Girls Surf Market Overview

By Rose Apodaca Jones

When the health bar inside Huntington Surf and Sport decided to move out, the downtown emporium in Huntington Beach, California, didn’t sweat the loss. Not that the bar’s fruit shakes wouldn’t be missed, but store managers pictured the 800-square-foot room as a perfect haven for its expanding juniors inventory.

Necessity, not fashion, spurred the addition last April. The popular corner store already dedicated 500 square feet exclusively to Roxy, but it needed more room to accommodate the multiplying sister brands of established surf manufacturers and the new independent labels demanded by a constant parade of teenage girls and young women.

There was even a need to highlight the new juniors-tailored house HSS line of core basics and accessories┬┐only two decades after the store first introduced the men’s line.

But as Manager Ray Bergman points out, only recently “girls’ apparel has become a significant part of the business.”

Indeed, the juniors category has no less than revolutionized the action-sports marketplace and industry in the 90s. “Girl Power” emerged as more than a cute buzz phrase this decade and became a reckoning force with crisp greenbacks ready to be traded in for boardshorts, sneakers, and other wares designed just for girls.

Huge and Growing

A consumer base numbered at more than 35-million strong, per the U.S. Census Bureau, these five- to 22-year-old girls are redefining their roles in sports, the culture, and the marketplace.

Whether you dub them Generation Y, Next, or whatever, the consumers born between 1977 and 1994 wield between 90-billion dollars to 150-billion dollars in combined spending strength, according to whichever source you want to believe. Some estimates have female teens spending about 60-billion dollars annually. Even conservatively, that’s a pull that can’t be ignored.

Among girls, brand buying is largely influenced by sports, according to Angelo Ponzi, president of the marketing and opinion research firm Board-Trac (www.board-trac.com). “Girls realize they can be tomboys but still be a lot more feminine,” observes Ponzi. “They want their own brands, their own identity.”

And sports are playing a significant role in teen girls’ lives: overall participation soared in 1997 by 700 percent, or 2.4-million girls, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. And the number of teen girls surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding, and playing ice hockey is in the millions.

“We’re also seeing a generational shift,” says Vipe Desai, accounts director of alternative sports for the The Shop, a marketing and creative agency for the industry whose clients also include Toyota and Sprite (www.theshop-intl.com). “A lot of parents grew up in a culture of surf, skate, and snowboarding. Now they not only want their kids to do those activities, they want them to dress as hip as they did.

“You have girls who want to dress as cool as their brothers,” continues Desai. “And younger kids who want to be as cool as their older brothers and sisters. Parents are willing to buy brand-name goods for their eight year olds, which helps establish consumer brand allegiance at an earlier age.”

More Choices

Of course, along with all those who do, there is always a greater number who dress like they do. At the coast or miles inland, surfwear is no exception.

As a result, few surf brands have ignored their feminine potential. Each trade-show season, another handful of new brands vies for a rack space in an increasingly competitive category. The latest arrivals include B. Pro, Sister, and Lucy Love┬┐a line designed by Girl Star creator Holly Sharp, who left Gotcha’s juniors division last year.

No wardrobe element is overlook, either, as even footwear rounds out the marketplace offering girl-specific models from Vans, Roxy, and Reef Brazil.

But instead of frustration over the ever-growing list of options, retailers such as Diane Young, juniors buyer for the Groove Tube stores in Indiatlantic and St. Augustine, Florida, are taking advantage of the windfall. “There’s enough for everybody to carry different lines and to distinguish themselves from their next-door competitors.”

Instead of Roxy, which Groove Tube’s neighbors already stocked, Young scooped Volcom Girls, one of its best-selling junior lines. “Roxy was right on when they started the girl’s revolution,” adds Young. “There are a lot more girls in the water now and a lot more girls who want their own brands.”

The parallel rise of girl’s surfwear with surfing girls is, in fact, a question of the “chicken and egg.” Which fueled which first?

One certainty prevails: more girls hit the waves when they finally had gear that fit properly.

The Leaders

Roxy, Quiksilver’s wildly popular sister division and the first to widely introduce boardshorts cut for girls back in ’95, deserves much of the credit. Its success and place in the market is a phenomenon that doesn’t appear in danger of waning anytime soon.

Gotcha’s Girl Star appeared a worthy contender when it arrived in late ’95. But departures by its original visionary, Sharp, as well as the January firing of the line’s design team indicate continuing growing pains. Still, many retailers cited Girl Star among their top-selling brands.

Hurley Girlie, the juniors counterpart of Hurley International, could prove a formidable player. The line, overseen by Design Director Lian Murray, has been blowing its Velcro-less boardshort (U.S. patent pending on the idea) out of stores since November. Plans are already on the board to debut snowboard gear for Winter 2000.

The key to the line’s potential success, of course, is the power and freedom that owner Bob Hurley yields to his talented design team. That M.O. appears to be behind Roxy’s stratospheric ranking in the marketplace, one that continues as the line offers fragrance, bedroom accessories, and luggage. Hurley Girlie is already offering chain belts and purses, and it appears there’s no end to Murray’s vision for the line. Not that Billabong has shied away from the juniors category. Its line, however, offers safe tried-and-true basics. The Billabong brand, juniors line included, will undoubtedly profit from its Hurley-lead legacy for a few more seasons.

Two rising contenders banking on their good name are Volcom and Counter Culture. Volcom President Rich Woolcott says he introduced the girls line two years ago “as an extension” of the brand. The Newport Beach company already sponsored several women athletes, including skaters Jen O’Brien and Cara-Beth Burnside, and surfer Sena Seramur, before the line debuted. “We don’t go after something we weren’t already involved in,” adds Woolcutt.

The same applies at Counter Culture, which tested a few juniors pieces at the February ASR show. A month later, response has encouraged the Irvine surfwear maker to develop a full collection, according to Sales and Marketing Manager Mike Schillmoeller.

Established or vying to be, surf brands reach their mark as much by word-of-mouth as through athlete sponsorships, advertising, and other promotions. The juniors category is no exception.

Already on the horizon is Shred Betty, a “branded entertainment property” targeting young women aged fifteen to 22 that intends to claim a piece of the pie with its line of Shred Betty apparel, cosmetics, and sporting equipment, as well as a namesake TV show on Fox Sports, an online site, and a CD-ROM.

In the meantime, watergirl-specific magazines such as Wahine and more general sports reads such as Jump are continuing publication thanks to more companies jockeying for a slice of the market.

In a recent issue of Wahine, B. Pro ran a colorful two-page illustration inside the front cover, beckoning young surfing readers to try out for its new surf team. No amount of promotions will guarantee any brand’s success. But one fact is undeniable: being a girl’s surfwear label is no longer a novelty.ion thanks to more companies jockeying for a slice of the market.

In a recent issue of Wahine, B. Pro ran a colorful two-page illustration inside the front cover, beckoning young surfing readers to try out for its new surf team. No amount of promotions will guarantee any brand’s success. But one fact is undeniable: being a girl’s surfwear label is no longer a novelty.

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