Spring 2003 Product Preview

More fashion-driven styles accented with new interpretations of the free-flowing bohemian look of the 1970s are what retailers can expect to see as manufacturers head into the Action Sports Retailer Expo to showcase their Spring ’03 lines. From eyewear to footwear and everything in between, the emphasis has shifted from tech and urban back to earthy comfort — evidenced by denim’s renaissance, custom-looking accents, and warmer color palettes.

Many feel this particular fashion cycle is as important as any in the industry’s history, coming at a time when surfing is receiving unprecedented mainstream attention. Major television advertising campaigns, music videos, and a new wave of major-studio movies are banking on surfing’s allure, while malls across America are filling up with skateparks and faux-surf shops like Abercrombie & Fitch’s Hollister stores.

A Los Angeles Times story announced in June that “surfwear is riding a new wave of popularity,” citing indicators such as Quiksilver’s higher-than-expected second-quarter earnings in 2002, and Ocean Pacific’s forecasted 40-percent sales jump this year thanks in large part to its retro Op Classic line.

If the rest of the world is indeed paying unprecedented attention to surfing and its lifestyle, it comes at a time when surfing’s own fashion cycle happens to be embracing its root influences — individuality, self-expression, unconventionality — after a prolonged urban detour.

“The push is really going toward a more relaxed lifestyle and appreciation of the past,” says Jason Blaick, vice president of design for Quiksilver. “Not having everything so modern and tech and stiff. Everything is a little more used, lived in, and relaxed. Like when the millennium hit, everybody did all this tech stuff that wasn’t true to the roots and lifestyle of surfing. Now we’re looking back into our own archives and pulling out things that are the real deal — not made up or contrived.”

If comfortable authenticity is this year’s fashion battle cry, then its flag is made of denim. Always a mainstay fabric, today’s denim is exploding with a new burst of washes, colors, and fits. Denim permeates the spectrum of the spring lines in both men’s and women’s categories.

A Look At the Men’s Lines

Pants. Denim has always been a strong category,” says Ezekiel Designer Anthony Yamamoto. “We now have the resources to get the denim look and quality we’re striving for and take our denim program to the next level. Denim is the true basis of Americana style, and every generation has its own take on it. Nowadays, when kids are skating, if you fall wearing a pair of twill or cotton/nylon pants, they’re going to rip. Whereas with denim, if you fall, when you get back up your jeans will have more character. It’s functional and, most of all, comfortable.”

The majority of Counter Culture’s men’s spring pants line will be denim, according to Founder Pat Fraley. “Denim drove our fall and holiday lines, and I don’t see that changing at all. We’re evolving and experimenting with denim even more, whether it’s with a wash or a fit.” Silhouettes are continuing to slim down, but Fraley says Counter Culture will offer slim, regular, and baggy styles: “Kids are much hipper now, some wear slimmer stuff, others still wear baggy stuff. That tells me that a more sophisticated fashion influence has made its way into our market.” Complementing CC’s denim line will be a selection of chinos sporting khaki, earth, and olive-brown tones.

Volcom Design Director Neil Harrison says both pants and tops are slimming down. “We build custom clothes for our skate-team guys like Geoff Rowley and Brian Sumner, and they want them tighter and tighter,” says Harrison. “They’re definitely going back to the old-style skate-rock look. It’s probably a backlash from the urban style, things got so baggy, and once the mass market gets a hold of it, the skaters want to be different from everyone se.” Volcom is also restyling its chinos with asymmetrical seamline styling for a signature look.

O’Neill is going dramatic in its line of eleven denim-jean styles for spring — including potassium-destructed washes. “Our new ‘junkyard’ wash actually looks like you’ve been working in the junkyard and got rust and oils all over you,” says Design Director Benji Thrasher. “You’ll still see some of the more blended washes, like a nice blended whisker sand wash.

Quiksilver’s Bleick says the war in Afghanistan has influenced a trend toward military styles, not just in colors like browns and olives, but in construction. “We’re using the same tough, 100-percent cotton fabrications {the military} uses, similar pocket styling, detailing, and stitching. We’ll be constructing pants with a gauge of thread that’s twice as heavy and strong. The overall look and construction will be better and stronger than we’ve ever done before.”

Shirts. Individuality is a key theme in both men’s and women’s shirt lines. “It’s almost like doing one-offs at home,” explains Billabong Vice President Of Merchandising And Design Steve Wilson. “What we’re doing both in knit stripes and woven plaids is subtle printing details within those stripes and plaids. For example, we’ll print a slightly bowed stripe across a yarn-died stripe with some other crafty artwork on it.”

Counter Culture’s Fraley says they’re also spinning new takes on the traditional knit stripes with screen printing “to make it fresher and a little younger,” he says. “On the woven side we’re also doing things like punk-rock graffiti-type prints being screened all over, which ties back into our marketing of being nonconforming and outside the box.”

According to Thrasher, “Prints and woven shirts are still where it’s at. This area’s been slow for a while, but you’re seeing more people wearing cool conversation prints — not the typical hibiscus print, but more abstract or tattoo-type prints with a surf feel. Free-flowing art is important.”

Rusty Merchandising Manager Rick Lohr says Rusty is expanding its knits and wovens lines with different color combinations: “We want to give kids the opportunity to define themselves by the colors they wear.”

“Multicolor is the trend for us,” adds Bleick of Quiksilver. “In our plaid shirts we’re mixing as many colors as possible. Before it might be a light-blue and navy-blue mix, but now we’re mixing up to six or eight colors into one plaid. Almost like colors you wouldn’t put together, so it’s not so planned out or contrived. It gives the garment more fun and energy than it did before.”

Ocean Pacific’s Dino Sakelliou — who works on both Op Classic and its more edgy Seven2 line — says the new look is clean without being too perfect: “We’re trying something different, like our denim and twill jackets. It’s got a Bohemian feel, like someone made it himself, but not to the point of being ridiculous.”

Walk Shorts. A few years ago, no category screamed “tech” more than shorts, especially cargoes, with their fluorescent bungees cinching a gaudy number of pockets. It was enough to make a safari hunter blush. The bungees may be gone, but the essence of tech — functionality — is still priority among designers.

“Cargoes are still functional with the youth lifestyle, but they’re more understated,” says Fraley. “There was an overkill mode there, but pockets are still functional — kids still need places to stash their phones and MP3 players.”

This year’s Lost walking shorts are “cleaner and a little more fashionable,” says Design Director Jim Zapala. “All of a sudden the cool guys didn’t want to wear cargoes anymore ’cause you could get them anywhere. So they went to Dickies or a real plain workwear kind of silhouette. Out of that came variations of the chino pants and different looks on very clean walk shorts. We’re simplifying the techy thing with different types of front pockets.”

Volcom is continuing its popular Scout series with an outdoor, surplus vibe, along with variations on the staple chino style. “We’ve kept one cargo in the line,” says Harrison. “They’re still all right but not our main focus. The whole urban wave made cargoes popular, but it’s going back to well-fitting garments. It’s like anti-tech.”

Rusty is continuing to expand its retro-poly “cut-off pants” look it started last summer. Rusty is also working on army-surplus styles, according to Lohr.

Ezekiel is revamping its men’s shorts line and getting back to basics, says Yamamoto. “Some people say cargoes are out, but we believe everyone has one good cargo short they rely on. We came up with a really streamlined, basic polycotton short, but with technical features like hidden on-seam zippers, and cell-phone pockets. And dark denim shorts have been doing great for us.”

Boardshorts. Even boardshorts aren’t immune to fashion trends, as designers tweak traditional prints, modify anatomical panels, and improve stitching techniques. Brand identity is also key in this area — manufacturers aren’t shying away from incorporating graffiti- or tattoo-influenced logos and other brand icons on their boardshorts in the name of art.

“We are using floral prints but making it a little more futuristic with a pixel blur, or a camo print that’s pixelized,” says Ezekiel’s Yamamoto. “It’s the classic look but flipped a little bit.”

Quiksilver Swim Design Director Eric Diamond says boardshort design is becoming more streamlined and stealth by replacing inseams, side seams and Velcro with comp-stretch fabrics, thick Lycra insets/flys and perforated paneling for air and water “flow through” effects. “These features will be incorporated in our new ABT {Applied Boardriding Technologies} line, which lead to the ultimate ergonomic travel trunks,” says Diamond.

Quik’s boardshort colors are less white and more silver grays, richer reds, black, and “Buddha Blues” with hits of color pop art like motocross, as well as comp stripes and larger florals with a handmade look.

Designer Jim Zapala of Lost says he doesn’t believe there is a totally new direction in boardshort prints. “I think people are going back to traditional swimwear prints,” he says. “A lot of stores are telling us that all they’re selling are florals, and I think that’s because there isn’t really a new hot thing. We just try to put a lot of humor in our prints. We don’t sell traditional looks. We can’t go out and buy a flower print, color it up in navy and red and expect to sell it. We’ve got to really tweak ’em and give ’em a Lost twist.”

Advances in zipper technology are replacing bulky Velcro closures, some of which required two hands just to access your bar of wax. “These zippers are small but durable, and aesthetically look really clean,” says Fraley. “They have locking pulls so they stay closed, and we’re hiding the openings on seams so it looks like there’s no pocket.”

Volcom is also going to a short zipper fly in place of Velcro and designing a more ergonomic cut that includes improved seamlines to eliminate seam rub. Volcom’s high-performance Amphibulator features stretch fabric in the front and a durable three-ply Supplex in the back, with side-seam window panels that allow water to flow through the trunks, making them more hydrodynamic. “When you make trunks out of nylons and polyesters, they don’t let air or water in or out, and the trunks balloon up,” explains Harrison.

Touchstones For Women

As with the men, denim is a key of the women’s/juniors’ lines for Spring 2003. The Bohemian or hand-made look — just don’t use the word “hippie” — will also be prevalent, as designers find new ways to interpret the free-flowing 70s.

“In the surf industry we speak fondly of ‘classic’ or ‘vintage,’ and many companies are issuing styles and graphics from the past,” says Ezekiel Women’s Designer Maia Huckeba Andersen. “What’s old is new againntinuing its popular Scout series with an outdoor, surplus vibe, along with variations on the staple chino style. “We’ve kept one cargo in the line,” says Harrison. “They’re still all right but not our main focus. The whole urban wave made cargoes popular, but it’s going back to well-fitting garments. It’s like anti-tech.”

Rusty is continuing to expand its retro-poly “cut-off pants” look it started last summer. Rusty is also working on army-surplus styles, according to Lohr.

Ezekiel is revamping its men’s shorts line and getting back to basics, says Yamamoto. “Some people say cargoes are out, but we believe everyone has one good cargo short they rely on. We came up with a really streamlined, basic polycotton short, but with technical features like hidden on-seam zippers, and cell-phone pockets. And dark denim shorts have been doing great for us.”

Boardshorts. Even boardshorts aren’t immune to fashion trends, as designers tweak traditional prints, modify anatomical panels, and improve stitching techniques. Brand identity is also key in this area — manufacturers aren’t shying away from incorporating graffiti- or tattoo-influenced logos and other brand icons on their boardshorts in the name of art.

“We are using floral prints but making it a little more futuristic with a pixel blur, or a camo print that’s pixelized,” says Ezekiel’s Yamamoto. “It’s the classic look but flipped a little bit.”

Quiksilver Swim Design Director Eric Diamond says boardshort design is becoming more streamlined and stealth by replacing inseams, side seams and Velcro with comp-stretch fabrics, thick Lycra insets/flys and perforated paneling for air and water “flow through” effects. “These features will be incorporated in our new ABT {Applied Boardriding Technologies} line, which lead to the ultimate ergonomic travel trunks,” says Diamond.

Quik’s boardshort colors are less white and more silver grays, richer reds, black, and “Buddha Blues” with hits of color pop art like motocross, as well as comp stripes and larger florals with a handmade look.

Designer Jim Zapala of Lost says he doesn’t believe there is a totally new direction in boardshort prints. “I think people are going back to traditional swimwear prints,” he says. “A lot of stores are telling us that all they’re selling are florals, and I think that’s because there isn’t really a new hot thing. We just try to put a lot of humor in our prints. We don’t sell traditional looks. We can’t go out and buy a flower print, color it up in navy and red and expect to sell it. We’ve got to really tweak ’em and give ’em a Lost twist.”

Advances in zipper technology are replacing bulky Velcro closures, some of which required two hands just to access your bar of wax. “These zippers are small but durable, and aesthetically look really clean,” says Fraley. “They have locking pulls so they stay closed, and we’re hiding the openings on seams so it looks like there’s no pocket.”

Volcom is also going to a short zipper fly in place of Velcro and designing a more ergonomic cut that includes improved seamlines to eliminate seam rub. Volcom’s high-performance Amphibulator features stretch fabric in the front and a durable three-ply Supplex in the back, with side-seam window panels that allow water to flow through the trunks, making them more hydrodynamic. “When you make trunks out of nylons and polyesters, they don’t let air or water in or out, and the trunks balloon up,” explains Harrison.

Touchstones For Women

As with the men, denim is a key of the women’s/juniors’ lines for Spring 2003. The Bohemian or hand-made look — just don’t use the word “hippie” — will also be prevalent, as designers find new ways to interpret the free-flowing 70s.

“In the surf industry we speak fondly of ‘classic’ or ‘vintage,’ and many companies are issuing styles and graphics from the past,” says Ezekiel Women’s Designer Maia Huckeba Andersen. “What’s old is new again, and youth are finding excitement in the old classics — literally reworking them into something new. In the juniors’ market, this trend is being seen in the popularity of homemade-looking styles and handcrafted elements.”

Tops.“We’re seeing real bohemian, ethnic-looking embroideries all over the shirts,” says Dana Dartez, VP of design for Roxy. “Woven shirts for juniors are really coming on strong, they’re starting to hit now and are expected to go even bigger in the spring. Look for tunic ties and embroideries, and Western shirts with eyelet fabrications. Everybody is looking at a simpler, more casual attitude — whether it’s because of September 11 or not. It’s a perfect fashion cycle for Roxy because the feeling is comfortable and casual, yet still fashionable and on trend.”

Billabong is also focusing on spot embroideries and other novelty treatments to attain a laid-back, yet fashionable surf vibe, according to Billabong Juniors Design Director Cathy Paik. “The garments are mirroring what’s going on with denim, with different washes, seam details, and a more worn-down look. On our lightweight twills, we’ve been doing an over-dye program, where the styles are pigment-dyed to give them a more washed-down look.”

Lost Juniors’ Designer Karin Trevino says the popularity of wovens has helped bolster Lost’s line. “It’s a peasanty look that has trickled down from higher fashion — the blousey, lace, girly stuff with a lot of embroidery. The big colors now are turquoise and very earthy tones. Corals, browns, and whites are hot.”

Rusty Juniors Designer Erika Marini says, “In tops, sleeves, and fabrications we’re seeing nice draping effects. Blousons, tunics, and shirring details will all be important. Pockets, bleach washes, raw hemlines will also be prevalent throughout the line. Sleeve details on tops will be split, merrow-edged, ruffled, and draped.”

Bottoms. “Denim has been big in the past, but now there’s great washes and wiskering and accents going on,” says Roxy’s Dartez. “In women’s jeans, it’s gotta be really low rise, sitting really low on the hips. Stretch definitely plays a key, and anything with detailed back pockets — whether it’s an embroidered butterfly or patchwork. There’s got to be graphic detailing on it. It looks very homespun, very vintage, like in the 70s when your mom embroidered a butterfly on your jeans. It’s gotta look like it’s original, not manufactured.”

Tough fabrics such as canvas and twill are being approached with the same enthusiasm as denim. “Everything will be worked — hem finishes, washes, engineered treatments,” says Andersen, “along with fun stitching elements, offbeat seam placements, tinting and distressing.”

O’Neill’s Monica Martinez says cargo/military influenced styles are back in pants, combined with low-rise profile. “It’s all about the low rise now,” she says. “There’s no turning back. That old rise is so forgotten. We’re also seeing the revival of the hippie spirit with slight bell hems decked with crochet trims, embroidery, interesting seaming in the bum area, and engineering seaming in fabrications other than denim.”

Shorts And Boardshorts. As in other categories, shorts will feature traditional lifestyle prints manipulated with new finishes, washes, and accents for a vintage, 70s feel. Billabong is featuring silhouettes with a three-inch inseam and a new longer “boyfriend” silhouette with a low rise and knee length.

Footwear

As in other categories, the trend in footwear is moving away from tech and toward casual, with plenty of retro influences thrown in. Major brands such as Nike and adidas, going retro with marketing campaigns and reissues of old sneaker classics, are having an impact on surf and skate footwear. So is tech completely dead? Hardly. Many of the previous features are still there, just less obvious than before.

“Things were overdesigned for a while,” admits Wei-En Chang, creative