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Interview with Nate Bosshard, Action Sports Brand Manager for The North Face: Part 2

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

One of the longest running brands in the whole Outdoors game is The North Face . Before Action Sports were even considered sports, The North Face has been outfitting professional and amateur athletes and enthusiasts in high-quality, technical outerwear.

We started part 1 of the interview here and talked about what it means to be an action sport, how The North Face factors into things and how Freeskiing is part of the equation. Let’s continue where we left off with what snowboarders and skiers want.

So The North Face is all about freeriding, huh? A lot of companies have tried to make a run with it without much luck. I mean I was a huge backer of Snowboard Journal before they shuttered their doors. How is The North Face succeeding where others have failed?

Drawing a correlation between “freeriding” and the demise of The Snowboard Journal is apples and oranges. Most people who have been snowboarding for a few years eventually get the urge to explore different parts of the mountains other than groomed trails and man-made features. We’re calling that person the Park/Pipe Graduate, a person who wants more out of the mountain. Going out on a limb, it’s a natural evolution for most riders. Take myself as an example: As we get older, longevity is something that we all must face. Personally, I prefer to shred the entire mountain rather than just hang out in the park. That’s not to say we don’t enjoy sunny, slushy spring days in the park; all of our athletes enjoy the park/pipe but it’s not their main focus.

“Freestyle” elements are still a large part of freeriding, we’re not trying to come off as a brand who is anti-park/pipe riding. From a heritage standpoint, it’s a more natural fit for our brand to embrace the all parts of what make snowsports so amazing. Our brand is rooted in the outdoors so we’re taking that direction into the action sports world with our snowboard and ski programs.

You’re starting to see the shift with a lot of pro’s who are embracing the “earn your turns” mantra. We’ve been gearing out lots of people for these types of backcountry trips for years, enabling them whether or not our logo is on their boards. Anyone who fits and pioneers the Never Stop Exploring ethos is somebody we will do our best to support.

You’re seeing a lot of the Park/Pipe kids signing up for avy training, etc. It’s a natural evolution and we want the average consumer to know that there is more to snowboarding than what you see on TV.

(more…)

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An Interview with Nate Bosshard, Action Sports Brand Manager for The North Face: Part 1

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

the north faceOne of the longest running brands in the whole Outdoors game is The North Face. Before Action Sports as a concept even existed, The North Face has been outfitting professional and amateur athletes and enthusiasts in high-quality, technical gear. As one of my former colleagues once said, “if you need it to perform and you need it to last, you look to two companies: The North Face and Patagonia.”

I had the pleasure of talking with Nate Bosshard on the phone about his role as Brand Manager for Action Sports and Outdoor for TNF. Nate formerly used to be the Brand Manager at Burton Snowboards so he has a very unique window into the world of skiing and snowboarding. Think of the marketing coming out of Burton between 2002 to 2008, and it has Nate’s DNA in it.

I thought the timing couldn’t be better as I had just finished the Freeskiing: Is it a Action Sport? post. Who better than The North Face, long time extreme ski and snowboard sponsor to weigh in on this debate? Recently TNF has added some serious heavy hitters from the snowboard world to their Freeride team, including Johan Olofsson, DCP and Mark Carter. Their Cryptic line-up targets both skiers and snowboarders with some high-tech outerwear. Recently they also have introduced some of their most popular pieces using Polartec Eco-Engineering. I was curious to ask Nate about how these additions and changes will impact what we see from The North Face.

So Nate, let’s me ask you about term Action Sports, core, freeskiing and of course snowboarding.

Honestly, when I came to The North Face, I was guilty of the stigma of “staying core” (whatever that even means) as much as the next guy. It was probably bred from insecurity around the whole “core vs. mainstream” argument. I was drinking the kool-aid for a long time; but I’ve quickly realized that the more people we welcome to our sport, the better. In this industry we have a tendency to talk to ourselves rather than create an environment that encourages people to participate. We have to be honest to ourselves about who is actually keeping the lights on. At this point in time Snowboarding is a mainstream activity whether we want to admit it our not. Within boardsports specifically, snowboarding is far and away the least accessible from both a geographical and financial standpoint. When you take a step back, you can’t let the question “are we staying core” dictate your entire brand especially with plummeting participation numbers. At the end of the day we want our industry to grow, and it can’t be this niche thing that only a privileged few are lucky enough to experience. You could write a whole other story on the definition of the word “core”. It means different things to different people.

Freeskiing is absolutely 100% actions sports. If you don’t think so, you’re in denial. Watch TGR, check those lines and tricks that guys like Sage, Ian, and Dana are doing… those lines are death lines. There is no doubt that the latest incarnation of Freeskiing is directly influenced by snowboarding but that doesn’t diminish the shit that these guys are laying down.

I’m a snowboarder so don’t get me wrong, but my eyes have been opened about what can be done on both skis and snowboards as we keep pushing the envelope.

It’s a slippery slope. What defines an action sport? Is it that an activity has a freestyle element? What about snowboard racing? Is that an action sport? I think it starts with if something has individual creativity and a culture injected into it

How does The North Face fit into the equation? Most people think of The North Face in terms like Gore-Tex, Mount Everest and REI.

We’re not rooted in a hard good. So from a consumer perception standpoint, TNF has a relatively simple identity: we make technical apparel. We’re accessible to many different people so there are many entry points. When you are aligned to a single activity, people who aren’t familiar with that activity can be intimidated or might be less inclined to engage with that brand because they cannot relate. We have the advantage of heritage, and how long we’ve been in the game (40 plus years). We try to speak to a lot of people in an authentic way.

And how do you align yourself to some of the mass public? I mean not everyone is climbing Denali or straight-lining a chute in the Chugach.

Let’s use an extreme example such as the Average Joe (don’t crucify me here for using this example). For that consumer specifically Action Sports is probably a foreign word to them. The bridge is definitely harder to cross, but it goes back to the fact that we come at it from a quality standpoint, not from a single activity. Our tagline is “Never Stop Exploring”, which can be interpreted in so many ways.

And how does snowboarding fit into that picture? You guys have been in the press a lot with the signing of Johan, DCP, Carter, the Masters freeride event, etc.

TNF was making snowboard apparel way before any of the other big brands, but it was always much more alpine focused. Back in the day, my first snowboard jacket was The North Face. I pretty much wore that thing until I got my first free Burton jacket. I wanted the most technical, high quality thing with the best warranty policy, not necessarily the piece that was most fashionable for the season.

For the last 10 years, we didn’t target snowboarding specifically, but we’ve been sponsoring snowboarders like Jim Zellers (one of the big mountain AK pioneers), Bonnie Zellers, Stephen Koch, Rob Kinwill, Meg Pischke etc. that fit The North Face ethos.

We’re making a more proactive effort to reach out to snowboarders through our grassroots events like The Masters, engaging board specialty shops that embrace freeriding, and creating quality, well-designed product that people can wear past one season before it goes out of style. Don’t get me wrong, the whole fashion component is important. It has its place as the media portrays it front and center. But let’s be honest about that for a minute. What you see on the X-games is visual candy no doubt, but in reality it’s probably the least accessible part of our sport for somebody to wrap their head around who is just getting started or perhaps seeing the sport for the first time. We’re targeting what we call the “park and pipe graduate”. We strongly believe that freeriding is something consumers can relate to much easier than a 1260 in an icy halfpipe. While freeriding may not translate very well to TV, the more we can help build awareness to other elements of the sport, the stronger the industry will be as a whole. The migration of ex-pipe/park dudes into the backcountry is a testament to that.

We got so much stuff with Nate that we have to split this into two interviews. Stay tuned for more. In the mean time, check out The North Face’s ski and snowboard section of their site. l

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Nike 6.0 x 3 Inches of Blood Collab

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Nike 6.0 and Canadian heavy metal band, 3 Inches of Blood, have joined forces resulting in the darkest 6.0 shoe collab to date, the Blood Oncore High.

“The collaboration idea came directly from a few of our athletes who are obsessed with metal and 3IOB. The band was down for anything and even flew out to an event for a secret show. The kids went ballistic in the pit and were beyond psyched to meet and hang with the band after their performance. It was amazing to be able to bring everyone together and create some chaos!” said Nike product manager, Tim Reede.

The band chose Nike 6.0’s NEW Zoom Oncore High to translate their soundtrack of mayhem. Inspired by Viking folklore and mythical carnage, 3IOB worked with the product team on custom materials and colors. The upper, constructed with premium distressed battle-worn leather is mixed with sanguine accents and the muted greens of rot and pestilence. Metallic side panels simulate armor and warrior-shields, while the blood-red outsole and tongue are an ode to the band’s name.

The Blood Oncore High drops May 1st at select retailers.

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Quiksilver Footwear: Coming Soon

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Coming Soon… Quik Footwear

quiksilver footwear

Checking out fashion blogs for work this morning I stumbled upon some buzz of a new footwear line and shoe from an old time action sports brand. Seems as though Quiksilver is expanding beyond surf and clothing products and is moving into footwear. Quik has put out a few shoes over the years but a whole footwear line is something new for the company. The only photo I could find was of the Quiksilver Capri, set to release sometime in May.

The Quiksilver Limited Collection Capri retails for $65 and offer a subtle high top silhouette with muted colors, clean and classic, something any chuck wearer could appreciate. I will keep my eye out to see if anything else pops up, but check out the Quik site next month for your kicks fix.

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Nike 6.0 Air Zoom Oncore High

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Created as a performance action sports shoe, the Zoom Oncore High relies on the performance and durability of the original Oncore while taking style cues from Nike heritage. Slimmed down and turned up to eleven, the Zoom Oncore High features a full-height cuff with unique wing-like construction that allows the flexibility of a low-top with the added ankle support of a true high. A patented Zoom Air unit provides cushioning for maximum impact absorption and moisture wicking Outlast fabric kicks swamp foot to the curb.

nike air zoom oncore

Available May 1st. MSRP $90

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Quiksilver’s Diamond Dobby: Who Wears Short Shorts?

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

After lining up the opportunity to meet with one of the truest watermen throughout surfing today in Mark Healey, our fine friends at Quiksilver generously sent me a new pair of boardshorts made with Diamond Dobby technology. No expectations were ever mentioned, in my view it was just a kind gesture and an opportunity to show off a product that Quiksilver is obviously very proud of. And who doesn’t love a pair of new boardies?

quiksilver diamond dobby

To be honest, when Quik first mentioned they were sending them, I had no clue what they meant by Diamond Dobby and more than anything was just stoked to be receiving free goods. Once I tore those bad boys out of the box, however, I quickly put two and two together. The material that Quiksilver made with the Diamond Dobby technology is pretty smooth….almost silky smooth. The insides of the shorts have this crazy diamond-patterned lining that keeps the shorts away from your legs. This is crucial for enduring long sessions in the water without ending up painfully chaffed…and nobody I know is a fan of said chaffing. The stretch factor of the shorts reminds me a lot of the Hurley Phantoms. The quik-dryability of the Dobby’s is also a huge plus to factor in when checking them out.


The Flip Side:

I only saw two issues that could be of concern for anyone sussing out the Diamond Dobby trunks. First, the standard price for the boardies coming out with Diamond Dobby Technology is sitting right around $60. They’re one hell of a pair of boardshorts, but in my opinion the overall price of boardshorts is out of hand and my cheap ass isn’t really one to consistently drop that type of money on boardies…even more so with this disatster of an economic crisis we currently find ourselves in. However if you’re spending hours upon hours in the water, having a material like this surrounding your goods is highly recommended. Secondly, and this is as much attributed to my scrawny bird-legs as anything else, the Tunnel Vision’s with Dobby Technology that Quiksilver sent over are pretty dang short. Now I realize they make these in regular lengths too and I’m not sure why they choose to send me the retro shorties, but they kind of give an old school feel to the shorts. On the flip side, they easily keeps them from grabbing at your knees. I personally wouldn’t have minded another 2-3 inches of material, but I guess as is the case with any pair of boardshorts, it all boils down to personal taste and usability.

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Skullcandy Headphones: Something for Everyone

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

Lately a lot of companies have stepped into the headphone game, Nixon being the most notable. But the first company to really step behind skateboarding and other boardsports by supporting our riders has been Skullcandy.

skullcandy headphones

With quality products and super legit team riders you know they’ve been cooking up a recipe for greatness. Take for example, their skate team: Greg Lutzka, Christian Hosoi, Steve Caballero, Stevie Williams, Lizard King, Corey Duffel, Jimmy Marcus, Lauren Perkins, Adam Dyet, Rune Glifberg, and recent Maloof Money Cup vert winner, PLG! Pretty much an allstar cast of skateboarders riding for this company and for good reason too.

If you’ve never really had the desire to try out a set of Skullcandy headphones, you may want to seriously reconsider. Honestly, they have tons of different styles and I know for a fact that they have something for everyone.

Need some ear buds? Why not try out their “Smokin Buds” or the amazing “Full Metal Jacket” headphones. The Full Metal Jackets have this super awesome unique silver braided cord which I dig completely. The noise reduction of everything else around you is incredible.

If the DJ circuit is more of your style, they have some rad looking ‘phones for you too. Everything from the smaller built “Lowriders” to the “SK PRO” for real serious enthusiasts. The “T.I.” and “G.I.” headphones are also really good DJ type headphones and they come in a vast array of color mixes.

There is even a “Jim Phillips” collaberation graphic on a set of “Skullcrushers”. Basically if you want it they got it.

Check out their website and jump aboard the Skullcandy locomotive.

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SABRE Vision Branching into Apparel

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

We fist covered SABRE way back in the middle of 2007. At the time we talked about how they were getting into an already crowded niche (sunnies) but have seen success because they offer a quality, unique product. Now it appears that SABRE is going to try their luck with apparel.

sabre apparel

It will be interesting to see if they can follow the same formula that’s brought them so much success with sunglasses, with their offshoot into apparel. Apparel is whole other ballgame and if you think sunglasses is an already crowded niche, it’s nothing compared to apparel.

I have high hopes for SABRE though. They’ve done a great job of setting themselves apart with their glasses and if they can do the same with clothing–why wouldn’t they be successful? Their products and designs are unique enough that they appeal to a certain style and culture. And it’s that part of apparel that isn’t diluted yet.

I just hope they don’t spread themselves to thin and let it affect the quality of their shades. Which is often the case when a brand that does one thing so well tries to branch off.

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LOST Presents: 10 Ways to a Cheap Valentine’s Day

Friday, February 13th, 2009

I’m not cheap, I’m just broke” – Shwayze

If you’re anything like me, you probably despise Valentine’s day. An over-hyped, made up holiday that corporate America pushes on us so we’ll go out and waste a bunch of money on chicks that will put out anyways. But like me, you also probably give in and do it. If you don’t, you’ll never hear the end of it and because all the other dudes do it, you won’t get any for a week either. So thanks to our friends over at LOST, we can stick it to the man (and the ladies) and go cheap this Valentine’s Day…

At least one good thing about the economy is that you have a good excuse this year. I think I’ll go with #8 and take some dance lessons.

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ERGO is Blowing Up: Read This Interview to See Why

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Admit it– at one time or another you’ve had dreams of starting an apparel line. It seems like a simple concept that would be easy to pull off, right? Find a cool name, create some killer designs, print a few t-shirts, and get local grassroots movement going. Next thing you know, you’re the next Volcom…

I can tell you first hand though, it’s not quite that easy. With a few friends, post high-school, I tried exactly this… and failed. It was a great learning experience though and one reason why I have major respect for any brand that can breakthrough in our industry. Enter ERGO (formerly Ergophobia).

Although I had seen the brand name a few times before, they really caught my attention about a year ago when I was researching a trip to Nicaragua and came across this incredible video of the ERGO team in Nica. Since then I have enjoyed watching this brand explode on the scene and it seems now as if they’re everywhere. They’ve done a hell-of-a-job making noise and my hats off to them– starting a brand and breaking through is tough, especially in this economy.

I had the chance to ask ERGO Co-Founder and Vice President, Pete DiSpirito, a few questions and came away more impressed with the brand and their message than I already was. Check it out….

First off, can you give our readers a little background on Ergophobia– How you guys got started and what you stand for?

We are still Ergophobia, but now shortened it to ERGO for several reasons. In 2003 we had plans on opening a shop and the name was going to be Ergophobia. We were sick of going into shops that were horribly merchandised and quickly losing the core business that they were known for. We thought we could offer something that wasn’t happening any longer in our area. After putting our heart and soul into the business plan we were ready to go, but had problems picking up some of the bigger brands. This was a problem that we knew would arise, but not to the extent it did. Our location was about a mile away from another shop that was quickly going down hill. Needless to say, that shop is no longer in business and we never opened.

Two years later still wanting to be involved in the industry, we started printing shirts with the name Ergophobia. The shirts sucked, our logo sucked, everything pretty much sucked. At the time, knowing nothing about what it would actually take to build a brand, we thought it was sick. Some time passed and our stuff was getting tighter by the day. We started making contacts, secured a healthy budget and hit the road in a wrapped coach. We spent about a year on the road from New Jersey to Florida. We gave away tons of stuff and got involved with everything we could. At the same time we started to develop our first cut and sew line that we planned on showing at Surf Expo. Surf Expo went great! We walked away with a good number of accounts and a Surf Expo best booth award. Three expos and a couple ASR’s later our company is really taking shape. Our product is really defined, we have a solid surf and skate team, our ad campaign is standing out, our sales team is gaining floor space and most important our back end and customer service is solid.

As for what we stand for… First, I will tell you what we don’t stand for. Mall stores, accounts that don’t share our core values, accounts that are not in our target demographic, making promises we cannot pull through on, and screwing people over. We don’t really push the dictionary definition of “ergophobia” which is “the fear of work” because it’s way better when people find out what it means on their own. The message that we try to portray is… Follow your true calling in life. If you have a vision of how you want to be perceived in this world, go out and get it done. Don’t let anyone or anything stand in your way. Do everything in your power to become the person you want to be in life. Wake up and be stoked on how you are going to earn your living everyday… Don’t take the easy route and settle for anything less than the best for yourself.

What makes your brand stand apart from the million other clothing brands in our industry? In other words, why should we buy your stuff vs. the other guys?

This is easy. As a core surfer, skateboarder or shop owner, why would you want to support a brand that has lost their vision and is back peddling to regain the customer that their brand was built on? No matter what, these companies will continue to go vertical with direct online sales, placing product in places that have no relevance to our industry and building stores next to their key retailers. Why would you want to wear something that the jock that lives next store to you already bought at Macy’s? Granted, these are the companies that we grew up supporting, paved the way for younger brands like ERGO and inspired us to do what we do. Unfortunately, they have made many decisions based on making their pockets deeper and share holders happy. At ERGO, we are not even close to having to make decisions like that. Our plan is to stay focused on why we started this company. To offer core quality products to core quality retailers and consumers. We are thriving off our natural progression and building a classic… A line that will mature over time.

Do you view our economic situation as an opportunity or are you cowering in the corner with everyone else? Explain…

Barack said it best– Change we can believe in. This economic situation puts ERGO in a great position. Shop owners are realizing they need change to become specialty again and groms are realizing that what their wearing now is mainstream. This is a great time for ERGO and other great small brands to step up and take some rack space.

I think I suffer from Ergophobia, literally– how would you suggest I cure this without ending up homeless?

I think everyone does. For me, I saw my life going down a path that I hated. I was working a structured job, answering to several bosses, missing waves… It sucked. At the point where I could not live with myself anymore, I gave myself a serious life check. My business partner and I made a promise to ourselves that we can make this pipe dream happen. Now, we love our jobs and look forward to making shit happen everyday. My advice would be step back and evaluate your situation. Continue earning a living, but every second that you have free… you should be putting it towards your dream, the one thing that will make you happy every day.

You guys seem to be having a fair amount of success since exploding on the scene– What are some things you would attribute to that success?

There are a number of things, but the most important… and the one that sticks out the most is not taking “NO” for an answer. If someone tells you “NO”, refine your plan, go back to them, and keep trying until they say yes. Other things that have helped are sticking to our plan, listening to feedback, our team, our employees, face time with key retailers, our marketing campaign, paying our bills on time and pushing full speed ahead while others are pulling back.

What is the hardest thing about starting an action sports brand and breaking through?

Finding people to believe in you enough to get your product developed and produced. You can have the best designs or ideas in the world, if you cannot find the right support, it will be a rough road. The other hard thing is convincing shop buyers or owners that you are not a fly by night company and that you have a solid, yet realistic plan that you intend to follow through with.

Where does ERGO go from here? What are some goals you have for the company and what would you like to accomplish?

Staying focused on our plan and not the prize… We want to strategically expand our distribution, add athletes to our team, expand our marketing campaign, give back to the core community and most important… Never forget who we are, and why we are here!

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