line, downtown San Diego’s Alphanumeric is in constant contact with International News in Manhattan, its manufacturing facility in Hong Kong, and the distribution center in Washington state. Moore dreamed big, and straight out of the gate, Alphanumeric has assumed the upright posture of a contender.

One of the first members of the Alphanumeric management team Moore recruited was Director of Marketing and Promotions Sal Masakela, whose experience with other companies in the skate and snowboard industries brings a tempered sobriety to the hype that can overwhelm any new company. “I think that if this was a garage start-up, and we all had to scrape our pennies together to start this thing, the concerns would be there,” he says. “But the one thing we have from International News is a good long-term commitment as far as seeing the brand grow. This IN is a company that’s been in the clothing business for 23 years.”

Masakela feels that the size and resources of International News and the experience in this particular market that he and the management team bring to the company will help Alphanumeric quickly establish itself. “The experience is definitely gonna make a huge difference for us,” says Masakela. “We all come from skateboard clothing companies, we all came from headaches that these people have figured out with 23 years of being strictly about garments and clothes.”

At Alphanumeric’s San Diego office, Moore and his staff of designers have finished their secondline of men’s and women’s urban technical wear to show at the spring ASR Trade Expo. Designer OmarQuimbao describes it as “life-inspired” rather than specifically skate, snow, or anything tangible. “We definitely have influences in other markets,” he says. “It’s like Northface-that same market will go to Northface, but Northface doesn’t chase anybody. If they like us for who we are and what we do, that’s cool.”

“I think WARPmagazine is a prime example of what’s going on-it’s this melding of scenes,” says Moore. “There’s more gray area-it’s less defined all the way around now. The majority of snowboarders skate, and vice versa.”

Alphanumeric will offer its lines through boutiques as well as skate/snow/surf shops. Masakela says that the goal is to establish fewer accounts that will carry the line deeper, and to use this exclusivity to draw customers into those stores: “Even now we’re not gonna be limited strictly to skate shops, because I think that would be limiting our potential as a brand. From a marketing standpoint, we’re always gonna be about skateboarding, snowboarding-about that lifestyle. So I think that as long as that is authentic and true, you can sell beyond the spectrum of just the skate shop, and still be taken seriously by the hardcore consumer.”

Masakela says that for now Alphanumeric is keeping its products on-shore while he and Sales Manager Mirko Mangum focus on building the name domestically. “We’re not even selling to Canada yet,” he says. “If it’s successful here, and we grow it properly, then that’s just gonna give us a good authentic name, as opposed to flash-in-the-pan. I think that’s what’s happened to so many companies. We want to be authentic everywhere we are.”

Boy From The Hood

As the new skateboard fashion began to evolve in the early 90s, one by-product was the introduction of separate brands for softgoods. In 1997 Climax Distribution launched Stamina clothing, a company founded by Neighborhood skateboards’ Julio De La Cruz, who’s since been developing both brands with clean, technical graphics and styles.

Born and raised in East Los Angeles, De La Cruz is a prime example of what skateboarding can do for a young determined mind. An animated talker with a disarming sense of humor, he seems an unlikely success story. But while Climax deletes other hardgoods and clothing lines from its catalog, Neighborhood and Stamina have become its flagship brands.

Having designed clothing for other companies over the years, De La Cruz developed his idea of a technical athletic line with an urban flair. With his experience, De La Cruz knew before establishing Stamina what he was in for. “Clothing is the hardest thing you can get into,” he says. “In a hardgoods company, all you have to do is hook up a good team, a good manager, and a good filmer. The stuff is the same all the time, but clothing changes.”

De La Cruz wanted to make clothes that contrasted the austere and strictly utilitarian styles of many skateboard-clothing lines. “We wanted to have a clothing brand that reflected a cleaner style,” he says. “It’s something you can wear to a party, and it looks more professional than your standard thrashed jeans.”

Being unique, he realizes, isn’t enough. To make it-to be in fashion-you have to carefully orchestrate all the elements that make up the company. “You gotta know what you’re doing in everything,” says De La Cruz. “It’s like making a movie-you gotta have a good producer, good script, good actors, good marketing. All that.”

One critical element, he says, is an instinct for style and trends-knowing when and how to produce something: “You might make an item that doesn’t sell. Then two months later it catches on and the rest of the industry is all over it. A lot of it is timing.”

Timing and price. Skateboarding has never been an elitist sport, and the general demographic-young teens-don’t have the disposable income that working teens and adults do. “A lot of shops are owned by skateboarders, not millionaires,” says De La Cruz. “They want to buy stuff they can sell.”

The Matix Matrix

DVS shoe teammates Daewon Song and Tim Gavin joined forces with Podium Distribution in the summer of 1998 to launch Matix, an athletic line of clothing that launched last September at ASR.

While Matix isn’t the first company to focus on quality, the young label is small enough to change with the evolving market, and packs a strong enough team to break into the crowd and stand out.

“We’ve been seeing a trend in skate clothing companies-what they did wrong, we try to do right,” says Matix’s Michi Sakurai. “Skate clothing lines overlook quality, and we’re trying to prevent that with Matix. Young skaters can’t afford to buy a nice fleece jacket and have it fall apart on them.”

The Matix staff, sh