Banks Journal Hires Jeff Moore as Interim CEO to Guide Brand to Next Stage
It’s been a bit of a “tricky” year for Newport Beach-based Banks Journal. Missteps were made and lessons learned during the pandemic, but the business is now laying the groundwork for scaling up its elevated coastal brand.
Banks Journal, not unlike many during COVID, overshot on inventory forecasting thinking the e-commerce spike would continue and is now working through the inventory excess. It has an interim CEO in Jeff Moore, the former global brand president of Reef, who joined Banks Journal last month to help take the business to the next level.
Banks Journal also launched a women’s line this year that has the opportunity to grow into a sizable business.
“Our brand is as strong as it has ever been,” said co-founder Rama McCabe, who held the CEO title since 2016 before bringing Moore on board last month. “There are just some issues as far as forecasting stock levels. There are things that come up and, unless you have someone in the business that has led a brand before, these are new challenges and new learnings. So, it’s been an adventure, and there are things I’ll never do again.”
Moore, who has been friends with McCabe for about six years, consulted for the brand in the past and is now tasked with helping add structure, strategic direction, and the financial wherewithal to grow.
“It’s been probably the easiest transition I’ve had in my career due to, one, I’m working with like-minded friends, two, we all believe in the brand, and, three, most importantly, we have a great team,” Moore said. “I can’t speak highly enough about our team. Such a stoke to work with great people.”
Moore ticked off a number of tactics he’s focused on to elevate the brand: a global go-to-market strategy, growing the boutique distribution channel, collaborations that resonate with a worldwide audience, segmenting seasonal product lines, and continuing to improve the product and fabrications to support higher price points.
Newport Beach remains the headquarters of the brand, where McCabe and other co-founder Motoo Noda are based. A Tokyo satellite office is also running, where co-founder Masa Shibahara works. The company’s third office in Australia shuttered during COVID.
Tim Cochran, the fourth founder of Banks Journal, retains an ownership stake, but is no longer handling day-to-day business.
McCabe and Cochran account for the brand’s coastal, Australian influences having grown up in Byron Bay and gone to high school together. The two later traveled around the world after high school with Cochran getting into design and McCabe following suit, both working at Rip Curl. Cochran would later go on to work at Rhythm and became head of product for Hurley Australia. McCabe went on to work at Globe, O’Neill, and Critical Slide Society (CSS), where he met CSS distribution partner Shibahara. Noda was Masa’s childhood friend and makes up the other half of the brand’s Japanese influence.
“We always wanted to work on a deeper level together and felt like there was a gap in the market for a more contemporary take on surf brands. We also wanted to inject more sustainability into the space,” McCabe said. “It was really fantastic to develop a brand with three other people that were real close friends and quite different in their approaches and backgrounds.”
That’s partially what caught Moore’s attention when he first became aware of the brand while still at Reef, seeing a press release on the business and later coming across their product at a trade show.
For Moore, McCabe and the brand’s three other co-founders have already done the job of establishing unique footing in the market.
“I was drawn to the clean, simple aesthetic with premium materials. It was evident that the founders were approaching the market with a very different take on surf,” Moore said.
So far, it’s gotten Banks Journal into about 500 doors globally, the majority – about 300 – are in the U.S. with stores that range from boutiques such as American Rag Cie, core names like Thalia Surf Shop and Hobie Surf Shop, and mall retailers like Tilly’s. What’s more, popular streetwear trade Hypebeast has referred to Banks Journal as a “sustainable streetwear” brand, speaking further to the boundaries it has pushed.
McCabe credits the diverse distribution to the founders’ focus on product development and design, saying they’ve often been more focused on fabrications and fits than on branding and public relations.
“This (retail diversity) is something we talk about internally a lot, and it hasn’t been a strategic play whatsoever,” McCabe said. “We come from a diverse background and so we enjoy spending time with a diverse group of people. There are a lot of other fantastic brands in our space that are very tribalistic. In a great way, they stand for a very particular thing, and they go after a particular marketplace.”
That’s never been the playbook for Banks Journal, McCabe said.
“We just try and develop great product and don’t tell our consumer they need to be a certain type of person to wear our product,” he said. “Along the way, a lot of people have thought that was a poor business choice, but that is who we are as a group of people and, because of that, it has organically grown into this very broad retail base.”
The company, driven by retailer and consumer inquiries, is now looking to bring its aesthetic to the women’s market in a big way.
A couple months ago, they launched women’s for Spring 2023 in a move McCabe said will allow them to experiment with far more design variations and silhouettes than can be done on the men’s side.
Women’s is still small, comprising between 10% and 15% of the business, and thus far is mostly carried in existing accounts.
“We see there’s a huge amount of potential with women’s-specific retailers and, for us, would love to see Banks Journal women’s stand on its own two legs rather than be supported by the men’s side (at retail),” McCabe said.
Banks Journal Retail
The expanded line could also be serviced by more Banks Journal stores, which is another growth possibility.
Currently, Banks Journal has a flagship boutique in downtown Los Angeles at the mixed-use project called Row DTLA. The former site of the American Apparel factory has continued to garner attention for the office and retail tenants it has landed, including a recent office lease with Condé Nast, in addition to offices for Adidas, Revolve, Shein, and VF’s former contemporary labels Splendid and Ella Moss.
The location, McCabe said, has attracted customers from as far as Newport Beach or Venice to come shop the store, which has exposed the brand to new eyes.
“We really enjoy having a complete retail space where we’re able to tell the whole Banks Journal story,” McCabe said. “We have a lot of fantastic wholesale partners that have gotten us to where we are today but, at the same time, those retailers are only choosing a small selection of our products that suit their retail space. Within our four walls, we’re able to showcase the breadth of product.”
Two years ago, Banks Journal signed a licensing deal at the Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club in Waikiki in which the company produces Surfjack label product in addition to stocking the retail space with Banks Journal, and other brands such as Slowtide towels and Dune Suncare.
Downtown L.A. and Waikiki are the only two retail outposts for the brand currently.
McCabe said there is opportunity for more branded stores in what he called “key locations,” but nothing is being planned at the moment.
“There’s definitely a want and a desire to open up more spaces ourselves,” he said.
Ultimately, all the expansion will be carefully paced with what makes business sense, with Moore helping to guide the next phase for Banks Journal.
“For us (co-founders), we know what we can do, but most importantly we know what we can’t do,” McCabe said. “We’re big believers in bringing in the right people at the right time. The founding group of people, we’re really good in certain areas, whether design, distribution, or product development, but there are things we still need to learn.
“For me, having someone of (Moore’s) caliber wanting to be involved with our brand is really exciting and really humbling. He’s going to look at ways to help us grow our business and drive it forward, which is super exciting.”
Kari Hamanaka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.