As Hurley heads into their 13th year under the umbrella of Nike, we speak to the brand's founder, Bob, and his son, Creative Director Ryan, to learn more about their journey from California mainstay to worldwide innovator.
Following the opening of Hurley's renovated Hossegor store, we had the chance to sit down with the founder, Bob Hurley, and his son, Ryan Hurley, to find out what's behind one of the world's most well-known and respected surf brands. Originally founded in 1998, although Bob's surfboard-making history dates back to 1978, Hurley was acquired by Nike in 2002 and since then has gone from strength to strength. Curious to know more about the brand's history, as well as what it's like to work hand in hand with the almighty Swoosh, we spoke to Bob and Ryan in the most appropriate setting possible, beachside.
Take a look out our conversation below and peep Hurley's current offerings over at Nike.com/Hurley.
Tell us about the brand's beginnings.
Bob: We didn't just want to make surf gear. Before Hurley, we were a licensee of an Australian company, Billabong, so we started designing our own gear that wasn't necessarily authorized by Australia. We had a whole bunch of very successful stuff that was sort of out of step with the brand and it was like, "wait a minute, I'm not doing the right job for them, we're doing the job that we want to do. So if they don't like it and it's not the right job for that brand then why are we doing it?" And the only answer to that was "to make more money" and that's not that cool. Making money is boring if it's not the product of something amazing. So we decided at one point, we should just give it back.
We did a really good job there at Billabong and it was the most successful year ever when we gave it back. Then we launched Hurley. They were both really different from one another - night and day. Some retailers called us "Hilfiger Surf," which I didn't really like, but we definitely took a higher road in fashion which was fun. Really fun.
Things that are created are often unusual because they are in a certain context and usually involve a bunch of friends or a bunch of people working together that feed off each other. It's like a band writing a song or some new product idea. It's hardly anybody's one idea. So it's kind of hard to trace exactly the origins of the brand but it was definitely driven by friends that we wanted to serve.
We had friends in bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and all these people were surfing but they didn't want to look or act like surfers. Instead of marketing the idea just to make money, we wanted to just hang out with our friends that we loved and help them if we could while making a living at the same time. It's hard to remember that crystalizing moment when it happened but it just started to evolve and it was just a reflection of everything that was going on at the time.
We definitely took a higher road in fashion which was fun. Really fun.
Do you remember some of the first pieces you guys did?
Bob: I remember I was having lunch with Tom DeLonge from blink-182 and he said, "I would really like to help you guys with some stuff. I'm a little taller and thinner. I like fashion-y stuff. I can go buy a Hugo Boss shirt and it fits me perfectly and then I buy your shirt and the sleeves are too short. I got long arms and everything but every fashion thing I buy fits me better than every surf thing I buy. I think you guys should make more stuff like that. You should make the pants a little skinnier and the legs a little longer. Maybe a little stretchier in the pants."
So we were like "Yeah, let's do it." We just kept making new stuff like that and it was mostly driven by our friends. It wasn't driven by our plans and Excel spreadsheet, or market research and data, it was just like, "You're a person I love and I trust you and your vision, so I want to make stuff you like."
I read you guys also took inspiration from Parisian catwalks.
Bob: Yeah, inspiration comes from everywhere. It can come from wallpaper or an architecture magazine, so our filter was whatever feels right. It can be vague at times but we would look through magazines and be like "I like this picture, you like this picture? I like that picture, you like that picture?" So now we have good pictures, the question is how do we apply that to a surf trunk or a jacket? What would this wallpaper print look like on a T-shirt? It wasn't a very scientific process, it was things from the heart.
Are things still like that?
Bob: I would say since 2007 the business is closer to its origins than it's ever been. It keeps getting closer and now there is a new generation leading design, like Ryan, and we have an average age of 27 at our company and we're getting more in touch with the consumer instead of less. We don't concern ourselves with big public company processes and results even though we are part of a giant public company - one of the best ones led by Mark Parker. We're encouraged not to be bigger; we're encouraged to be more amazing on a daily basis.
How did you initially get into design?
Ryan: I started when my dad was at Billabong, when I was four years old. So from a very early age I was around product and then I started working in a trim room in our place because we did all our manufacturing domestically, so like weighing all the buttons and zippers and sending them to vendors and stuff. I was always around all the little ins and outs of product creation and then I was working summer jobs around the warehouse.
I worked my whole life around the company, but I've always had a passion for design. One of the design directors at the time, when I was 14 or 15, would bring me into designer viewings and ask me for my thoughts just because I was a 15-year-old kid, so that was cool to include me in the process of bouncing questions off me.
Around 17 or 18, I was working in the warehouse, packing boxes, pulling orders and eventually a position opened up to become an assistant designer. So I took the job and started doing all the tech packs for all the designers and assisting them with all their illustrations and things like that. I started taking on more categories and started doing headwear, sweaters, track jackets and just fell in love with problem solving.
And now you're the lead designer?
Ryan: Yeah, I'm the Creative Director of Hurley. I work with design teams and I recently set up a team for innovation in water performance and product innovation.
What's been your biggest innovation since taking over as Creative Director?
Ryan: The biggest one so far was seven years ago when I took over boardshorts. It was all lifestyle products and heavily embellished. Nothing was performance related. You have all these athletes that are doing a performance sport in the water but the stuff they're wearing is just hindering their performance. The biggest thing there was just coming up with a new boardshort invention that was performance related. So we took material that was originally developed for Olympic swimmers and put that in a boardshort silhouette and constructed it completely differently than anything else that was out there and eliminated all of the bulk. We had the lightest, most flexible, most water-repellent real-performance boardshort and that was the Phantom boardshort, which lead to a Phantom innovation platform for Hurley. Now we have Phantom wetsuits, Phantom sandals, etc. That was probably the biggest one.
Nike acquired Hurley in 2002. Why do you think they wanted you guys instead of Quiksilver or Billabong?
Bob: I think because we were different to Quiksilver and Billabong, which were and still are great companies, but we just had a different idea. Some of the things we bring to Nike help Nike's culture stay what it is. So as they get bigger, we get to be cutting-edge because we are smaller and can react quickly and push the envelope and sometimes a bigger company can't do that as fast. Culturally I think we have been a little bit of a help to Nike; it's been a great partnership.
What's it like working with such a massive and influential company?
Bob: It's a very unique situation. Nike have an amazing amount of resources and an amazing amount of designers, materials and labs, but so do we in Costa Mesa, so a collaboration between the two is incredible.
Consumers, especially young consumers, love when they see a Nike innovation on a Hurley product. We have a certain DNA that's from the beach and from the traditional sports world. When we combine Hurley with Nike, it's a home run every time.
The only way to push things forward is to fail faster.
Do you guys do wear-testing like Nike does?
Ryan: Yeah, we are constantly wear-testing, putting stuff in the water, testing it, breaking it. We make alot of stuff that fails and it just never makes it. The fun part of my job is that I just get to test product in the water. (laughs)
What happens when a product fails?
Ryan: It falls apart. It literally falls apart and you're naked. (Laughing) When it fails, it's a bummer.
If you're pushing innovation, mistakes are going to happen. It's part of the deal. You have to be willing to learn and embrace from those failures and hopefully you won't do them again. The only way to push things forward is to fail faster.
When you're working on a new product, do the athletes come to you or do you go to them?
Ryan: Both. We set meeting dates around their schedule because they are traveling 10 months out of the year, so we try to meet up at certain points. We have ideas and we bring those to the table and we all have an understanding of the sport, so we're not starting from scratch, but we get their insights to take it to the next level and we test and push and learn and revise.
You've been making surfboards since 1978, what are the biggest changes to the culture and industry you've seen?
Bob: The crowd. Surfing used to be a cottage industry. It was a subculture that turned into an extreme sport. It then became an action sport and now it's just surfing. What's happening is incredible, people all around the world say the worked "stoked." That word came from surfing.
What about the future?
Ryan: The next five years for us will be all about speed, power and flow. Product that will make you go faster, make you more powerful and make you flow better between maneuvers. How well can you maneuver from A to B? That's hydrodynamics, that's muscle stabilization for power, that's elimination of distraction for flow. Everything we do is focused on those criterias. This way we allow our atheletes to reach their full potential.
In terms of actual clothing creation, are there certain innovations people should know about, things that are going to lead the way, in terms of beachwear?
Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. I have been working on something that I think is going to revolutionize the way apparel is being made.
Any idea when we can expect this?
Ryan: Summer '16.
We will be dropping new innovations in boardshorts that for me has totally opened my mind on what's possible in apparel manufacturing. This is the beginning of something that can actually shift the world in a pretty big way, as far as creating products sustainably go, as well as not compromising any performance at all and making something perform better while being made smarter.