Former Focuses on Core as it Eyes Scale
Former’s marketing materials are black-and-white, grainy images of its founders: Craig Anderson flipping the bird, Austyn Gillette pushing off a skateboard, Dane Reynolds surfing, and so on.
Maintaining that effortless cool is what General Manager and Partner Eddie Miyoshi and team are tasked with as the business – founded in 2016 by Anderson, Gillette, Reynolds, and the late Dylan Rieder – looks to answer fundamental questions about growth, how to do it and who with, with the backing of shared services provider Kasa Maison.
“All of us are taking seriously how we speak to a larger audience and scale that into a sustainable business that will maintain the consistency of the brand’s foundation,” said Miyoshi, the former CEO of Huf Worldwide and former president of Volcom Japan. “I think the delicate balance in which we build on these two fronts is what will allow us to avoid the mistakes so many brands have made. It’s easy to say, ‘maintain the core,’ but it’s much harder to build a business model that sets that priority into its foundation.”
So far, Former has distribution in 80 U.S. doors – including Tactics, Crossroads Skateshop, Skate Warehouse, CCS, and SurfStitch among others – with licenses in Japan, Australia, Europe, Canada, and Latin America.
Independent wholesale accounts for about 60% of the U.S. business, with e-commerce making up the remaining 40% of domestic sales.
“We are pretty happy with this mix,” Miyoshi said. “However, we do have meaningful plans to expand slowly. I’m a strong believer that in order to maintain relevance and stability, brands need to be present where those younger generations interact in scale.”
Part of that laser focus is staying on track with what Former’s already doing. Miyoshi said there are no plans to get into women’s or footwear as the label drills down on its core competency in menswear.
Miyoshi joined Former three years ago. It was an opportunity to team up with former Volcom colleague Pat Von Lloyd, along with Kasa Maison partners Jamahl Grey, a co-founder and former creative director of Rhythm, and Eden Hannon, who previously served as Quiksilver‘s global content director and Rip Curl‘s global creative.
It was an easy decision to work with Former.
“Three legendary athletes in surf and skate, all notoriously well recognized creatives and influencers,” Miyoshi said. “All three with their own separate personalities and stories that have led them into starting a brand that essentially pivots from the industry’s current doldrums. ‘Rider Owned and Operated.’ That is a strong and enticing story.”
The executive saw a “light” with Former, after more than two decades in the action sports and streetwear worlds.
“Our industry has struggled over the years since its rise and fall with a musical chairs of consolidation,” he said. “Through it all ‘culture’ has slowly lost its voice. It’s been stifled by an endless chase to recoup an ROI on every change of hand. How does anything as pure as culture survive that?”
Kasa Maison: Lifestyle to Legacy
Kasa Maison, the blending of the word “umbrella” in Japanese and the French word for “house of,” aims to be just that for lifestyle brands.
The company is made up of Miyoshi, Lloyd, Grey, and Hannon, all tapping their collective experience in the industry to offer management, sales, customer service, product, design, and brand development expertise to the portfolio.
Currently, it’s Former under this umbrella, along with Rivvia Projects, started by Australian pro surfer Julian Wilson, and the contemporary swim and apparel label Poolside Paradiso launched by Daniella Ciano, a former global designer at Billabong also credited with rolling out Rhythm’s women’s business in the U.S.
“The company was created organically as an answer to how we can leverage the overall expertise, resources, and financial capital between the company we managed and the brands we held equity in,” Miyoshi said.
The business works with small- to mid-sized brands that need help to scale as they look to go from what Miyoshi described as “lifestyle to legacy” names.
Rider Owned and Operated
If the plan is carefully considered scaling, how does Former intend to break out from the pack and position itself in the marketplace?
“The interesting thing about building a brand based on athletes and creatives is we don’t have to have a predetermined, targeted, and planned position in the market,” Miyoshi said.
Reynolds, Gillette, and Anderson are seen as enough to carry the question of market positioning and also competitive advantage, he added.
All that said, headlines about consumer trepidation toward spending and whether a recession is coming isn’t a conversation Former is insulated from. How much inflation, a war overseas, and the possibility of a recession factor into the brand’s plans this year and the coming years is a tough question to answer, Miyoshi said.
“There is no doubt that retail and our consumer base has taken a hit in recent months,” he said. “However, our industry and youth apparel in general have been such an outlier in how, when, and to what degree of impact it has on our market, for better and for worse.”
Former took a conservative approach during the pandemic boom and didn’t expand or make major investments. As a result, it is better positioned to ride out near-term macroeconomic challenges.
“For Former, and likely a lot of smaller brands, restructuring our company amid a pandemic has kept us in a lean state of operations with options to easily pivot,” Miyoshi said.
In Former’s case, that’s meant taking on the operational and financial functions, while the three founders continue to focus on the creative and branding. Each seasonal line continues to be led by Anderson, Gillette, and Reynolds.
“It’s been three years and we have built something special,” Miyoshi said. “A company that has maintained its founders’ voice, with a profitable and solid foundation that we are all proud to be a part of. The ongoing challenge moving forward will be what many small, ideological brands face. How do we protect that brand’s culture and meaning, as we grow and expand our voice to a larger community?”
Even with industry veterans at the helm of Kasa Maison, it’s a different operating environment and consumer that are driving business today, which Miyoshi acknowledged. Thus, it’s not the same playbook companies must tap today to build a brand.
Part of that has to do with technology’s impact on people over the past 25 years and how that’s altered values, the way people interact, and how they live and fit into the world, the executive pointed out.
“A playbook works when you know the rules of the game,” he said. “Today’s rules change constantly, so you need to just build the foundation, know your goal, be prepared to pivot, and be ready to meet each new challenge with the best variety of on-field plays to get you to the win.”
Kari Hamanaka can be reached at email@example.com.