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Vans has legitimate roots in surf. Surfers wore Vans shoes even before skaters did, and Vans is still the No. 1 footwear brand in many surf shops.
The company also owns the prestigious Vans Triple Crown of Surfing.
Vans is further demonstrating its commitment to surf with the recent signing of the three Gudauskas brothers to an apparel sponsorship contract, in addition to the brothers’ previous footwear sponsorship.
Now, Vans plans to make more products for the surf market. For Spring 2011, Vans is going deeper and wider in nearly every apparel category.
Vans Vice President of Marketing Doug Palladini said the time is right to commit to the category.
“The consumer demand for our brand has never been higher and it hasn’t abated,” Doug said. “If we can’t do it now, I don’t know if we will ever be able to.”
And while there is a perception in the industry that footwear companies don’t do well with apparel and apparel companies don’t do well with footwear, Vans is better positioned than most to break that myth.
“We are owned by the largest apparel company in the world,” Doug said, referring to parent company VF Corp. “We should be able to figure it out at this point. We have the financial strength and the sourcing and supply chain (expertise) behind us.”
The biggest challenge is to make product that reflects Vans DNA rather than producing “me too” apparel in an industry that is already crowded with surf brands, Doug said.
He describes the Vans DNA as classic, authentic, original and alternative.
“We hope when people walk into a store, they can see our (clothing) and say, ‘Oh, that’s Vans,’” he said.
Vans already makes apparel, of course. It has a skate apparel line, which is denim and work wear driven, Doug said, and it is continuing to grow.
There is also a Joel Tudor signature collection inspired by the Vans-sponsored surfer.
But beyond that, the surf apparel offering is limited.
“We make boardshorts now, but it’s so small, it’s almost not worth talking about, Doug said.
Even with its smaller apparel range, Vans has had some successes, including with wovens.
But Vans now plans to go deep enough to fill an entire Vans section with pants, shirts, hats, socks, boardshorts, dresses and more. The brand hopes to partner with key retailers on Vans shop-in-shops.
Doug believes Vans apparel can add some of the same freshness to stores that new brands offer, but with the added benefit of being marketed and supported by one of the largest players in action sports.
Some retailers are already carrying a large selection of apparel, including Coastal Edge, Jack’s and Surf Ride.
Coastal E dge owner Dee Nachnani said he is very committed to all categories of the brand.
“Vans has been an integral part of our (floor) for the past several years and has steadily grown year after year,” he said. “Customers have positively responded well to the brand since day one.
“We carry a large selection of Vans because they are 100% committed to telling their story in every facet of their business, from marketing to merchandising; they are very involved in the details of our mutual growth. It is through this partnership that we have found such success in the brand,” Dee said.
While Vans plan to make all categories, it will also put a lot of resources behind its core competencies – wovens, core basics, including denim, and plain T-shirts, girls fashion tops and band collaborations.
To support its bigger apparel push, Vans has both added staff and raised the quality of its apparel team.
(Right: the apparel design department at Vans headquarters.)
It also helps to have a new president, Kevin Bailey, who previously served as president of Lucky Brand, so he knows the apparel game.
Kevin also has deep experience in retail so knows how buyers think. Vans VP of Apparel Michael Schulam comes from Vans' sister company The North Face and has a lot of technical expertise.
(Right: Vans VP of Apparel Michael Schulam.)
In addition to making product that stands out in a crowded field, another challenge for Vans is making sure the styling, price points and quality are competitive with apparel company peers, Doug said.
“They are always raising the bar,” he said.