John Florence being without a major sponsor was another notch to the peculiarity of 2020.
Exclusive: John Florence Unveils His New Brand, Florence Marine X
The world’s best surfer partners with one of surfing’s most successful biz minds.
Today two-time world surfing champ and the most marketable surfer in the world, Mr John Florence, announced the launch of his new label, Florence Marine X.
John is partnering with Bob Hurley and his sons, Jeff and Ryan. Six weeks ago, Stab reported the talks of a new entity between the troupe, which John confirmed this week when he reached out to Stab.
Some backstory: In February this year, John walked away from the biggest contract in surfing history, an eight-year, circa $USD30m deal with Hurley. The original deal was inked with the Nike-owned Hurley and would have taken John to 2023.
When Nike sold Hurley to Bluestar Alliance in December 2019, the future of the surf roster and the brand were unknown. Despite no longer owning the brand, Hurley (the brand) still employed founder Bob Hurley, along with Jeff and Ryan.
The Hurley family left the Hurley brand swiftly in January. John Florence wasn’t far behind.
John’s contract reportedly still had $12m left on it and John’s camp negotiated a $2m deal to walk.
John Florence is the most marketable surfer in the world, an indisputable fact proven by his market value—currently no other surfer has the pull to net deals of this magnitude. The sheer domination in his performances like those at Margaret River the past few years have almost universally won the hearts and minds of even the most jaded surf critics.
When John John’s Pyzel noses became available, every major brand in surfing considered: how on earth they could redistribute budgets to secure surfing’s supernova?
Since February there’s been speculation about what John’s next moves would be. There was talk that he’d join his brothers, Nathan and Ivan, head-to-toe on Vans. Brands like O’Neill felt like an obvious choice, a core surf brand that John had been sponsored by since he was six years old. Patagonia would also make sense, but their ambassadors rarely receive more than $300k annually, which would be less than 10 percent of his previous deals. Given Rip Curl’s penchant for world champs and The Search, the ideology of these two together made sense and it looked real when John started wearing Rip Curl wetsuits in Hawaii.
Then, COVID hit the surf industry and pro surfing contracts hard, with most ambassadors around the world taking 50-percent pay cuts immediately. “Some of us were hustling to rustle together the cash for John,” said an insider to Stab. “But John Money is near impossible in a COVID world.”
Process this for a second: Florence, Reynolds, Slater. The three most culturally significant surfers of the past 20 years have now all backed themselves with their own brands.
With the announcement of Florence Marine X, the three most culturally significant surfers of the past two decades have now created their own brands, as John joins Kelly Slater and Dane Reynolds in the tricky game of apparel startups. In 2015, Kelly Slater left Quiksilver to launch Outerknown as a “brand with purpose”, stating at the time: “I created Outerknown to smash the formula. To lift the lid on the traditional supply chain, and prove that you can produce great looking menswear in a sustainable way.”
In 2017, Dane Reynolds funded and launched Former, a new streetwear brand with skateboarders Austyn Gillette, Dylan Rieder, and Craig Anderson.
While both of these brands are privately held without public reporting, opinions vary on the extent of their commercial success. One thing is for sure: running a business in the rag trade ain’t easy, and COVID has made that all the more difficult.
So, let’s discuss the name. The Marine X part of Florence Marine X represents Marine Exploration, which fits John’s desire to be on or in the ocean as much as humanly possible. We will admit that the name is at first jarring but let’s not forget that back in 1998, Bob Hurley left Billabong to form his namesake brand, Hurley. That was a bold move and Bob’s since enjoyed commercial success building one of the biggest surf brands ever, ultimately validated by an acquisition from Nike for reportedly $100m to $140m. The historical success of the use of a surname holds a stunning track record and we’d like to assume that Bob and co. pushed this point.
Times have certainly changed over the past 20 years but some truths remain. Bob Hurley has been a stalwart of the surf industry with long-standing relationships, meaning his reputation will allow him to open doors at retail where brands like Depactus have failed. Hurley has always been known for its highly-engineered apparel, and without seeing any product, this brand will need to be technical. And, we hope technical doesn’t mean boardshorts that double as bike pants.
Now, is this endeavor risky? Who in their right mind would launch a new business in a recession? That is true, but a calm sea doesn’t make a skilled sailor. The setbacks faced now will teach lessons and set the foundation for the future. Strong economic headwinds have plenty of upside: rent for offices and warehouses is cheap, you’re not in bidding wars for design and marketing talent and you learn to run a lean business. Surfing participation is also at an all-time high, as are the sales of surfing hardware. If a surf apparel brand positions itself in this sweet spot between these two, then the business could thrive. However, it’s unlikely that most surfers will get out of their $20 Uniqlo/AS Colour/insert whatever blanks you wear.
If authenticity is as important as it's touted, then John could be a blue flame thinker. Look at his affiliation and success of brands he associates with, from Yeti to Pyzel. While the growth category of the past five years was pulling fish to their death on boats, John is doing exactly the opposite: trying to preserve the lives of fish and the health of the ocean. A contrived marketing story has never been John’s thing nor has a research group ever identified surfing and sailing as a target market.
The plains are covered with the bodies of pioneers. This move is a bold and inspired one. It’s uncomfortable to be an insurgent to the culture and nothing is more revolutionary than flouting enthusiasm for your favourite piece of product that’s a hooded rash guard with a brim.
The following interview was originally planned to be via telephone, but scheduling conflicts relegated it to an email correspondence.
The Florence Marine X logo: prosaic, strong, unpretentiously uncontrived. Sound familiar?
Stab: Tell us about the brand.
John Florence: It’s a clothing brand that I’m starting with a group of people I really respect. I’d like to create products that inspire people to get out, enjoy the outdoors and the ocean. We’re still in the early stages, so I’m learning about this brand and what it can be.
Stab: How hands-on will you be with design?
John Florence: Both hands on. Ha! I imagine myself being a part of all the products that go into market. With that said we have a great team of creative people with a lifetime of experience in the industry. It will be a very collaborative process.
Stab: What is the brand’s superpower?
John Florence: I’m not too sure what that means, but what I think is most interesting is having the ability to create things without too many filters…does that make sense? In past experiences, when you try and create something, it gains so many layers, and eventually, it’s very different from the core idea. I’m excited to create products that are closer to that core idea.
Stab: What’s the brand’s tagline?
John Florence: Well, our mission statement is, “we want to explore, have fun, learn, and challenge ourselves. We're building things that motivate us to get outside and thrive in the elements while doing our best to protect the ocean and the land.”
Stab: What’s it like to work with Bob Hurley?
John Florence: I love working with Bob Hurley because he is so positive. He has so much experience in so many different aspects of the surf and sports world. To be honest, he just genuinely cares about people and that’s why I enjoy working with him.
Stab: If you had to ride for one of the three following brands what would it be: Nautica, Ralph Lauren, Helly Hansen?
John Florence: Easy, Helly Hansen!
Stab: In terms of your next moves, the money was on O’Neill, Vans and Rip Curl. How’d this go?
John Florence: I have a lot of respect for the brands and people within the brands that we spoke with. For that reason, I’m going to keep those details private.
Stab: What inspired this idea? Is this the era of the surfer-owned brand?
John Florence: This idea was inspired by having a little more control over the things I love to do. I guess the freedom to create…that’s huge for me. I’m not sure if this is the era of the surfer-owned brand, but I’d encourage anyone to follow their dreams and bet on themselves.
Stab: Who did your negotiations for you?
Florence: My whole team put a lot of time and effort into this process, start to finish. A special thanks to Pete Johnson for spending so much of his time on helping me with business decisions.
Stab: At the start, it felt like Hurley were trying to mould you to their brand. In the end, however, Hurley felt more like you. Discuss.
Florence: Honestly, I’m not too sure. But I’d hope to have some positive influence on any brand that I work with.
Stab: Please, no — Will your boardshorts stretch?
John Florence: Maybe. Right now I’m not into the stretchy boardshorts, but we will see. Like I said, it’s a collaborative process.
Stab: What product are you most excited about? What else can we learn about it?
John Florence: I’m probably most excited about the hooded rashguards, haha! Seriously though, none of my friends think they are cool, but my brothers and I have been wearing them… it’s crazy how much more time you get in the water. Other than that, I’m really excited about making outerwear products that can handle the conditions of our environment. I’ve always drawn inspiration from brands like Patagonia and Helly Hansen. Brands that make gear that allow you to push your limits in the elements.
Stab: Finally, what wetsuits will you wear?
John Florence: Florence. We will make wetsuits.