Relaxed Fit

Maybe a month ago, I was walking through a local mall visiting all the usual retailers to see how things looked. I stopped at a PacSun store and was attracted to a table with some Volcom shorts on it in colors I really liked. There was a sticker on the shorts that said, “Relaxed Fit.” 

I paused for a moment, looked around the store to clear my head, and then read the sticker again. Yup, it said “Relaxed Fit.”
 
There was a moment of mental paralysis, then the thoughts all poured out at once. “This must be some sort of cool marketing trick I just don’t understand, the stickers are there by accident- some clerk is screwing around with my brain (and it’s working), is this really where our market is going, there’s some kind of new trend I don’t know about, yes, that must be it, maybe it means to be fit and relaxed, Kering (Volcom’s owner) is making them do this, no, wait, somebody slipped something in my soda…”
 
I walked out of the store determined to pretend this had never happened. But three weeks later, in another mall in another city I made the mistake of checking again and there the shorts were with that same diabolical sticker. My attempt at denial was foiled.
 
But happily I was saved by my ever vigilant research department that sent me this New York Times article called “Three’s a Trend | Men’s Shorts That Are Loose, but Refined.”
 
“Loose, but Refined” is conceivably a perfect (and hopeful) description of Volcom owned by mostly high end fashion company Kering. Grabbing at straws as I am, I’ve decided to believe that Volcom’s “Relaxed Fit” sticker is just a bow to this fashion trend shaped by their large corporate owner. See, I don’t know a lot of surfers, skaters and snow sliders that need relaxed fit clothing.
 
Okay, I’ve had a little fun with this, and I’m sure Volcom isn’t the only one doing it. I suppose I need to recognize that all our customers can’t be teenagers and that body shapes change with age (not mine of course). Yet in our push for growth, we get further and further from our roots. The ASC conference the day before the Agenda Show celebrated the importance of authenticity, but I wonder just what kinds of customers we can make product for before we begin to lose it.
 
I hope Volcom can stay loose.

 

 

16 replies
  1. Stikman-Glaspell
    Stikman-Glaspell says:

    What did you WANT the sticker to say? I get that you fear the ‘fashion’ world coming into surf, but really? “relaxed fit” prompted you to write a blog post? Was it supposed to say “Totally loose and chill surf fit bro”? 😉

    Havin fun back at you. Have a nice weekend.

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Hi Stikman,
      You know, I don’t really know what it should say. Maybe “normal” as opposed to “skinny” or something. It just struck me when I saw it and made me think about customers and identifying them. And it also just seemed funny to me so I wrote something and had a good time doing it. I can’t analyze SEC filings all the time. I’d go crazy. And it’s not fashion coming into surf- it’s us trying to take surf to fashion that opens the door to them. And maybe the sticker should say “Totally loose and chill surf fit bro.” And maybe there are a bunch of stickers like that they could use that would kind of poke fun at the whole thing but be cool. I don’t know, just thinking as I type.

      Thanks for the comment.

      J.

  2. Bob Hall
    Bob Hall says:

    How about: “Now that we’re just another label from a big public conglomerate, we gotta’ grow sales. And the best idea we had was to make shorts for old fat guys, too.” But I guess that much honesty wouldn’t fit on the hang tag…..

    Keep your sense of humor, Jeff. Indeed, those SEC filings are much less fun!

  3. JM
    JM says:

    Just an FYI, Volcom has had that same “relaxed fit” in the chino short for the last 10 years and back then it was the standard fit. With everything going so “slim” and “skinny” it looks against the grain, huh?. Funny how everything goes in cycles. With our Action Sports world being so small it appears we are the ones stealing from the fashion world instead of vice versa.

    jm

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Hi JM,

      Thanks, I wondered about the history and if I was just noticing it. I don’t spend enough time in stores. I didn’t mean to pick on Volcom and I understand why they do it. Okay, I guess I picked on Volcom a little. I just get so frustrated as we go through the inevitable industry cycle. We say “authentic” is important, but we don’t always act like it when we need to grow. And there I go saying “we.” Each company has to do what they believe is in their own best interest, and I know that Volcom, as a subsidiary of Kering, has pressure to grow. But what I keep writing, and what I still believe, is that growth at all costs doesn’t necessary produce what’s best for the brand. It doesn’t even necessarily produce the best bottom line.

      Thanks for the comment,

      J.

      • JM
        JM says:

        Jeff-
        It’s an interesting time when things shift so much a company feels the need to call out the basics.

        I couldn’t agree with you more on those last two sentences of your previous comment.

        jm

        • jeff
          jeff says:

          JM,
          God, it seems so obvious. I guess Wall Street pressures are just irrestible.

          You know, we both need to find something better to do on Saturday night.

          J.

  4. t Wrecks
    t Wrecks says:

    Volcom offers multiple fits in the short and pant category, in all categories for that matter. The sticker might make more sense if PSun had a pile of the Frickin Modern Stretch Chino short sitting next to it- the modern fit is a slimmer, straighter version with added stretch for comfort.
    Fat guy shorts as Bob Hall stated, sure. JM hit the nail on the head with the history, as Volcom has always offered this fit to the market, just under different style names.

    Simply put the sticker did its job and called out to you- an easy way for the consumer to make informed choices. Some shop staff can’t always be there to answer all the inquiries.

    Finally, Kering came along and acquired Volcom long after that sticker was placed on the product. Fits have been called out on most categories at Volcom for quite some time. This didn’t come from them.

    One final question for all of those out there, as it miffs me why Volcom gets picked on when many are publicly owned- Isn’t the “pressure” of running business always to grow? if not grow, why do it?

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Hi t Wrecks,
      Thanks for all the information and a little perspective. I tried to make it clear that I was sure others were doing it as well, but Volcom just happens to be the one I saw it on. I know it did come across as picking on Volcom, but if you read some of my other analysis, you know I’m an equal opportunity picker oner. I’m willing to be a little controversial if it generates thinking about a business issue, and don’t mind it when somebody tells me I’m wrong. In fact, that’s when I learn something.

      I understand what you mean when you say there’s always “pressure” to grow. It’s especially true when you are public, or owned by a public company. What I’ve suggested (and have been suggesting for a while now) is that growth can take you to a place in the market where it gets really hard to compete and at the same time can alienate you from the market where you’ve been successful. The answer isn’t to not grow. It’s to manage you growth a little judiciously and not rely on it for all your profit growth. I’m suggesting that growing 3% may be better than growing 12% if that 3% growth means better brand positioning, better sell through at margin at retail, better differentiation (caused by some amount of artificial scarcity), no product placed on consignment, less working capital invested in the business, lower inventories and write downs and, I believe, lower spending on advertising and promotion. You might read through what I posted on Skullcandy’s quarter and strategy a couple of days ago.

      I’m not against growing 12% by the way, I just know it’s hard to do that right now and there’s some danger to it for many brands including, I think, Volcom.

      Thanks for the comment.

  5. Hugie
    Hugie says:

    Well, I’m late with this response, but I’ve been out on the road, slinging product onto tables at various trade shows including Vegas yesterday. “Relaxed Fit” product is also made to accomodate our increasingly sedentary (translation: electronic media-addicted) youth culture. An interesting sidebar discussion that I’ve been hearing lately in the upper realms of industry chatter is the whole issue of the changing society that we live in, where teens are not rushing out to pick up gear for outdoor sports, but rather spending much of their time engaged in virtual combat or other online “entertainment.” 16 thru 18 yr. olds are even delaying getting drivers licenses, because much of their free time is not spent out exploring the outdoor world, but rather spent texting, gaming, porning, skyping, and prowling the social networks, and many times adding content themselves. These are all activities that replace what my generation once knew, that is surf stoke, wanderlust, “discovering” new surf breaks, backpacking, day-tripping, etc., etc. My nephew (18 yrs.) and my best friends son (also 18) both have no desire to rush out and get a DL. My friends and I were chomping at the bit at 16 yrs. old. One surf shope owner I know is gearing up to close one of his locations, primarily because kids are just not picking up the sport(s) like they used to. This downtrend of outdoor addiction is easily explained, but how can we counteract it? What can we do to re-ignite the next generation into bucking the tide and coming out of their bedrooms? (and I mean that literally, some kids literally stay in their rooms all day and night, like my friends son) We need to look at the future and project what this increasing trend means for all of us. Cheers, BH

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Hugie,
      Late’s fine. I do realize that sometimes you have stuff to do besides respond to my posts. Hope the selling was good. I’m aware of the delayed drivers license thing and ass sitting tendency of course. And I think it’s a big problem for us. But I’d caution you about talking about what “we” as in the industry can do. I think it’s an issue for each individual company. There are certain areas where companies in an industry can cooperate. But in others, where competition and competitive positioning is involved, I don’t think cooperation is a reasonable expectation. Remember how everybody said the industry should “do something” about distribution problems and nothing ever happened. That was because every company, when it came to distribution, was going to do what it thought was in its best interest- as they should. Nothing was going to change that. And some companies that maybe should have been acting, sat around waiting for the industry. Don’t want to see that.

      Thanks for the comment,

      J.

  6. Hugie
    Hugie says:

    Point taken. Hey, at first I mistakenly put “pint taken,” then I thought “now that’s a better option.
    I think I’ll go take my pint. Perhaps some innovative tech companies can work on things that get people outdoors again. Meetup.com is doing that. The Apple developers conference showcased a new product that pits real mini race cars against each other, cars that have intelligence- I think it was called Anqi or something like that. What a concept- technology that could theoretically get two people together in the same room! That is all I’m saying. How do we use technology to get people face to face, doing things, and especially getting outdoors and trying new outdoor activities. Technology right now is splitting people up and largely isolating too large a percentage of youth. Youth that end up not wanting or needing a drivers license, youth who don’t care about learing a new sport. Youth who spend all disposable income on new elecronics. We have lost them from our industry to another, without much hope of them coming back.

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Hugie,
      I know. It’s ugly. The thing is that social trends like this tend to evolve over decades. Recommend you get and read The Fourth Turning.

      J.

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