A PASSION for Western Australia’s raw coastline combined with a long-held determination to produce quality surf wear targeting the surfing lifestyle is something WA wet suit and surfwear company, West Suits, hopes will drive the international expansion of its brand.
Sound familiar? West Suits is the latest Australian surf company to try and crack the lucrative international wave.
Co-founded 22 years ago by WA surfers Patrick Leahy and Roger Liley on a lounge room floor, the company now boasts a healthy competition with some of the biggest wetsuit and surfwear labels throughout Australia.
Now based in O’Connor, West Suits has also made some headway internationally with licences in Japan, Indonesia, New Zealand, UK and, earlier this year, Europe.
However, it has so far resisted following its now giant, eastern States rivals into the huge US and UK markets.
West Suits is moving into the US through former financial Services Company Optima Corporation.
Optima relisted last week on the back of a fresh capital raising and a 10-year licence to manufacture and sell West Suits products into the US.
With initial cash reserves of about $2.3 million together with 65.6 million 20 cent shares (valued at 17 cents on Tuesday April 27) and a further 50 million options, Optima hopes to tackle the giant $US4 billion market.
Rip Curl, Quiksilver and Billabong dominate the market with US sales making up most of their global sales which range between about $500 million and $1 billion.
Although the overseas market is lucrative, the route there is tough and littered with wipe-outs as well as the victims of a few sharks.
Victorian street and skate wear group Globe International, eastern State surf wear label Hot Tuna and national surfwear retailer Dive, Ski and Surf are just some Australian surf-related companies that have all struggled.
Two years ago Margaret River surf accessory manufacturer Wet Dreams was one surf company that found out the global pitfalls the hard way.
It joined the ASX through a backdoor listing into junior mining company North Star. After two years it was sold off for a substantial loss.
Wet Dreams’ – now trading privately under the name Wet Dreams International – owners say they have just managed to pick up the pieces.
The surf culture is such that while its fashion has managed to slip into mainstream society it still remains highly suspicious of labels that lack what Mr Leahy describes as “street cred”.
“The kids, they are a tough market. They can see through to your cred,” he said.
But West Suits is a player that has endured for more than 20 years with a product that has earned a reputation both in the tough local market as well as offshore.
There have been tough times but what 22-year old specialist company would not have seen tough times, Mr Leahy said.
More importantly today it is competing well and still getting growth, he added.
The US decision finally came after a very strong response for the UK West brand, which is now expanding into Europe.
Mr Leahy said the business had several offers to go to the US before now but the mix had not been quite right.
He said a recent trip to the US showed there was strong interest bordering on commitment from a couple of large retailers.
Back at home, Mr Leahy said West Suits had no interest “at all” in the parent company becoming public or growing by acquisition, however, he said things could change in the next five years.
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