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Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Welcome to skateboarder’s hell!

Is August 2009 the date when skateboard has officially entered the mainstream?

I live in a small town like many people in the US. We have several malls around, with Wal Mart, Macy’s, Nordstrom, JCPenney and Zumiez. Up to a couple of days ago, only Zumiez and specialized skate shop offered skate clothing. Not anymore! Two days ago, right before the Back-to-school rush, I received the new flyer from JCPenney with no less than ads from “Zoo York” and even Ryan Schekler portrayed in several pages with “Etnies” shoes and the new “RS by Scheckler” collection. The “RS By Sheckler” collection consists of graphic t-shirts, hoodies, thermals, woven tops and skate-fit denim, all of which mirror Sheckler’s signature style: “Skateboarding is my life and skating in something comfortable and stylish is a must”. According to Ryan: “Ultimately, my goal is to take the clothes that my friends and I enjoy wearing and make them available to a larger audience at an affordable price.” Retail prices for the line go from $15 - $55 for Young Men and $12 - $48 for Boys. In order to do this, Ryan Schekler teamed up with Wicked Fashions, Inc, a company founded in 1991. Wicked was established as a wholesale company dedicated to providing fashionable and affordable apparel to the mid-tier consumer. For nearly twenty years, Wicked has become one of the leading apparel companies in the fashion marketplace for teenagers overseeing every aspect of their clothing brands from product design and manufacturing to distribution and promotion. After longstanding success with their flagship streetwear brand, “Southpole”, Wicked just acquired licensing for footwear, loungewear, sleepwear and accessories and now the “RS by Schekler” collection.

In the JC Penney flyer, Ryan also features his Etnies shoes but the latest will not be available at JCPenney.

Why not?

Well, because the rise of Etnies coincides with the tailspin of Airwalk, the infamous skate shoes of the 80’s that went to skater’s hell in the 90’s. When Airwalk was established, in 1986, it was the greatest skate shoe ever, the product was directional and inventive. The company principally made skate shoes, snowboard boots, t-shirts and was geared towards the skateboarding subculture of Southern California. They sponsored various professional skaters such as Jason Lee and Tony Hawk. Their segmentation strategy involved unique product lines to several hundred skate shop in the US together with a mainstream line for general retailers. Each skate shop was given different designs, better materials, more padding and cushioning systems than their mainstream product line. Everyone was satisfied: the skate shops that sold $80 exclusive and limited edition shoes, and the mainstream distributors (Foot Locker, Kinney’s and Champ’s) that sold a stripped down product for $20 to $30 less. Not only Airwalk enjoyed a phenomenal “niche” market, but they were so strong that hardly any competitor would even dream of competing with them. In a couple of years, sales soared from $12 million to $200 million.

Airwalk started to fail when it was sold to investors. The marketing strategy was reorganized and many people jumped off. The new owners discontinued the product lines for specialized skate shops, and went for a more homogenized product for mainstream distributors in order to cut costs. By going “generic”, Airwalk irritated the core skateboarders that simply stopped buying the products, sending the company in the doldrums. Airwalk ultimately failed because they saved on design, cut quality, went generic and because they hit a mainstream market and turned their back on the core skateboarders. Granted, the brand still exists, but at Payless with $10-$20 dollar shoes…

Are we now in the same situation that will lead to the demise of Zoo York , Etnies and the skate in general? Not really. So far, Etnies has a great marketing team with no “Big Box” distribution, Zoo York is selling the stuff under another name (Third rail) and “RS by Scheckler” is within the realm of a clothing company that core skateboarder already view as a sellout.

But, if the “core” skateboarding companies are not going mainstream, mainstream companies are going to the core. Wicked has now a foothold in the niche market and Nike just released a new signature shoe with Paul Rodriguez Jr., who recently won the street gold at the X Games 15. The sneaker is called the “Zoom Air III, by Nike Skateboarding”, is offered in three different color schemes and became available in stores last week (also just before back-to-school rush) and sells for about $100.
To promote the new swooshed merchandise, “Nike Skateboarding” also unleashed a new widely acclaimed (by core skateboarders) commercial featuring cameos by Eric Koston, Theotis Beasley, vert legend Lance Mountain, basketball superstar Kobe Bryant and rap musician/producer/actor Ice Cube. The ad is essentially a new music video over Ice Cube’s popular single “It Was a Good Day” (from his 1993 album “Predator”), with footage showing P-Rod sessioning different street spots around the city of Los Angeles.

The “Nike Skateboarding” shoe, the “Double Pit”, the “RS by Scheckler”, the “Zoo York” products at JCPenney… Is August 2009 the watershed when skate is finally becoming mainstream or going to hell?

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posted by Xavier Lannes @ Wednesday, August 12, 2009 




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