Written on the 22 August 2014 by Nick Nichols

SURF and sun may be at the heart of new surfwear label Vissla, but the Gold Coast-based arm of the brand is now  looking to women to drive its next phase of growth.

The emerging surf-culture brand has made significant inroads into the competitive surfwear market, less than a year after being launched by former Billabong executives and senior staff.

Vissla, whose Australasian operations are headed by John Mossop, Brad Bricknell and Peter Casey, is now in close to 100 stores across Australia as the first spring collection hits the stores.

But according to Mossop, Vissla is generating an equally big buzz with its women’s range – called Amuse Society – as the group moves to fill a void in the market.

“We’ve had a very strong response to the first season of Vissla and now we’re now being somewhat overwhelmed with the response to the first range from Amuse Society,” says Mossop.

“The girls have been attending all of the major trade shows in the US in recent months and the response has been incredibly strong.

“The brand has found a niche straddling somewhere between surf and higher-end beach fashion and there is a real anticipation building among retailers.”

Vissla and Amuse Society are global brands owned by Stokehouse Unlimited and have operations in the US, Europe and Australasia.

The US division is headed by former Billabong US boss Paul Naude, while Europe is being driven by former Billabong CEO Derek O’Neill.

The Australasian division is based at Burleigh Heads, at the coalface of the Australian surfing industry and just a stone’s throw from Billabong’s (ASX: BBG) Australian headquarters.

After launching with Vissla, Amuse Society and sunglass brand D’Blanc early this year, Stokehouse has generated a strong social media presence.

The company has gained traction in the US market in particular, where Naude has placed stock in major independent surf accounts around the country as the thirst for new brands grows.

The global surfwear industry has undergone major upheaval in recent years, driven in part by the troubles that have beset Gold Coast surfing icon Billabong.

Billabong, which is now effectively in US hands led by the Los Angeles-based CEO Neil Fiske following a debt restructure with private equity interests, has been shedding assets for the past two years in a bid to stabilise its fortunes.

The uncertainty about the future of some major brands in the industry has opened the way for a wave of new brands to hit the market, many of them created by seasoned players who have found themselves seeking new opportunities as a result of the shakeout.

Among these is Gold Coast surfer and former Billabong executive Luke Egan, who with partners is planning the launch of a new surf brand called Depactus.     

Vissla is at the front of the new-brand pack, driven by the connections created across the industry by the likes of Naude and O’Neill.

After launching earlier this year, the brand was little known outside the surfing community.

Mossop says the growth since then has been explosive, although he concedes the test in the Australian market will come during the coming summer season.

“We’re greatly appreciative of the retailers who are buying into our brands,” he says.

“They’ve taken a leap of faith based on the parties involved and our tight distribution and we hope to see them rewarded with strong sell-through as the weather starts to warm in the back half of the year.”

Author: Nick Nichols





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