Launching a skateboard footwear company in the post-9/11 economy is a potentially risky thing to do. However, launching a skateboard footwear company from France during these times might be even bolder. But Link doesn’t see it as so and isn’t afraid to brave the turbulent skateboard-shoe market.
Link footwear began as a project between adidas and Salomon Skis and Snowboards. However, in early February 2002, France-based Cliché skateboards Owner Jérémie Daclin took over. adidas and Salomon had been developing materials and new ways to enhance shock absorption for a year and half but knew they were lacking experience when it came to launching the brand and creating a solid team. They were close to dropping the idea entirely but decided instead to offer it to Daclin. After hearing the proposal, Daclin readily obliged.
By the time he got behind the wheel, adidas and Salomon already had the first batch of shoes at the sample stage. “We had to go in there and make a lot of changes with materials and drop the tooling of an outsole we weren’t happy with,” says Al Boglio, marketing manager for Link. When asked if he felt taking the shoe brand over was a risky proposal, Boglio continues, “The project was proposed to us, and we knew deep down that we were capable of making it work. I don’t think it was risky at all.”
The company’s key players (aside from the adidas group, which takes care of all of Link’s manufacturing), include Shoe Designer Jack Bertholon; Graphic Designer Axel Bourg; Team Manager Brett Margaritis; Reglan Brewer (who works for adidas) does all the liaison work with the factory in China; and Madeline Rouillot is the resident number-cruncher. Since all sales and distribution is through the Cliché network, Boglio deals with marketing, and Daclin oversees the entire operation.
Boasting one of the most internationally diverse footwear teams in modern skateboarding means Link is present on almost every corner of the globe. Link’s riders include J.B. Gillet from France; DGK pro Marcus McBride from the States; UK import to the U.S.A., Alex Moul; France’s Lucas Puig, and Junnosuke Yonesaka from Japan.
Gillet has the first pro-model shoe from Link and is excited to be in the same location as his shoe sponsor. “I feel more involved because the office is not far from where I live, and I’ve known the people over there for a long time, so communication is easier,” says Gillet.
McBride doesn’t feel riding for a European shoe sponsor is a risky career move at all. “I thought it would be something different, something new,” he says. “Basically, they flew me out to France, and I was psyched to see what they had to offer.” When asked the pros and cons of an overseas shoe sponsor, McBride replies, “Just getting my boxes on time, that’s all I really worry about.”
Market, Mentality, And Location
Link’s ideology is simply to come up with clean and original designs, and both Boglio and Daclin are fully aware of the inherent challenge in this task. Everyone behind the shoe’s designs and graphics test and skate the shoes themselves, and feedback from the riders is a must.
Boglio feels Link’s image is what separates them from the rest of the footwear market for now. “The shoes have just recently shipped (August 2003) to shops worldwide for the first time, so it’s a bit early to tell,” he says. As far as any other European shoe companies, Boglio feels their international team is what lets them stand out: “(It’s) a lot stronger with marketing and a better-rounded team.”
As far as being one of the few European shoe brands, Boglio feels that Link’s main competition is the same as any other shoe brands’ competition. “It’s definitely a tough and saturated market, and we’re trying to create a niche to position ourselves right,” he says. “Being away from the States definitely generates interest.”
For the time being, Link hasn’t found any partners in the U.S.A. to help them effectively handle distribution, so in the meantime they’re working on other options. France is the strongest country for the brand, with the United Kingdom and Finland trailing. Link is also slowly working its way into Japan and Korea.
Australia is strong and doing well for Link-not surprising, considering it’s also Boglio’s native country. “We’ve got a great distributor, which is essential to Link being present there,” says Boglio. “Harry from GW Distribution knows the market very well, and I value any feedback from him. We’ll have a shoe come out for 2004, which was based on certain ideas he had and wanted to introduce to Australia.” Link also has Canada on board for 2004.
Link plans to be a truly worldwide shoe company in the near future-worldwide, but proudly based in Europe. With the first J.B Gillet pro model dropping in Spring 2004, this is an exciting time for Link. A promo video is planned for release before Christmas and will contain footage from all of Link’s summer tours. Additionally, they plan on rounding out the team with a few more riders. At this point, with Link being such a unique exception (both location- and teamrider-wise) in the skateboarding footwear realm, the brand’s impact is limitless.