Kelly Slater and longtime sponsor Quiksilver have parted ways after 23 years. The separation was a surprise to many – Slater signed with Quiksilver when he was 18 – but a logical continuation of Slater's early aspirations to start his own brand.
Details on the forthcoming fashion line (assuming it is a fashion line) are scant. Slater's Facebook announcement said it will combine his "love of clean living, responsibility, and style," which doesn't mean much, but we know it will be launched with luxury group Kering, which has partnered with Puma, Alexander McQueen, and Bottega Veneta.
This new venture isn't Slater's first foray in fashion. In 2012, he designed a collection of modern travel essentials called VSTR (pronounced "visitor") underneath the Quiksilver umbrella. Inspired by his personal style, VSTR offered understated, rugged, and minimal basics such as t-shirts, shorts, and knits with only a small black tag for the VSTR logo. It was geared toward men in their twenties and older, and was priced slightly higher than a typical action sports brand. The apparel line, which was available in stores like Bloomingdale's and Fred Segal, lasted only a year before Quiksilver shut it down during a wave of layoffs and budget cuts.
While we aren't expecting an exact remake of VSTR, Slater's new line will probably resemble it if his personal fashion has any bearing. The 42-year-old's typical uniform is a quieter version of classic surf style, relying on simple, athletic t-shirts and solid shorts or chinos.
"[Slater] just doesn't jump on trends," said Dave Rosenberger, an executive for the surfwear brand Lost Enterprises who, until recently, worked at Quiksilver for 14 years. "He knows who he is and he doesn't deviate from that. His taste is pretty timeless. I imagine he wore some of the same things in 1986 that he wears now."
Shinya Hasegawa, the founder of Battenwear, a surfing and travel-inspired sportswear brand based in New York City, imagines the line will focus on technical items like wetsuits and board shorts inspired by decades of surfing the world's toughest waves. He said Slater's style has flickers of a young Tom Curren, who rose to fame in the 1980s, or 1970s' Australian and South African surfers like Mark Richards, Wayne Bartholomew, and Shaun Tomson, all of whom were surfing superstars in their day.
Rosenberger said Slater has the ability to fill a niche in the surfwear industry by catering to a crowd that has grown out of the anti-establishment, youth-focused fashions helmed by brands like Billabong and O'Neill.
"I'd bet it will have a performance aspect, too, like a slightly cooler Patagonia," says Rosenberg. "Outdoorsy, sustainable, and with a great story."