Billabong stranded by a change of tide

While private equity surfed in on Billabong, figures in fashion focused on why the chain had headed for a wipeout – essentially, the brand had failed to remain current.

Australia’s ”big three” – Rip Curl, Quiksilver and Billabong – had all experienced shrinking sales and expanding debts in recent years as consumers turned their backs on expensive surf-branded apparel, favouring high-fashion cum high-street trends and the cheaper convenience of online shopping.

”Billabong is an iconic Australian brand, but it isn’t high fashion and it never has been,” said Josh Flinn, a fashion commentator and stylist with Australia’s Next Top Model.

”Until recently, the Western world considered surfwear Australia’s only contribution to global fashion, and it’s only really been in the last few seasons, with Dion Lee, Collette Dinnigan, and Alex Perry being sold overseas, that Australian design is starting to get attention.”

With attention, however, comes an influx of overseas brands, power fashion houses and glitzy flagship stores where consumers are able to replicate global trends without spending a fortune.

”It’s a sad state of affairs, but it’s happening to so many local brands, not just Billabong,” Flinn said. ”How can labels possibly compete when major fashion houses are introducing flagship stores from overseas, and their prices are more affordable?”

Harper’s Bazaar fashion director Thelma McQuillan said Billabong just wasn’t on the fashion radar: you only had to pay a visit to Bondi to see what young women were wearing to the beach, and it wasn’t surfwear. Instead, they were inclined to high-waisted denim cut-offs and labels such as Zimmermann and Sass & Bide.

Flinn said it was not clear who Billabong was targeting, the chain having missed or perhaps underestimated the ”hipster” movement. It wasn’t competing with quality swimwear brands, either. Swimwear had taken a high-fashion route, with labels such as Seafolly, Camilla and Marc and Zimmermann selling striking designs for a similar price.

”Meanwhile, online companies like Asos make fashion affordable for young buyers,” he said. ”Billabong seems to be flailing in the middle, missing trend, but not cheap either.”

Rip Curl, however, was maintaining its affiliation with ”old school” surfing, which had provided a slight buffer for the brand, while fellow surf label Mambo had branched into children’s wear.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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