Hobie President Jeff Alter On The New Licensing Deal With Hurley

jeffalter_hobieHurley announced Wednesday that it was teaming up with Southern California-based brand Hobie to create a new line of men’s apparel. Based out of San Juan Capistrano, Hobie has been around since founder Hobie Alter began designing boards half a century ago. Today, the brand—which also has a strong retail presence, with five stores ranging from Newport Beach to San Clemente—continues to strengthen its position in the water sports industry with the new Hurley deal. We caught up with President Jeff Alter, the son of Hobie Alter, to discuss what this new opportunity means for the brand, how it got started, and where Alter and the Hurley crew hope to take it in the future.

How long have you been heading up Hobie? Give us a little history.

My father started Hobie back in 1950, and I started working here in the late 80s.  He’s been retired for quite a while now. My brother and I run the brand side [of the business]—We do surfboards, stand up paddle boards, and the licensing for Hobie designs.

The retail part of it is just one part of brand. We’ve been building surfboards since 1950, and gradually over the years started building different products— boats, kayaks, et cetera. The retail stores have been around since 1954. Currently we have five locations all in southern California: Dana Point, Corona Del Mar, Newport Beach, San Clemente, and our main offices in San Juan Capistrano where we license our apparel, sunglasses, and boards.
Hobie Timeline

How long have you and Bob been working on this licensing deal?

Bob [Hurley] and I have known each other for a while,  just because the industry we are in, and I’ve also known [Hurley CEO] Roger Wyett for a long time. Sort of through a collaboration with our retail stores and doing business with Hurley, we got involved with talks on licensing. We’ve done apparel in the past and have been focusing on our hardgoods products for the last three to four years. It seemed like the right time and we were looking for a good partner who could do what we wanted, and produce high-end, quality  product with innovative technical aspects. Hurley seemed like a good match, and it’s been in the works for over a year.

Why are you excited about this new partnership?

We’re an original California family brand and Hurley actually is, as well, and I think our philosophy and the way we look at business—and the sports we enjoy to participate in and hope to make better in some way—kind of mesh. I think Bob gets our brand and understands the industry very well, and obviously understands the apparel industry, and it’s just sort of easy. We get approached by lots of companies to do partnerships, many of which are from other places, like New York and other places, who might not understand it as well.

In a nutshell, we are excited and think it’s going to be a great collaboration between the two  brands. We are stoked to be with them and they are stoked to be with us.

How long has Hobie had a men’s apparel line, and why do you think it became dormant over the past three years?

We’ve been doing apparel since the 60s. Through the 80s we were really large in surf apparel and were more of a young men’s line then. The last licensee we had was  a large company that had a lot of other brands and products, and through the bad economy had some financial issues, so we chose to part ways. We sort of laid low through this economic time and with the surge of SUP, while others’ business was declining ours was growing rapidly. We just kind of pulled [apparel] off the burner for a while. But we’ve always continued to stay in it; we’ve been doing our own product through our own retail stores.

How will the design process work?

We will maintain our business and our offices here in San Juan Capistrano, but we will work with their design teams and they will set up their division for this new line on their side. We will stay focused on what we do—we’re good at what we do, and they are good at what they do.

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What resources of Hurley will you draw upon to create this new line? How will production and distribution work?

They will manage the entire production of clothing, as well as design and sales. We will draw from their technical fabrics that they have developed between themselves and Nike, such as different water and paddling shirts. Basically, they will manage this as a complete apparel line individually outside of us.

What retailers will carry the line?

It will start with a focused approach, and will be a regular clothing line with a high level of distribution and eventually—I don’t know where yet—will land in surf shops and that type of distribution.

What will the initial line consist of? Is there room for this line to expand out and include other categories?

There is still a bit of unknown, but initially it will include shorts, T-shirts, and some technical paddling shirts. It’s still kind of in its infancy. Right now, we are pretty focused on the men’s category. The Hobie customer is mainly a male customer. We have a great women’s Hobie swimwear line that ‘s doing very well, that’s outside of what we are doing with Hurley. So I think we are just going to focus on the men’s line, which is what we feel there is a place for in the market right now.

Speaking of that, do you feel that the economy has begun to turnaround? Why did it make sense to launch this now?

We definitely see that. The economy seems to be improving substantially. I think there is more and more opportunity out there, and we are  just getting back on our feet here.

You said that SUP has contributed to Hobie’s business over the past few years. What’s your take on the future for that market?

I think our brand has always built different products, toys, and fun things to do on the water, whether it was kayaks or now with stand up paddle boards. The growth of SUP has been really good for our industry, as it’s been a weird sort of way to bring the sport of surfing into inland waterways, getting more people into flat water paddling. I think it’s a great new sport that we were actually able to be involved with from the beginning, and it still has long way to go. I don’t think its going away anytime soon. It’s just been a great way to get people on the water, and we’ve done a lot of new product around it and keep moving ahead with it.