Photo by Matt OttoIt's really not dead, but the old ways of selling it are. The days when Levi's and Pendletons, sweat shirts and Katin board shorts sold themselves from a shack on Coast Highway are as gone as free beach parking.
Now, it's not even enough to package rash guards and wet suits with skateboard shoes and padded snowboard pants—and market the whole bundle as the "extreme sports lifestyle." The young people are apparently over that, so the Camp's newest store goes one step beyond, bringing a glimmer of haute couture to the halfpipe.
Active's grand opening Oct. 6, in what used to be Billabong's first-ever showcase store, leaned heavily on its team of skaters, who shredded on indoor ramps while onlookers looked on. But the real news was the labels on the Active racks and their price tags: brands such as UHF, which sells sunglasses and complicated leather gauntlets to the echo-boomer set, and RVCA (pronounced Ruca), which clothes the skate/surf/snowboard set but lately has been swimming upstream, reaching upmarket with $200 jeans, car club jackets and T-shirts designed by artists.
These are two of the same labels you'd find across town at the Closet, Active's chief competitor, and that's because as they see more and more brands blur the distinction between activewear and nice clothes, retailers like Active are crossing the line, too. They're selling distressed jeans and one-of-a-kind graphics where once you'd just find, well, Billabong.
Is it skater clothes? Is it club gear, swami? Yesss. It is.
Active may be just a skateboard shop—just the best one around, as co-founder Shane Wallace told me—but its arrival in Costa Mesa means company men over at the Closet must be beating Japanese denim into swords. For war. War against Active, which really just wants peace.
"When you boil it right down, we're a sophisticated skateboard shop," Wallace said, adding with a little aw-shucks that 40 percent of Active's business is skateboard shoes. Can't a man just sell some skateboard shoes?
"You look at the competition, and maybe the Closet is a good fashion shop, but that's their niche," he said. "We're about the kids. We're not about marketing to a 35-year-old guy." A guy like me.
The Closet people didn't call me back so I could ask them if it wasn't true they were selling the same stuff as Active—and if a rose by any other name would not smell so sweet. I also couldn't ask them if they'd please sell me something before I turn 35 and get West Nile and die. Because I'm old.
But here's what's really happening now that there's a new sheriff in town: labels such as UHF and RVCA are finding their stuff is available in twice as many places as before. They're starting to wonder if competing against themselves is such a great idea, after all.
"For a company to . . . expect us to open an account in a market that's already saturated is expecting too much," says UHF co-founder Ray Weedman, who once could separate his business geographically—selling inland with Active, and on the coast at the Closet—until "an order for [the Active] Costa Mesa store just magically appeared without any discussion or anything." And—overnight—his business doubled. Just like that. No, actually, he's still waiting.
Active wear may be had at the Camp, 2937 Bristol St., Ste. D101, Costa Mesa, (714) 432-1918; and at the Closet, Triangle Square, Newport Blvd. & 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 645-1979.
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