Ambsn getting noticed by mags, key accounts
I recently caught up with AMBSN co-founder Dustin Odbert to catch up on the rapid growth of the emerging young men’s apparel brand that doubled in size in the last year.
For business owners, Dylan, 24, and Dustin, 28, skew towards the younger end of the spectrum. Despite their age, the two brothers, from San Luis Obispo, Calif., have a fresh outlook on fashion that has gained their retro and light-hearted made-in-the USA designs traction at key accounts. The brand is also getting noticed by mainstream men’s magazines and accounts worldwide.
I spoke to Dustin Odbert to catch up on the brand, the interest by GQ Magazine and how they have grown the business in the last year.
When did you and your brother start AMBSN?
We started the brand as a real business two years ago when we moved down to San Clemente from Arroyo Grande. When I say “real,” I mean that’s when we started paying attention to margins, keeping track of our receivables and keeping track of our numbers.
(Right: Dylan Odbert, friend Josh Hartley of Electric and Dustin Odbert.)
The three years before that when we lived in Arroyo Grande, it was pretty much, “Hey Dyl we just got into this sweet shop here is the order… Cool let’s get into some more stores,” and then six months later we would scramble to figure out who owed us money.
The brand concept for ambsn was thought of in 2001 after our friend was hit by a train as fundraiser to pay for his medical bills.
What makes ambsn different?
Along with unique forward product that is produced solely in the United States, which is by choice, I feel like there is something about two brothers from the middle of nowhere growing something together that they really believe in. It’s a compelling story that is pretty unique to us and ambsn.
As far as marketing and design, we take a light-hearted, fun approach to everything we do. Our whole design philosophy is what we call “New Wave Nostalgia” – respecting the classics and reinventing retro.
See Page 2 for more about Ambsn and its designs
You seem to have different graphics for most brands in action sports. I know you have lions and tigers and bears on your boardshorts and some other designs with the American flag.
For us, it doesn’t have to be the same old wave shot regurgitated season after season. Why can’t there be lions and tigers and bears on boardshorts or an American flag on a 14-inch swim trunk?
My brother and I both like lions and tigers and bears, so we are going to do what we want because at the end of the day it’s our decision.
The landscape of action sports specialty retail has changed because so much has been done over and over again. For us, design is about what we think is fun and what we are into and not because it’s gotten us by season after season. That’s when things get boring and your customers loose interest.
It hasn’t been the best few years to be a newer brand. Can you share any of your strategies?
Had we started from the ground floor two years ago it would have been REALLY hard, but since we have been on the road peddling our wares for the last five years, people have become somewhat familiar with ambsn.
Although we are fairly small, we have proven sell-though in some of the hardest accounts to open in the country.
It seems as though retailers are at a point where it’s “differentiate or die,” and they have started to take notice of not only ambsn, but all the brands like Insight, Analog, Atwater, Brixton, Comune, Hippytree, Freedom Artists etc.
For us, a big part of the traction we are having has been more long hours than I can count, perseverance, and rad product designed by my brother, Dylan.
Can you describe your brand and the accounts you sell to?
We are a contemporary lifestyle brand, almost like a younger version of Paul Smith. This has allowed us to live in the men’s contemporary world while we have established our base with many of the best action sport specialty retailers across the United States.
We are highly selective on what accounts we sell our brand to. We really are looking at brand longevity as opposed to a quick buck.
See Page 3 for details about Ambsn’s distribution
How many doors are you in compared to last year?
Last year at this time, we were in about 95 doors. Now we are in 200 doors. We recently opened 10 Active doors, all Becker stores, added two more Sun Diego stores (from three previously), and also opened Beams, a high-end account in Japan.
What’s new category-wise?
We expanded our boardshorts line and introduced a higher price point baggy or “volley short” that has a 14-inch outseam, and elastic waistband. It’s what your dad wore back in the day, but we put a cool new spin on it. They’re awesome. I don’t even want to wear boardshorts anymore.
What are the best items among your accounts?
Our knot tanks and T’s have been our most popular items.
The volley short has been popular in our more boutique accounts. We don’t have just one piece that’s trendy. We only build what we believe in. If we’re not feeling it, then it doesn’t make it as a sample.
What’s new for summer?
For summer we are introducing four styles of walk shorts.
How about girls’ clothes?
I’ll let someone else struggle with that. You lose what you are trying to do when you try to be everything to everyone. We do men’s so were going to stick with that for now.
See Page 5 for recent fashion magazine interest in Ambsn
Tell me about GQ and the NY Times recently asking you for product.
They came up to us at the “Workroom,” a small spinoff of the trade show Project back in August. Five of the most well-dressed guys I have ever seen from GQ came by and told us they really liked the line and my jaw pretty much dropped. They asked us for samples their GQ’s “Men of the Year” photoshoot.
The editor of the NY Times Style section also told us he liked our line and wanted to get samples from us. We don’t know yet if our stuff is in for sure, but it’d be an honor to work with any of those magazines.
You seem to take that grassroots, old school approach to design and sales and do most of it yourselves. How has that helped the brand?
I have heard so many stories from retailers about Bob McKnight, Richard Woolcott and Bob Hurley all selling boards and boardshorts out of the back of their trunks. We feel it’s been important for us to pound the pavement and pay our dues to earn the right to sell at these stores just like the icons of our industry did in the beginning.
(Right: Dylan and Dustin at the Waterman’s Ball. Shop-eat-surf file photo.)
We are very selective in our distribution so walking in every door and being familiar with where we retail is crucial.
On top of doing all sales, I have been doing the marketing and finance while Dylan has been doing all the design, sourcing and production. Although sharing these roles between the two of us has been a lot of work, it has made us familiar with every aspect of our business.
And now you have another employee?
We just recently hired someone to help with sourcing and administrative roles so now we can focus on what we are best at.
We also recently moved into a bigger warehouse in an office park in San Clemente where we should be for at least a few years.
Are you guys looking for investors?
We have our feelers out for sure. We know we can grow as organically as we want as long as possible, but we’re not from money so we are always keeping our ears open for the right people and we’ll be smart about it. We’re not going to get into a partnership that will dilute what we are doing. It’s got to be the right fit.