In a move that shocked the action-sports industry, Bob Hurley, president of Billy International, announced recently that his company will drop the United States license for Billabong clothing in June of 1999 and will be launching its own action-sports apparel label called Hurley this fall.
Billy International has been the U.S. licensee for Billabong Australia since 1983. Under Hurley’s management, Billabong, one of the mainstays of the U.S. surf-apparel market, also branched out into skateboarding, snowboarding, and the action-sports-lifestyle apparel markets.
Last year the company did 60-million dollars in sales and projects to do 70-million this year with the Billabong brand. Hurley won’t make any predictions on how much business the company will have with the new name: “It’s up to the market to say what we’ll do next year.”
But he says everything that retailers have come to expect from the company will remain the same. Aside from the new name, operations at the Costa Mesa, California headquarters continue as before. The 1999 Spring Hurley line is scheduled to launch at the Action Sports Retailer Trade Expo in San Diego this September, but the company plans to continue to run and manage the Billabong brand through the remainder of the contract, which ends in June of 1999.
The company will ship Billabong snow wear this fall and will continue to support the brand with advertising and team riders through the season. They will have the new snowboard apparel line at trade shows in the spring.
The U.S. company introduced snowboard clothing to Billabong in 1988, and Hurley feels it’s an important part of what they do. He plans to continue addressing that market with the new line. “K.J. Kevin Jones is in our office right now working on it then new line,” Hurley says.
All team riders (including snowboarders) have contracts with Billy International and will remain with the company and ride for the new brand. “The snowboard team riders are very excited about it,” he says. “They’re part of a big family here.”
Hurley explains that if the Australian owners want to change things earlier, he’d be open to it. The company says the parting was amicable.
“We’ve both done really well,” he says of the business partnership. “It’s been a pretty flexible relationship in the past, and sometimes we didn’t even have a contract. The years with Billabong have been a great ride.”
There’s a good chance that the Billabong brand will continue in the U.S. if the Australian owners find a new company to take the license.
Although Billy International dealt only with domestic sales for Billabong, Hurley says he plans on taking the new line global-a task his company hasn’t managed before. “I find it thrilling,” says Hurley about launching a worldwide brand. “I travel a lot. I’m more interested in influencing the world with our marketing, and making clothes for teenagers everywhere.”
So far the response from retailers has been overwhelmingly positive, says Hurley. The company will continue with the concept of building “classic designs with an edge.”Hurley adds, “My company has been able to create and maintain a quality product that appeals to guys who surf, skateboard, and snowboard. But the market is always evolving, and I have to be able to change and expand.
“I have my roots in the surf and music world, and that’s where I listen to my customers,” he continues. “We make clothes for the normal guy by staying in touch through surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding, and going to competitions and concerts.”
The creative team, which includes Lian Murray (designer of the Billabong USA line and formerly of Mossimo and Quiksilver), is a surf wear-savvy group that’s looking forward to developing new product categories that will ultimately lead to new market segments.
“Success in this business is based upon adaptability and willingness to change-quickly,” says Hurley, who points out that his team can have a design ready for retailers to see within six weeks because of his domestic production base in Costa Mesa. “This new label, where my talented design, promotional, and management team will remain intact, opens a spectrum of exciting future possibilities.”
Hurley’s design philosophy will remain unchanged, with a product lineup including denim, knit shirts, walk shorts, board shorts, pants, outerwear, wallets, backpacks, belts, T-shirts, and zipperless wetsuits.
“My philosophy is to never tell my audience what they should wear, but rather listen and observe what they like,” says Hurley. “Let the kids rule the world, and we’ll just be their partners.”