Industry Vets Bring T&C Back to Europe
Wilco Prins, the former President and CEO of Rip Curl Europe, is launching a new project that includes bringing back the T&C brand to the continent after a 15-year absence.
Under the licensing agreement, Wilco and his partners are focusing on Glenn Pang and Tommy Tanaka surfboards, technical boardshorts, accessories and recycled organic traceable cotton T-shirts and fleece.
They are also launching a multi-platform DTC website called thesaltsonly.com and have opened The Salts Only store in Hossegor, the capital of surfing in France.
SES knows Wilco from his Rip Curl days so we asked him a few questions about the new venture. He is partnering with another prominent former European Rip Curl executive, Stephan Moretti, who most recently served as Creative Director before leaving the company.
Why did you decide to bring T&C to Europe?
Wilco Prins: When I left Rip Curl in April, I spent a few months deciding what could be the next chapter, because at 43 years old, it was too early to retire. 🙂
We thought it was possible to build a strong brand in a market that currently has an interesting dynamic – the number of surfers is increasing, yet at the same time, a lot of the leading brands are struggling.
Since the beginning it has been our intention to start a business that focuses on the essence of surfing. Our goal was to focus on an authentic brand with a strong history instead of starting off from scratch, and we had good conversations with Adam Borrello of T&C about bringing the brand back to Europe.
We are relaunching the brand with a business model focused on DTC and a selection of good core stores. After a bit of research, we found that there is a lot of affection for the brand with surfers who are 35 years or older. While the younger generation does not know the brand in Europe, they love the logo and the brand once you explain the history of T&C.
Who is involved in The Salts Only? Do you plan to work with other brands as well?
Wilco Prins: From the beginning, I partnered up with Stephan Moretti. Stephan has 25 years of experience in the surfing industry. He went through a number of key positions at Rip Curl as the chairman of Mountainwear, Head of Surfwear and more recently as the Creative Director of Rip Curl Europe.
When we started thinking about how we wanted to tackle our DTC business online, we started talking with Arnaud Touix. We strongly believe that is more efficient to join forces with brands and launch a DTC multi-brand platform rather than being by ourselves. That is why we agreed to work together and added his brand portfolio that he manages in the region, which includes Haydenshapes, Alkali Fins and Rusty, to our online platform.
Furthermore, we will sell Vissla wetsuits and a selection of their surfwear on our site. Derek O’Neill has been really supportive and it is great to work with an independent company like Stokehouse.
We launched the brand a few weeks ago with a first batch of Glenn Pang surfboards. We set up the manufacturing of the boards at Basque Country Surf Company, with Mikel Agote and Johnny Cabianca as we know that they deliver some of the best quality surfboards in Europe.
After so many years at Rip Curl, what has it been like to start something new from scratch?
Wilco Prins: It has been very intense. We wanted to build this by ourselves – so we’ve done everything including painting the store, designing the build out, developing the products and the brand, setting our strategy, as well as all the boring back end stuff.
Thanks to leaders such as Brian Singer and François Payot, Rip Curl has always promoted that entrepreneurial spirit. It is obviously a lot more challenging with a small structure and with our own personal money funding the business, however.
Will you guys be designing your own T&C apparel or will you buy it from T&C Hawai?
Wilco Prins: We are developing our own line of products. We use a lot of design assets that already exist. However our goal is to develop our products in the most sustainable way possible. It is the yin and the yang between performance and sustainability. The reality is that surfboards in their current form have a heavy footprint, but they are also the best technical solution.
However for the production of clothing it is our mission to make sure our footprint is as little as possible. For example our T-shirts and fleece are developed with the company C.E.R.C.L.E. Our cotton products are made out of sustainable, recycled and traceable thread. The polyester we use for our boardshorts is recycled and on top of that we decided to use existing fabric that was left behind due to the major order cancellations during the lockdown.
What has it been like to launch in the midst of a pandemic?
Wilco Prins: We were very lucky because we did not launch anything before the European lockdown and it gave us plenty of time to prepare. Our main goal is to keep our organization lean and mean and to be financially stable and independent as much as we can.
Since the end of the lockdown, business has been very good in Europe. June and July have been record months for a lot of core retailers and brands. As our business is geographically very closely linked to the coast, things are becoming a bit tricky because there has been a big flow of people from everywhere and therefore we have seen an increase in the number of infections.
Starting a business is always challenging. When there are strong brands that take up all the physical and online retail space it is not easy. But at the moment we see that it is incredibly challenging for everyone and therefore we believe that there is definitely a space for businesses that are doing it for the right reasons.