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Brian Jones

Know Your History or No Future – Part Three: Ryan Kingman and Stance

23 March 2012, 17.54 | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 comments »

With a squeamish face, I said, “What?! Ryan Kingman left Element to start a sock company?! What the fuck?!” Ya, I will admit I was an idiot and say that this was my instant reaction when I heard the news roughly two years ago. I’m sure this is what a lot of people thought until you actually opened up your mind for a minute and then you realized that this was a genius move! It’s a category that everyone loves, but yet no one owned. I mean, come on, who doesn’t love the feeling of putting on a brand-spanking-new pair of socks straight out of the bag.  If you ask any person what it feels like to put on a fresh-new pair of foot clouds, they will instantly have a Cheshire Cat smile from ear-to-ear as they gaze back on their great memories of those momentary feelings. You see, that’s the difference now, instead of having to wait for a brand new pair of socks to re-live that experience, you now have Stance to re-live that moment, daily! I know, that new sock feeling seems impossible to accomplish daily, but read on and you will see how Stance did it! But, wait…how do you market that foot cloud memory? How do you open up peoples minds enough to make them realize that you don’t have to wait months, or even years, to experience this feeling again? It seems like such an impossible mission…aahhhh…wait…that’s it, Ryan Kingman’s marketing mastermind brain, Stance has arrived!

I recently spent some time with Ryan Kingman, the VP of Marketing for Stance, at their offices in San Clemente, CA to go over the history of Stance and find out how everything came to fruition and where they’re going in the future. Stance has just finished its rookie season and in one short year has become a stand out in the market. I think we all want to know who, what, when, how and why! So here it is…

Ryan Kingman and Stance
Ryan Kingman, VP of Marketing for Stance

Jones: I have to know because I was kind of tripping when I heard the news you were going to bounce from what you helped create at Element and move on to create Stance, a sock company. How did this all happen?
Kingman: I was driving down to the TransWorld offices for a meeting about some editorial we had coming up and got a call from Mike Carter who at the time was at Skullcandy. He was brief, but said that he knows some people that want to start a new brand and are looking for someone to lead the marketing efforts. My initial feeling was flattery which quickly turned to dismay when Carter went on to say it would be a sock company. I’ll be honest, my first thought was “that’ll be a tough one,” but I told him I was open to new ideas and to please put us in contact. Within the short remaining drive to TransWorld the mental gears started turning and ideas just start popping into my head, mostly relating to what this new concept could look like in skateboarding – since that is what I grew up living and breathing, it was what I initially focused on – and just started envisioning this brand and building the excitement, knowing that this could be super fucking rad. I was thinking about what sock brands are out there now, what kind of opportunities this could open up as far as who we could work with, what the vibe could be, how it could look, what kind of product we could produce. By the time I got the call from John Wilson, President of Stance, I was more than down to go and talk about the opportunity and hear what it was about. From the early stages there was no name, no logo, just the concept and a plan. That’s part of the genuine excitement, just to have the opportunity to build a brand from the ground up. From there we set up a meeting with the chosen group to build this new animal. For that initial meeting I put together a marketing presentation outlining my thoughts about what this brand could be, how it could look, who could be involved…and I guess they were into it. I can’t say enough about how rad the group brought together for this meeting was; everyone had an amazing vision to make this opportunity become a great brand. From John Wilson, President, to Jeff Kearl our CEO, Aaron Hennings the VP of Creative and Taylor Shupe the VP of Production, the group just seemed to click right off the bat. All of us shared a mutual excitement in building something in a category that seemed until then to be primarily a commodity product. We wanted to champion it and own the category!

Ryan Kingman and Stance
Chris Cole Signature Collection

Jones: So, you pretty much had the idea to own it like Kleenex or Q-Tips, you don’t ask for a tissue, you ask for a Kleenex, or you ask for a Q-Tip, not a cotton swab.
Kingman: To some extent, yes, that’s exactly it. You can go get a dozen pair of white socks at Walmart or Target, or a skateboard, or a t-shirt for very little dough. But, most of those items are complete crap and will either break on you, tear, have a short life span, they’re subpar product that will not last. If you want a quality product that will last you a long ass time and feels great like a fresh pair every time you put them on, that’s where we come in. We’re aiming for Stance to be the first thing that comes to your mind, to be synonymous with socks.

Andrew Reynolds

Jones: From my perspective, you have pretty much started a new trend with people not being shy of only wearing white or black socks. People’s personality can really shine through by just a glance of what socks they’re wearing. Being such a new category for a brand to own, what was your vision and goal to obtain with Stance, from the actual physical product to the team and marketing surrounding it?
Kingman: Believe it or not, the response we got from everyone we approached for Stance is what escalated our vision and goals right from the start. I couldn’t believe how many people were so responsive when we told them what we were doing, they would just say ‘oh man, I love socks, that so fucking awesome, what can I do?’ Those individuals helped give us the assurance that we were on to something and we were headed in the right direction. We can’t really take credit for starting a trend with socks, I just think we came in at the perfect time when the trend started to hit. It’s the people associated with Stance that have escalated our awareness and have helped us become a leader in this market.

Ryan Kingman and Stance
Theotis Beasley

Jones: Speaking of which, how do you plan on staying ahead of the game? You really opened up a lot of brands eye’s about this category and the possibilities it could create for growth.
Kingman: This is something we realized could happen right from the start. We really focused not only on our product and team, but also our presence in stores where consumers that might not be too savvy or switched on to the world of action sports and fashion, could still come into contact with our brand. Our in-store presence, with our custom fixtures, really helped create that awareness. The reality is that often times it’s a mom or dad who is looking for something cool for their kids and because of our fixture presence we are driving sales with customers that may have no prior exposure to us and our other marketing efforts. We’ve woken up the sleeping giants that are now starting to put in more time and energy into their sock category, but that’s where us being first-to-market has come into play and the reason we hit it so hard coming right out the gate. It’s going to be a constant battle for us to fight to lead this category. The advantage we have is that socks are our life line! Stance does not sell t-shirts, watches, denim, wovens, or anything else. All we make and focus on is our socks and making the best socks you can get. If you ever see a Stance t-shirt it was created as an additional marketing vehicle, for our team to wear or for promotional purposes, but there is no plan to add this or any other item to our line.

Ryan Kingman and Stance
Stance Spring 2012 Collection

Jones: That’s an interesting point, because even though other brands have designers for their accessories, this category can in no way be their main focus or they will lose market share in their other collections. So, in some way, they might come after you now since you’re new and fresh brand that’s on trend, but will lose steam once they have to follow some other trend or new category. I know you can’t bank on that, but it’s inevitable for most brands. What about the quality and technical aspects of the socks? Most people think it’s just throwing cotton and spandex together and there you go, there is your sock. What is Stance doing to stay ahead of the game?
Kingman: We actually not only want to make great products, but we want to create an experience every time you put on a pair of our socks. There are so many aspects of our socks that we focus on that make our socks great, it’s definitely not just this and that and there you go. Our combed cotton helps create that fresh, soft feeling every time you wear them. It’s the perfect combination of combed cotton, spandex and nylon/spandex to help keep its shape, to a seamless toe closure so you don’t feel that weird bump in your shoes, to arch-band support so the sock really wraps the center of your foot, to the y-gore seem so that your heel sits snug in the sock and doesn’t let the sock float around once you’ve worn them all day. It’s a fairly involved process once you break down all of the components of our socks. A lot goes into the technical design and production process. Mix all of that in with our designs, colors and support we have from our team and artists we work with and you have something special.

Ryan Kingman and Stance
Stance Family

Jones: It’s awesome! It almost sounds like a perfect storm that culminates into your line. So, moving on to the marketing side of things, having a chance to build a new team from scratch, did you always have a wish list of skaters, artists, musicians, etc. that you’ve always wanted to work with, but never had the opportunity to in the past because of them being locked into contracts with competitors? You have pretty much created a new category for sponsorship so it seams to me the sky was the limit on who could be a part of the brand.
Kingman: Absolutely! To have this new opportunity to work with people I have always admired was super exciting for me and still is. As soon as I got that first call about Stance  I was thinking about who I could bring on board. I mean, some were achievable, but some were not once other brands started to consider them wearing our socks as a conflict of interest. It’s funny, I call them Sock Blockers! Haha. But, yes, I always knew if this sort of opportunity ever came up I would hit up more than a few people. But, it wasn’t strategic like ‘Oh this person can do this for us and he can do this, that person caters to this genre!,’ it was just natural based off of the relationships I already had with them and knew what they were capable of or I simply dug them as a person. Chris Cole, Andrew Reynolds, Mikey LeBlanc, Mithc Abshere, Theotis Beasly, I mean the list is so rad! I knew they would be sick to have a part of our family and would not only back our efforts, but would give real input on what they like and would want to see in our line. There is no set style we are looking for and that is really where The Uncommon Thread phrase came into play, there is no set path or direction for what we are doing, ideas are open and welcome from anyone.

Ryan Kingman and Stance
Don Pendleton Collaboration

Jones: That’s definitely been my thoughts about the brand is that it’s not some contrived and forced thing, everything about it just feels really natural. There is no self-cheering, it just seems like a humble approach and you let the product and image of Stance speak for itself. It’s funny, I know what you’re doing is working because It’s gotten to a point for me that no matter where I am at, if I see someone with a colorful sock or a sock that looks different, I automatically assume it’s a Stance sock and friends I talk to about Stance have told me the same thing.
Kingman: That’s one thing that I am stoked on too and more than a few people have told us the same thing as well, which is awesome!

Jones: What about being category specific, are you stuck to any calendar for selling seasons or are you able to create products that are in demand faster?
Kingman: That’s been a hot topic for us. We’re definitely not stuck on only creating products for a selling season. Those seasons exist for a reason because apparel takes so long to produce and create and there are so many pre-book issues to consider, those lines are created so many months out before they ever hit the shelves. We do have seasonal offerings and catalogs but are not stuck with only making and selling products that are in our catalogs. We can be pro-active and react to whatever the consumer needs so we can always have fresh products in our collection.

Stance Family

Jones: How have you been able to stay fresh with your marketing, I know that Stance is fairly new in the game, but I see a lot of rad marketing initiatives keep popping from you that you don’t see too many other brands try to attempt, such as your Finders Keepers posts on Twitter and Instagram.
Kingman: Advertising and marketing has changed so much over the last couple of years, we’re doing all we can to try and keep pace and get ahead. I really like to focus on the digital opportunities and tie them to any of our marketing efforts. Finders Keepers is a great example and we have got a ton of response from that with our consumers as well as retailers who are into that idea of creating something new. You just can’t simply let your paid advertisements do it for you alone. There are so many avenues to connect directly with our consumers that we’re constantly researching with new digital trends of social media which has played a major roll in our growth and awareness.

Thanks for taking the time, Kingman. Look out for more awesome things coming from Stance in the near future.

Interview by Brian Jones
Photos courtesy of Stance

Know Your History or No Future – Part One: Chris Cole and Omit Apparel

13 February 2012, 17.53 | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 comments »

This is my first installment of a new feature article series for Rad Collector, named Know Your History or No Future. Everyone is always so intrigued about a brand they like, but always seem to only get the basic information of what the brands about. With this article, we will give you a little bit more diversity and dive into the history of the brand so we can learn what it’s really about and why it was created. Take this article as a learning curve if you will. If you don’t know your past, you will have no future!

As we all know, this past summer 2011, Chris Cole started his own line named Omit Apparel. I recently sat down with Chris to get the true nuts and bolts about why he felt the need to add another apparel brand into the market place and not just hop onto someone else’s ship. Any skateboarder on Chris’ level can hop on-board with another company and get a signature collection, but Chris saw the need to take ownership in something and this is why.

Know Your History or No Future
Part One – Chris Cole and Omit Apparel

Jones: What’s the vision for Omit and the reasoning behind what you’ve created? And, what drives the creativity?
Cole: I had a lot different ideas for different things, but ultimately Omit’s all the things that felt cool to me, across the board. I like the intricacies of some ornate patterns, the cleanness of the sneaker culture vibe and mix that in with my heavier heavy metal inspired stuff and dark inspired stuff I’m into. I kind of got into a whole mess of different styles, but they all kind of held one similar tough feel to them and that culminated into Omit. No matter whether they were a sneaker collector style, clean art style or whether it was a heavy metal graphic style, they all felt worth while, so that was the idea behind it. I’ve always paid attention to the details on clothes that I would go out and buy. There are small, small things that I always wished I could have merged together in order to make the ultimate product, but I never truly had the opportunity to do it and I also never found a company before that did it, perfect. So, I felt like there was an opening and open slot for us to start something new. Cause, I wouldn’t want to start something that’s just like that other something. To an extent, skateboarding depicts kind of what you’re able to make because you can only branch out so far, or at least in my comfort level, I can only branch so far outside of skateboarding. Skateboarding will always be my cornerstone, it will always be the keystone and skateboarding depicts a lot of styles we produce with Omit. We’re definitely careful with the retail market too. You can’t let it bully you into making things that don’t fit the brand and you can’t let them envision the brand for you because that will drop you into the vanilla category so quickly.

Chris Cole at Omit Headqurters in Irvine, CA

Jones: Ya, retailers will definitely cannibalize you if you don’t watch what you’re doing closely.
Cole: It’s definitely important to make things that sell for retailers so you can continue the growth of the brand, but you have to have those flagship styles in your line that really make you who you are. A lot of the time those key styles are the pieces that don’t sell well, but all of your hoodies, hats and tee’s sell great and that helps keep the other things coming.

Jones: Was there a defining moment in your career where you were like “Dude, I need a change, now’s the time to make some shit happen?!”
Cole: Ya, definitely. The idea for me to start my own brand kind of grew as I was sponsored and I was making signature pieces. I really cared what they looked like and I cared what was in there as far as looks and materials. I learned a ton from all of my sponsors and specifically from Jamie Thomas, all of my sponsors are the guys who basically taught me everything, and from that I learned how to build a line. So, as I was making signature items with Jamie and we started building that line, the global market fell out, so we ended up not proceeding with it. My ideas and goals for Omit were pretty much planted in my head already from all of my past experiences, so as the market was adjusting I saw an opportunity.

Jones: How did Omit’s partnership with Jonas and Robert from LRG happen? Were you always looking for a source in the background the whole time, or was it something that just fell together?
Cole: I was actually looking to do, at bare minimum, a signature line within another company. I didn’t know how that would be though, I didn’t know if it was going to be a, you know, Omit by So and So’s company. That seemed like a great scenario at the time, but then when I met with Robert and Jonas, we hit it off really well and we threw ideas back and forth at each other and in that meeting alone, the ideas were growing. We just kept bouncing ideas back and forth and everyone would just keep building on each idea. So ultimately, the synergy was right and now it didn’t seem like it was such a bold concept or that it was too big of a concept to create a company on it’s own feet.

Omit Spring 2012 Tees

Jones: How long did it take from going to your initial concept, to dropping a name, creating a team, creating the line, being able to ship, etc?
Cole: It took a year to go from that point, the point to decide this is what we’re going to do. We had some names of the brand picked out, we had a vision for what it will be and then we went to the details like how large is the line going to be, what kind of pieces are we going to put into the line. From the time all that stuff started and we actually started designing, it 9 months before it came available to buy.

Jones: With how long it takes to just design, chose a color pallet for a season then get samples for your sales reps, that seams nearly impossible.
Cole: Oh, it’s insane with sampling and all that. So, we were designing the Fall 2011, Holiday 2011 and starting brainstorming for Spring 2012 all at the same time. What the general public doesn’t know about the clothing world is, we’re staring at a wall of designs on paper, which is a full year and some change forward, before any of this stuff can be in our hands to sell. So, we’re always looking at the future and what were designing today is not going to make it in the stores for a full year to 18 months. But, that was the best thing about partnering with veterans. They already had their production in line, knew where to go for the correct sourcing and great factories that were able to produce what we needed in time and make it look and be perfect.

Omit Pant Details

Jones: Has owning Omit or partnering with Jamie Thomas over at Black Box for Zero Skateboards opened up your eyes with being very cognizant of what people you put on a team? I mean it’s a scary thought to know that one skate brand can drop anywhere from $50,000 and much, much more, in one month, just for marketing and advertising alone. So, if the tricks that person produces for the ad are weak, or if they are lazy and not really skating all that much, it makes brands not want to back them. Jamie is not only a great inspiration for skateboarders, but for business owners alike, because in some way, he sort of lead the way for companies to be able to really drive their teams to produce.
Cole: Its insane, it’s insane. And you know what’s crazy is that you end up thinking through every little detail, like is your ad good, are people going to notice your ad, is the trick good enough, is the photo good enough, is this the effect we want to use on it, where’s our logo placement, is this too much logo, not enough logo. Branding is a double edge sword. And then you realize, Wow, is that really how much an ad is? Then you get into I really want to support this cause and you want to support that mag and this mag and then do online banners and you can drop so much money, like so much. And then, even when you batten down and you keep it real tight; the cost of running an effective business is insane. It costs to be the boss, as they say. So, if you want to deal something that costs this much money and takes this much time, your life becomes it and you have to back it for real. I’m very fortunate to have the partners I have and have the great team behind me every step of the way, with everything I do. I truly value everyone that’s on board.

Jones: I feel because of the impact you’ve made on skateboarding more people are willing to back your efforts and decisions, like Andrew Reynolds and his launch of Altamont a few years back, that respect opens up a lot more doors and eyes in the industry when you decide to make a decision and makes them take notice a little bit more on those decisions. With that said, your newest additions of Peter Ramondetta and Trevor Colden really showed that you weren’t fucking around with building a tight crew of truly dedicated skateboarders. They both nail their shit, but are super humble and nice, will that be a key moving forward?
Cole: Definitely, there are more than a few skateboarders I look at and think they would be a fit, but with Peter specifically, he was somebody I always knew that whenever I started my own company he would definitely be on immediately. Whether it be a bolt company, or grip tape or any company. I knew that if the opportunity were there I would love to get Ramondetta to be a part of it. The difference with now is, it’s not like most companies where you pretty much have to vote a dude on as a team rider, which consists of taking them on a trip and watching them skate and to make sure they mesh correctly with the team and the owners are kind of in the background. Now, with this being my responsibility I pretty much have the final say and the whole team has my back. The general public doesn’t realize that to go on a local tour costs upwards of $10,000 and way beyond that depending on the size of the team and location. Flights, per-diem, food, gas, van and hotel add up very rapidly, and that’s not sleeping in any posh hotel, that’s staying in cheaper hotels. So, if you’re bringing these skaters on trips and they don’t get anything on film or photos that can be used, it’s pretty a lot much wasted money. So, if you put a dude in the van who’s just wasted the whole time, it’s just not going to work at all. That’s the rad thing about Trevor too, he doesn’t need to be motivated to skate and get footage, he’s consistently hungry to go out and kill it! Even if he’s home and the team isn’t around at the time, he takes his own time to round up a filmer and photographer and make it happen.

Jones: Right now, you’re halfway through your rookie year as a brand. Is there anything with Omit that you are doing specifically to not be pigeon holed and stand out from other new brands that are hitting the market?
Cole: It’s interesting that you say that. Ultimately our thing is really to do what we want to do. If that puts us next to a certain brand in a category, so be it, it’s not the worst thing as long as we keep doing what we want to do and not let outside influence dictate our line. I do believe our tastemaker pieces will stand out and put us in our own niche in the market place.

Omit Shirt Details

Jones: It seems most brands have a five-year plan of where they want to be and how they want to expand. Have you created a similar goal with Omit? Knowing that you back BMX pretty hard, do you have a plan to eventually add something like that or even musicians as a part of the Omit team?
Cole: There is no ultimate plan. With that said, what we want to do with Omit is just support the people that are genuine and dudes we can all back with what they do and what they represent. So, if it’s a dude that plays guitar or it’s a band that’s rad or guy that rips on a bike, then we’ll do it. There’s no need or want for discrimination based on someone’s likes or dislikes. We definitely don’t have a, and will never have, a board on our wall that says, “Who are we going to get in snow? Who are we going to get in wake?” We don’t need to represent all of these different genres of athletes that sport brands feel they have to get on their roster to make an impact. I definitely want to make the brand grow bigger, but only through the channels that we back as a team.

Jones: In the recent past you permanently moved your family from the east coast to California. Was that a very conscience move knowing that you were going to start taking more action on the business side of things?
Cole: It was a vary conscience decision to come out here. On the east coast, you can only get so much done as far as skateboarding and being able to be close to the brands I skate for and now work directly with as an owner. I also wanted to get involved with owning stuff. Its almost what you are groomed to do if you’ve been paying attention to stuff for the last 20 years in skateboarding.

Jones: It’s such a double edge sword in skateboarding to say you’re into fashion because that’s not cool in people’s eyes, but I do see it slowly changing in the last 6 years and it being more accepted to be cognoscente of what you wear. Personally I’ve always been into more of the 1950’s clean styles. Mic-E Reyes and Alyasha are two people that come to mind for me and have styles I’m down with personally. Is there anyone you’ve looked up to as far as fashion that kind of helps drive this need to own an apparel brand?
Cole: Ya, I like things that are subtle and things that don’t get too weird or too artsy for me personally, then I’m not backing it. But, as far as watching fashion acceptance change, I’ve seen that myself. I’ve always looked up to dudes like Stevie Williams, Jamie Thomas, Chad Muska, people that have always had their own style and went for it.

Jones: Since Omit is in its infancy; the collection is limited in categories. Do you have any plans to expand that into accessories with any bags, sunglasses, watches, etc?
Cole: Oh man, I don’t want to give away and secrets! Ha! But yes, of course we will be adding categories! My main focus right now is getting the apparel collection expanded and then we’ll look at those other categories in the future. I love accessories and have so many rad ideas, but their just needs to be the right moment to produce them before we do.

Jones: So, tell me, what’s the significance of the 90’s on every piece? It’s all over the collection and no one knows what it is.
Cole: Ha, it’s funny because in a way I don’t want to really tell anyone and keep it a secret, but on another hand I want to out it and run it. But, what the 90’s signifies is I love 90’s music, 90’s skateboarding and I started skateboarding in 1990. So, the number is not just 90 it’s 90’s since I loved the whole decade.

Jones: Wrapping this up, the team definitely has room to grow in today’s standards; do you have any plans this year to make any new team announcements?
Cole: Not at this time, we’ve purposely been really slow to add dudes on. We didn’t want to come out of the gate and scream, “Hey this is our team” I’d rather add people slowly so that there’s always room to add someone. There are so many rad dudes that are locked into contracts that would be a great fit for Omit, so it’s better for us to just creep and add people as the opportunity arises.

I would like to thank Chris Cole and Omit for letting me invade their territory for this interview.

Interview, Words and Photos by Brian Jones