Boardies Founder Looks Beyond the Short as Business Evolves
Boardies founder Nick Crook built a business off bright, original prints – an Iron Maiden collab, tarot cards, and Lucha Libre masks are just a few recent examples.
Now, the London swimwear and apparel company is seeing traction in kids’ – so much so that Selfridges’ Oxford Street London location added a Boardies surf shack-inspired pop-up shop filled with the line.
The display expands the brand’s floor space at the retailer and also allows it to make a big push with swim just in time for summer. The temporary shop is stocked with boys’ swim shorts and volleys, ranging in size from 1-2 years up to 13 years. There are also graphic T-shirts, rash guards, beach hats and a collaboration with surfboard shapers Karma Surf on a long board installation.
The pop-up adds to an expanding roster of doors, now totaling about 300, the brand is sold in. Boardies counts the U.S., Europe, and Australia as its largest markets. Retail partners include a mix of boutiques, upscale department stores, and online fashion retailers, including American Rag Cie, Harvey Nichols, Liberty London, Need Supply Co., Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters, Yoox, The Iconic, and the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts among others.
The idea for the Selfridges pop-up, open through the summer, came from a buyer at the upscale department store after seeing the company’s 2023 collection.
“Boardies first launched our kids’ swim collection with Selfridges in spring/summer 2022, which received a really positive reaction and great sell through,” Crook said.
The actual surf shack buildout is inspired by Echo Beach in Bali, Indonesia, where Crook lived for a few years.
Boardies’ kids’ line is relatively new to Selfridges, but it launched in 2018. The rollout was driven by interest and requests from retailers, Crook said.
“We originally launched with men’s but now kids’ is growing really fast as our designs resonate with a youthful market, being bright, fun, and colorful,” the founder said.
Within kids, girls swim is beginning to “make good progress,” according to Crook.
“Margins are less on kids, but they (parents) probably buy more,” he pointed out.
Meanwhile, the women’s business is a bit more sluggish, with Crook describing it as “challenging.” Boardies had been making women’s pieces from premium recycled fabrics in Bali. However, the company’s signature loud prints haven’t meshed with the broader trends and appetite for solids and muted tones.
Apparel, in general, is growing for Boardies and Crook said the goal is to add heavier fall/winter pieces that would diversify sales across seasons.
The company also entered footwear through a recent collaboration with the sustainable brand Indosole via a men’s slider capsule collection.
“We are growing nicely and organically, but under no pressure as we have zero investors,” Crook said. “Europe and the Middle East are a focus for us, and we have signed up some great sales agents in key areas.”
Crook, who studied business in college, has held a number of marketing positions prior to starting Boardies, including former head of marketing for K-Swiss’s U.K. business and advertising and promotions manager for Levi Strauss & Co.’s U.K. and Ireland markets. He’s also worked at Umbro and Reebok.
A trip to Australia around 2009 prompted Crook to see a gap in what he called a rather “stale” marketplace ripe for “cool swimwear” and “newness.”
“The aesthetic of Boardies comes from being a kid in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, when skate and surf culture had a resurgence and fashion and design was so bright and colorful,” he said. “Growing up in the U.K., we looked at America as having the coolest stuff – the fashion, the films, the music, MTV, Hollywood et cetera. I think I’m not alone with the impact this had on me. As a brand owner and creative designer, I see references from high-end fashion to streetwear.”
Crook started with mesh-lined volley shorts aimed at those taking a trip to the beach or pool.
“Ten years ago, guys stopped wearing the big, baggy boardshorts that the corporate surf brands had been pushing since the late ’90s. A few brands found their gap in the luxury end, say $150-plus price point, but they were quite conservative, a bit serious, and inaccessible,” Crook said.
Boardies, by comparison, sells its men’s shorts for $80, women’s for $75, and kids for $45.
And Crook sees the brand’s competitive advantage being its unique prints, many of which are drawn by hand or painted.
Said Crook: “Too many ‘me too’ shorts manufacturers churn out the same old flamingos, anchors, and turtle prints, and it’s boring.”
Kari Hamanaka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.