Wasted Talent Enters Menswear In Sophisticated European Style
France’s premiere magazine/store/cafe/clothing label.
Stab: So for those unacquainted, where did Wasted Talent start and how did it evolve to, say, opening the first shops?
Alex Obolenksy: I guess Wasted Talent started in earnest in 2015. We actually first started with a tiny store from the very beginning that was half-store, half-office, out the back of Hossegor. Looking back on it now, it was pretty classic. I think the beers started most days around 2 pm. The interns ran riot. The stockroom was a total shit show. If the surf was good on the weekends, the Saturday retail window was simply a non-event.
How did that process shift your ideas about what Wasted Talent “was”?
The retail side was always there for us, although at the beginning it wasn’t a big draw. We always wanted to make films and magazines and were always really marketing-focused with everything we did. However, the sense of community that stores create if done right is second to none. Having different crew flowing through day-to-day will nurture a community far more than any website or online store.
The turning point was when we opened a much bigger store, with the guys from Waxed Coffee taking some floor space as well. We hired an epic store manager, Marion, and suddenly we were like ‘Wow, stores can be a business in their own right.’ Footfall was through the roof and we’re super lucky to have a diverse crew who come by regularly, from execs of the bigger brands to the local ding repair guys. I love the melting pot, it’s a great place to throw ideas around.
How does it work, mixing retail with a magazine?
Print is what we’re most passionate about. It adds a structure to everything we do, whether it’s timing or just sniffing out stories or personalities. We’re really lucky to work with some amazing brands who trust us to tell stories. We’ve been really lucky to do some great collabs with brands, which is a key little sweet spot—that marriage between good marketing and good product.
However, I really feel if we had to can everything else and just do print, our team would still be stoked. Our mags are free, and always will be so it’s epic having people come to our store and pick them up as well as a ton of other stores across Europe. If you want some for your store just hit us up!
How did working with brands and doing mixed-use retail change your approach to the brand?
I’m a big fan of mixed retail and brands. We see daily which brands people are looking for, and which styles hit the sweet spot for a certain season. Also the way that different brands complement each other is really powerful. There are so many people that come in-store and buy Former, Octo, and EPØKHE in one fell swoop.
It’s rad to see so much consumer spending being directed to small independent brands. We’re by no means masters at it, but seeing it day-in, day-out over the years subconsciously offers you a little intuition on the front-line reaction to a lot of brands and products in our little echo chamber.
Where did the decision to do apparel come from? Do you see WT becoming more of a European fashion brand with a surf/skate/street aesthetic?
We saw a gap in the market for a fashion brand with roots in core surf and skate, but with a heavy emphasis on attention to detail and quality from a European manufacturing standpoint. There are so many great brands in our sphere that we didn’t want to tread on anyone’s toes, we wanted to complement them.
Our designers are from a high fashion background, and we haven’t seen that attention to detail and quality being applied in the surf and skate scene. With so many High Fashion Brands doing skate shoes and YSL even doing a surf capsule, it seemed fit to fight our corner a little. Take it into their world instead of those guys profiteering from ours, a world they know nothing about.
Being European ourselves added a little fuel to the fire, as we have such a rich history of fashion brands, but nothing that inspiring in surf coming from the old continent (apart from New Amsterdam and PUKAS – those guys rule). Our partner’s factories are in Italy and Casablanca, and they make the best quality gear for a world-class roster of brands. One of them is on the Amalfi Coast, in Napoli, so it’s been fun getting sidetracked there on work trips.
Where do you guys plan on opening shops? Accounts you’re excited about? Next steps?!
We’re looking pretty closely at Biarritz. It’s just down the road from us and, conveniently, where I live. The dream for 2021 is London or Barcelona. We’ve been lucky touring film premieres there with Dion, Chippa and those guys over the years and know there’s a really strong community that turns up. But there are also many stores and spaces there that speak to that world. It’s maybe the best time ever to get into those spaces that were astronomically expensive before the pandemic. The rates have been cut, so I reckon there’s a little room for our culture to have a footprint in bigger cities.
Then we’re waiting for Spring 21 to open up to a wider wholesale base. We have some accounts in the pipeline in Japan which we are really excited about, as well as European ones where we sit next to YSL and Burberry, also more street and skate brands such as NOAH etc. Hopefully we can hold our own.
As for next steps: ride out the lockdown. Go to print. Working on some product with Globe and a few other brands. Work on Spring 21. Obviously we’re late. Who isn’t? And with the current somewhat draconian French lockdown getting fined 3750€ for surfing might put the pressure on us to sell some wares.
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