Luke Egan introduces Depactus
Story by Lucas Townsend
All photos by Steve Baccon
Retiring from tour was the hardest thing Luke Egan’s ever done. But starting a surf company in 2014 could be a close second. The surf retail market is a minefield; It’s being squeezed by boutique pop-ups sucking dollars from the ground up, and endemic brands trying to recoup millions from the top down. Brand loyalty is tenuous and markets saturated, in Australia particularly. It’s why, at the Agenda tradeshow at Long Beach, California on July 10, Luke Egan launched Depactus, an adventure-inspired label. In California alone he can reach the same amount of people as he can in all of Australia, give or take a couple of mill. That’s one state… there’s 49 others. Stab loves a wild roll of the dice, everything on black, a bite of a taco from a Mexican street vendor, and Luke’s move is one of the bravest we’ve seen. One that could pay dividends if it’s successful.
He’s partnered with Bruce Beach and Tom Ruiz. Luke and Bruce have been well acquainted for years. Luke was the first athlete to sign with Arnette in ’92, and Bruce, the first employee. Bruce launched Electric. Luke took it to Australia. When Luke left Billabong after 26 years, Bruce had left Electric after it was bought by Volcom. Tom Ruiz had also departed The Stone after 16 years and timing had left the three gents with empty(ish) diaries and a bunch of creative artillery. The result being… Depactus.
Stab: What does it cost to start at brand in 2014?
Luke Egan: Fuck, too much (laughs).
Put a figure on it. I’m broke. How about that? To throw down a figure is hard because it depends how you set it up. I’ve heard of guys selling their car and starting a business. But we didn’t have the capital to launch in every country like Vissla have done, that’s astronomical amounts of money. You’ve got to look at how much you want to spend before you’re profitable. You could easily say it’s north of $3 mill, that’s til you’re in the green.
How’d you start the brand? After I left Billabong, throughout 2013 all I wanted was another challenge. I was going to stay at home in Australia and start making boardshorts and give them to the boys, just to see where it went. I spoke to Bruce, who’d left Electric, and he just wanted to go surfing with his son for six months. By the time it got to the end of year he’d done that and taken this brand to another level. Fuck, alright, let’s go then, I thought.
What’s the brand ethos? The goal for the brand is to outfit the adventurer with saltwater in their blood. A lot of the research we did showed there’s so many kids spear fishing, rock fishing, camping, surfing and combining it all into an adventurist life. Talking to tackle shops here in California, they’re selling everything, whether it’s for a 16-year-old or a 60-year-old. That’s when it gelled with us.
Every brand that’s worked in this game has a specialist product. What’s yours? I went around Europe, California and talked to a lot of Australian retailers too and in my lifetime I don’t think I’ve seen a better opportunity to come out with a boardshort brand. Mark Healey has paved the way for this lifestyle. We started speaking to him and he backed it. We’re going for a real traditional look, but very technical. All the boardshorts are full-welded, four-way stretch and we’re working on a technical shell as well.
Healey survived the Quiksilver cull of their global surf team. Was it hard getting him on board? No, it wasn’t at all. Healey signed with us before we had a name and a logo. That doesn’t happen often. But we didn’t want to come out of the gate looking too old, and we’ve found Matt Meola, a guy that paddles 50-foot Jaws, does aerials like nothing I’ve ever seen, and he’s 22 and has the same passions as Mark. We’ve also signed Ry Craike.
When you looked at the market, what aren’t brands doing right? Surfers used to swear by their brands; Billabong, Quiksilver, Volcom. There was a loyalty. Brands have gotten so big their stories have become diluted. We’re coming in with a new story, new angle and we want to build that loyalty around a different direction. That’s where we saw the gap.
I feel like Patagonia scratched the surface on this niche that you’re about to tap. Definitely. I agree with you. But they’re a climbing brand that decided to get into surfing because all their employees surfed. We’re surfers that want to do adventure. We’re the ying to Patagonia’s yang.
What’s the difference between Depactus and The Mad Hueys? They’re probably having more fun than us (laughs). Those guys have been doing fun stuff with hats, tees and doing a great job. I’m stoked for the Hazzas and everyone involved. We’re not only doing e-commerce on our website but we’re making technical product, at the moment they’re not.
Why the name? Our LLC here is Deepset. There were a few red flags with Deepset trademarks around the world and Depactus is latin for drive down. Our tag line is where land meets sea and our logo is an evolution of big swell lines going to the coast.
Do you think you’ll compete directly with Kelly’s brand, Outer Known? Yeah, Kelly’s new brand will definitely be a competitor but he’s not the only one. And we need to know more of his story and angles. I know he’s very conscious of healthy, clean living and being eco-friendly, which is great.
Brands aside, you’ve both left long-time sponsors to start your ventures. Kelly got to a point with his relationship at Quiksilver and I got to a point with mine at Billabong. I think he feels the same way as I did. I think he wanted to get out, have a go.
What did Gordon Merchant say? He wrote an email back that said, “Well, what do you want to do? What job do you want?” I said, “I’ve started my own brand.” He replied, “Good luck, let me know if you need any help.” I grew up watching Mark Richards at Merewether and always knew surfing was what I wanted to do. I look at Gordon like that in the business world. I was always fascinated. Now that my surfing career is finished I’ve got aspirations to do what Gordon’s done as a person.
You’ve kinda nailed it since leaving the tour. Finishing the tour is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. At first you want to dive into all the things you missed out on. You know, I’m just going to eat hamburgers and drink five schooners a day for the next three months. The transition of being so passionate and the work you have to put into becoming elite at a sport, when it all goes away again, you’re left there with nothing. I was on tour for half of my life, when you have to learn new skills to make your money it’s damn hard. It takes anyone five years. I don’t care who they are.
What happened to you? My first 12 months I cut it all away. I wanted to go and be a punter, surf every now and again, never went to the gym, went to the pub instead, and finally I could go to a contest and party all week. Then after 12 months I felt the shittiest I’d felt in my life. Ever. That’s when I turned around and knew I had to keep surfing as hard as I could to keep myself in a good frame of mind.