By Steven Threndyle
There is a major reason why British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest has been the epicenter for North American snowboarding since the mid-80s. It pukes, dumps, and precipitates (not always as blower pow, alas) from Halloween right on through till early May – and the snow is heavy so those narrow planks (aka 'skis') just don't cut it. At places like Grouse Mountain, Mount Seymour, Mount Baker, and Whistler, trails have been hewn from out of the primordial rainforest, and 'boarders carve turns around gigantic, iconic trees like the Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, mountain hemlock, and western red cedar.
Hence, a decidedly woodsy vibe permeated KnowShow 12 at the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre from January 18 – 20th. KnowShow brings together retailers – many from independent shops that still make up the backbone of Canada's action sports industry – to the West Coast for three days of mid-winter show'n'tell, with a healthy mix of hardgoods and lifestyle/fashion.
KnowShow features floor space rented by mega-brands like Quiksilver, Hurley, Rip Curl, DaKine, and Lifetime Collective, but also by an emerging flood (let's keep that rain metaphor going) of Canadian designers making their mark through brands like Airhole (facemasks), Endeavor (snowboards/bindings), Herschel (packs, computer bags), Native (footwear), Sitka (clothing/lifestyle), Vivo (headwear) and Now (snowboard bindings).
Perhaps the most unique brand story belongs to Voleurz, a design house started by three University of Victoria students about five years ago. Co-founder Darren Rayner says that "we started out making videos with our friends and people started asking us if we sold anything, and, well, our shirts were pretty much hand made at the time. We threw parties, we video'd each other skiing and skateboarding and mountain biking, and our name – taken from the French "voleur"—to steal – is strictly coincidental." Voleurz' Rayner was still stunned by the massive social media sensation of his Sh*t Skiers Say YouTube video. Officially released by Whistler Blackcomb and an immediate internet sensation with over one million views, Rayner says "Ironically, there isn't a single logo in the video." Voleurz is sold primarily through independent snowboard and surf shops in France, Spain, Norway and Australia; but has also been introduced into Canadian Rip Curl stores as well.
At the Herschel Supply Company booth, sales manager Adam Ruddell proudly showed off four packs (Caliber 16 snowboard back, plus the Survey, Journey, Settlement bags) in a new Herschel x Holden collaboration. Herschel's signature contrasting pack lining sets its packs apart from the rest as do retro touches such as leather pack straps, brass buckles, and, new for 2012, hard-wearing, good looking corduroy fabric. "We've expanded from 300 to well over 400 SKUs in the last season," Ruddell says—indeed, they'd run out of lookbooks by the time that TW Business got to their booth on Friday. Herschel packs are now sold in 35 countries. "The feedback that we've been getting from retailers has been really strong," Ruddell concluded, "Our accounts tell us that we're usually one of their best-selling brands."
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Hard to believe it's only in its fourth year, but Victoria-based Sitka had another boffo show as well. And, well, why not? Taking its style cues from west coast aboriginal imagery combined with hard-working lumberjack apparel, Sitka could do for the surfboard what Canadian mega-retailer Roots did for the canoe over three decades ago. Around the corner, retail giant Quiksilver was touting its new Mountain Division line and, well, let's just say that these are your clothes if you've already got a nice beard and watch cap.
On the hardgoods side, Vancouver-based Endeavor Snowboards hosted a factory tour and party at their new world headquarters down by the waterfront in East Vancouver. Endeavor co-owner and Mount Seymour Kids pioneer Max Jenke was showing off the new premium quality Archetype boards. Endeavor's factory can crank out prototypes and "we can go from CAD drawing to cores, camber adjustment, laminating, installing edges, and topsheets within a day." Many of the new machines Endeavor is using were purchased from the bankrupt Trak/Karhu ski facility (that also built Burton snowboards for a time) in Cowansville, Quebec. "Ees an awfully clean place for a factory," said former Quebecois pro rider JF Pelchat, who was at the KnowShow representing his revolutionary NOW snowboard binding. "That's because it's not," laughed Jenke. "It's our laboratory, it has to be clean!"
Pelchat's NOW binding represents perhaps the first true innovation in snowboard binding since the Flow step in. Taking his cue from skateboard wheels, Pelchat's binding is mounted on rubber bases of varying durometer, or stiffness. The heelcup hardware is positioned to perfectly cradle the back of the boot and provide outstanding control. In fact, you can even ride the NOW binding without a highback for a truer skater feel.
Speaking of rubber, over at the Ride booth, Steve Hare was prodding the rubbery 'Slimewall' skate-inspired urethane sidewall found on the aptly named Slackcountry snowboard for 2013. This light, manuevrable beyond the ropes stick features Ride's lightweight Hempbrain™ topsheet and HighRize™ rocker technology. "Slackcountry" refers to those hike-to lines that lie tantalizingly beyond the area boundaries and doesn't require a ton of hiking to access.
Other cool stuff seen in passing was an awesome Ari Marcopolous x InCase padded pro-style camera bag collab, a Casio G-Shock watch that's apparently solar powered (not much sun during the trade show, either indoors or out), and a beanbag-filled iPad sheath by InCase. The boys in the Take 5 booth reported plenty of bookings and orders during the three day show.
For buyers seeking a more cultural experience between appointments, a storage container originally appropriated by Comune housed Throttled, an art exhibit by LA photographer Ray Gordon. Gordon's images of traditional hot rods and vintage motorcycles fit right in.
KnowShow founder/general manager Perry Pugh keeps improving what is already a well-attended show. "This time we really encouraged trade show attendees – exhibitors, buyers, and media – to push out their show experience using social media, and it was a real hit." (After all, who's more tethered to their cell phone than sales reps?)
KnowShow partnered with SBC Media, and Quiksilver to run an Instagram contest up at Grouse Mountain that was attended by over 150 guests. "We always play up the fact that we have great riding here in our backyard to the out-of-town guests. We've been really lucky with the snow for the past two years and I can see the Grouse night becoming an annual event."
Finally, it wouldn't be a KnowShow without the event's signature piece of collateral: the KnowMag, which is always a collector's item. KnowMag 12 channelled that wet West Coast vibe with a stunning photo spread by internationally-acclaimed fashion photographer Andre Paul Pinces who is now based out of Vancouver.
A rough look at the stats shows that the show occupied 85,000 feet of floor space, 1500 badges were signed out (750 to retailers/buyers, the rest to sales reps, media, and hangers-on), and a great time was had by all. Next KnowShow runs from August 9 – 11, 2012 – come on up and catch the buzz at the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre!