Element is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2017. We turned to Julien Duval to find out how the American brand has remained relevant for a quarter of a decade, penetrating markets beyond its skateboarding specialty along the way.
Element was founded in 1992. How has the brand developed since the start and what are the most important cornerstones today?
Element was built with a sense of purpose that we like to define as Conscious By Nature – this principle is still at the core of our DNA. Not only does it involve making great product, it also extends to our striving to be a positive force in the world through the avenues of skateboarding, the arts, and nature. Since the brand’s inception within the ’90s skateboarding culture, we’ve grown into an urban brand with skateboarding at its roots. While skateboard decks remain the brand’s DNA product, we’re now offering a large set of cut-and-sew products, which are endorsed by our global riders and advocates alike. With the rise of the skateboarding and the streetwear cultures, Element has managed to stay relevant within the core skateboarding market for the past 25 years – only a handful of brands can make that claim – while expanding successfully in the outdoor and urban lifestyle distributions. While we’re successfully penetrating different channels and tiers of our identified marketplace, we’re making sure to protect our brand DNA – skateboarding – and to apply a strict distribution policy.
How will you mark the anniversary?
Starting January 1st 2017, we’ve begun a yearlong celebration, which involves the launch of “Made To Endure” as the brand slogan. This applies very much to our product – Element makes quality, well-crafted product built to stand the test of time for skateboarding and outdoor adventures. Inspired by workwear, military, outdoor and athletic influences, our gear is designed to endure wear and tear, survive the elements. Everything we make is field-tested and approved by skateboarders.
What is the latest in terms of product innovation?
We’ve boosted our product innovation for AW16 by collaborating with Griffin Studio – a British brand and design studio renowned for high quality finishes, craftsmanship, creative innovation and superb manufacturing capabilities. Together, we’ve developed the Black Sky Project, an exclusive capsule collection centering on technical jackets, pinnacle bags and footwear. The range combines outdoor utilitarian design elements and urban versatility without compromising the tailored/minimalistic aesthetic, thus elevating it to the forefront of technical, urban outerwear. The second collaboration, which is due to drop AW17, is based upon durability – focusing on pieces created for dual-purpose use. Each garment is engineered using high quality materials and construction methods to withstand the use and abuse we put our garments through – whether we happen to be skateboarders, city dwellers or outdoor trailblazers.
What are the Element collection themes for SS17?
Inspired by the North American working class heroes and the DIY approach inherent to skateboarding, Element continues to expand on its three design cornerstones – military, workwear and athletic outdoor. The season’s main allover print stories are the rain camo and the jungle camo, which sit alongside the Ikat all over print and the bandana cut-out camo.
Any other season highlights?
The Element Red Label capsule collection is a season highlight. It’s a focused product range designed as the pinnacle to the Wolfeboro and Camp Collection. Building on the success of the classic Alder jacket and Daily Backpack, the Element Red Label collection delivers innovative design, fabric and construction made to endure the elements for today's modern woodsman. We also continue developing the Travel Well concept – Element's lightweight essentials built on a collection of lightweight packable jackets, footwear and bags designed to accompany you whatever the journey.
How would you describe the Element consumer?
We’ve identified five different consumers within two Element primary target consumer groups – the “core Skateboarder” and the “urban woodsman”. While they differ in age slightly, the skateboarder being younger, both groups are mobile native, globally connected and style conscious. And both are at the epicenter of our design, sales and marketing strategy. By giving them equal attention, we ultimately impact the people influenced by them through a halo effect. These secondary “followers” buy Element products from the other tiers of the channels that the primary consumers influence. What’s happening on the retail front – any new stores in the pipeline?
Despite the very challenging retail environment, Element is continuing to grow and gain footprint. The brand is constantly growing through a comprehensive retail concept that includes a bespoke shop-in-shop program and a full-blown standalone retail concept. We currently operate standalone stores in Paris, London, Melbourne and Tokyo, and we’re planning on expanding in key capitals throughout the world as soon as the right opportunity arises – location being the prime component of any retail success.
Which are the most important aspects of Element’s retail model – both in terms of design and atmosphere?
The stores are designed to represent a contemporary skateboard and urban boutique. We put skateboarding at the forefront of our stores with the inclusion of a skateboard deck wall and counter – where the core skateboarder is invited to shop and hang out with staff, thus creating a local community. Additionally, we make sure our three key product stories – printables, jackets and backpacks – are always well displayed and merchandised. Strong branding and visuals are key components of the Element retail experience. We make sure that our product stories and brand ethos are carefully communicated throughout the entire direct-to-consumer-experience, extending from retail and E-com and through to social.
As for general distribution, what territories are key at the moment and which countries might you expand into next?
The four primary territories are North America, Europe, Australia and Japan. Europe has been strong for years now with the implementation of a successful distribution strategy through selective segmentation. The brand is present in all qualitative channels and tiers with dominance within skateboarding, action sports and urban lifestyle. Key stockists illustrating this positioning via the three channels are Titus in Germany for skateboarding, Planet Sports for action sports and Citadium in France and Zalando in Germany for urban lifestyle. The brand is one of the top apparel performers across all brands within these benchmark accounts. Additionally, opportunities remain substantial in developing territories such as Central and South America. The demand for the brand is growing there, and while we’ve already established a healthy business, the growth opportunity is promising.