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Matuse CEO on growth, strategies, more

By Shelby Stanger
September 29, 2010 6:26 AM

Matuse Wetsuits are creating a buzz. Actor Jeremy Piven of Entourage wore a Matuse wetsuit on the cover of Men’s Fitness magazine, and surf mags and eco blogs love that the young company is designing wetsuits from limestone rather than petroleum.


I talked to founding partner John V. Campbell about how the brand got its start, who is involved with the company and how a small wetsuit brand is growing even when wetsuit sales have been slow.

How long ago did you start Matuse?

The three founding partners (my father, John B. Campbell, Matt Larson and myself) got going on some plans in the fall of 2005, but we didn't launch the first products until September of 2006.


Matuse full suitWhat's your background in surfing and in business? Why did you start a wetsuit company?

I graduated from Dartmouth in 2003 and returned to San Diego to work for a tech startup chaired by MasterCard's ex-CEO, Pete Hart. That outfit was involved with ecommerce authentication - not my first or second passion.


While there, I was exposed to everything from sales and marketing to raising money and investor relations, which provided valuable lessons in terms of getting an organization off the ground.


One day while studying for business school, I was online and came across the Yamamoto Corporation in Osaka, Japan. It made Geoprene: a titanium-coated, limestone-based rubber that was not only functionally superior but also more sustainable and kinder to Mother Nature.


(Right: Matuse's Tumo wetsuit, front view.)


At that time, most surf consumers didn't know this material existed. After some sleuthing I contacted Yamamoto's CEO. I also met my business partner - and one of my best friends - Matt Larson at Mitch's Surf Shop in La Jolla. He still works there as a manager but had previously done independent product design for some of the industry's better known brands. We were both ready for something new.


At our first meeting we presented Yamamoto with the idea that we would be their "ambassadors of Ichiban." This resonated with Yamamoto-san, so he green-lighted our path. We got sales rolling by August of 2006.


Of course it didn't hurt that my father, Matuse Chairman, John B. Campbell, was there to support our startup costs. Since day one, our operation has run out of his law office. To say the least, we wouldn't have progressed as quickly without him. Looking back, I'm amazed that he trusted us so much.


See Page 2 for more about Matuse, including how it is financed



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