Rip Curl Responds to Backlash Over Work with Transgender Surfer
Rip Curl broke its silence Wednesday evening in response to mounting public criticism of its work with a transgender athlete in a recent marketing campaign.
The company, part of New Zealand-based KMD Brands, last week featured professional longboarder Sasha Jane Lowerson on its social media. The post led some athletes and consumers to criticize the company and call for a boycott of the brand.
The Australian surfwear company appeared to reverse course by taking the post down earlier this week.
“Our recent post has landed us in the divisive space around transgender participation in competitive sport,” a Rip Curl spokesperson said in a statement emailed to SES Wednesday evening. “We want to promote surfing for everyone in a respectful way, but recognize we upset a lot of people with our post and for that, we are sorry. To clarify, the surfer featured has not replaced anyone on the Rip Curl team and is not a sponsored athlete.”
The company declined to make Rip Curl CEO Brooke Farris available for an interview to discuss the marketing campaign and subsequent reaction. It also declined to answer any further questions beyond the statement.
The company’s work with Lowerson prompted pro surfer Bethany Hamilton, who ended her contract with Rip Curl last year with time still on it, to take to Twitter on Wednesday to post her thoughts on transgender athletes.
“Male-bodied athletes should not be competing in female sports. Period,” Hamilton wrote.
The backlash comes as KMD Brands, which also owns Kathmandu and Oboz, looks to aggressively grow Rip Curl’s North American market share with investment in both the wholesale and direct-to-consumer channels.
That follows a companywide restructuring for KMD Brands, which impacted the company’s offices and wetsuit factory.
Among the executive departures seen last year at Rip Curl North America were Mary Miller, former senior vice president of women’s, and Paul Harvey, former head of sales.
About a year after former head of North American Dylan Slater parted ways with the company to lead Firewire, the company named Roxy and Quiksilver vet Kiki Prince to serve as North America general manager. Prince’s start date is Feb. 12.
Prince will oversee a region that generated NZ$142.8 million ($87.6 million) in fiscal year 2023 ended July 31 as KMD aims to grow that to NZ$200 million ($122.7 million) in the medium term through a combination of more Rip Curl stores, along with expansion of wholesale and women’s.
Rip Curl generated sales of NZ$581.5 million ($356.7 million) in its fiscal year 2023, which was up 8.3% from the prior year. EBITDA totaled NZ$55.6 million ($34.1 million), down 6%.