September 2007 ASR Surf Convention: The 80’s Are Back!

By Robb Bailey

For surf shop employees and surf industry professionals alike, ASR is the place to be to see the latest in everything surf. Every six months the San Diego convention center welcomes a packed house full of reps, team riders, shop employees, and buyers. Not open to the public, you must be associated with a retailer or exhibitor to gain access to this show.

Some love attending ASR to see recent advancements in surf hardware, such as board and wetsuit technology. Some hate attending because the event has become somewhat of a sideshow with boisterous booths and themed parties, taking focus away from the purity of the sport. But love it or hate it, the fact of the matter is that most of the business being conducted at ASR happens between surf shop buyers and the clothing companies.

The surf industry has grown on the back of a several billion-dollar a year clothing industry that is becoming more mainstream by the minute. With low profit margins for surfboard shapers and surfboard retailers, surf shops have had to turn to retail clothing as their major stream of revenue.

With surf lifestyle growing in popularity, surf fashion has staked its claim as a heavy hitter in the retail world. They say that fashion trends are cyclical; surf fashion is no different this ASR. Upcoming lines will have a prevalent 80’s theme across the board.

South Coast buyer Heather Lamb engages in a nice Q&A session to give us the low-down on this past September’s ASR:

1. How long have you been a buyer at South Coast?
I have been a buyer for the last nine years. I started sitting in with Rob Ard for two years and then at last he let the reigns go and I started buying on my own.

2. How many ASR events have you been to thus far?
I have been attending ASR since I first started at South Coast (17 years). It used to be so much fun. We would all get dressed up and cruise the show checking out all the new trends.

3. Tell us about Septemer 2007’s ASR in the San Diego Convention Center. How was it compared to past ASR’s?
This last show in September was very interesting, there is a prevalent theme. I can sum it up in two words: 80’s and plaid! The theme was constant throughout the entire show. From swim to sportswear and including glasses and watches. Very loud, bright colors! Super 80’s out of control. I lived during the 80’s and do appreciate how fun it was, but a company should not bank an entire line on a trend. Not everyone follows the fashion trends.

4. What companies stood out for the upcoming season?
My favorite for the season had to be Billabong girls and Hurley mens. They seemed to be the most sellable of all the vendors. Each had a great mix of fashion and everyday basics. A company needs to be able to sell to the mainstream as well as the fashionistas.

5. Major surf clothing vendors are being acquired by fashion giants such as Vanity Fair. What role do smaller surf companies play in the South Coast stores?
Since surf has become so mainstream it has actually taken away from our profitability. Unfortunately having all of the surf brands in department stores takes away from the smaller specialty surf shops. Unless you need a board or wetsuit, you can go to a mall store. We have had to focus on the smaller companies. We need unique brands, that are not so mainstream, to keep the consumer coming back to our store. Our own private label clothing line has become a major focus for us. This is something we are going to really work on expanding and perfecting.

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