Matuse: Finding Success Among Giants
When one thinks of brands within the surf and action sports space, Quiksilver, Hurley, Billabong, and Burton are undeniably some of the most popular and prominent companies that come to mind. However, just as the activewear space is experiencing a surge of new and innovative brands, so has the surfing and action sports lifestyle space. Amongst the brands that are breaking into this space, one company in particular has continued to intrigue me over the past few years. Founded by John Campbell and Matthew Larson in 2005, Matuse is a surf-inspired apparel brand based in Del Mar, California. First establishing itself in the premium niche of the contemporary surf and wetsuit market. Compared to the standard 65% offered by traditional oil-based neoprene, Matuse’s innovative selection of wetsuits are all made from a functionally-superior limestone rubber called Geoprene which is 98% water impermeable. Staying true to their motto of creating products through “the synergy of art + function,” Matuse has continued to build a reputable brand, while expanding their categories, by leveraging their drive for perfection in a space that has been mainly dominated by larger brands like Quiksilver and Billabong. But times seem to be changing.
After graduating from Dartmouth in 2003, John came back to his native home of California to work for a tech startup chaired by MasterCard’s ex-CEO Pete Hart. Although the company’s mission wasn’t one of John’s passions, he was able to gain the valuable knowledge behind starting a successful business. One day while John was studying for business school, he came across the Yamamoto Corporation in Osaka, Japan, which makes Geoprene rubber that has been used in everything from the Apollo 11 spacecraft to modern cancer-research equipment. Knowing that there was always a better and more superior way to manufacture wetsuits, John embarked on his mission to meet Yamamoto’s CEO with hopes to build a partnership. During this time, John met his now best friend and business partner, Matt Larson who was a manager at the iconic Mitch’s Surf Shop in La Jolla, California as well as an independent product designer for major surf brands. After a successful business trip to Japan, Matt and John began refining the brand and product design and successfully started selling in August of 2006.
Early in my conversation with John I realized that this forward looking CEO has been a critical factor to Matuse’s success. Mr. Campbell’s implementation of both technology and digital media trends has proven to be an important catalyst for the company’s growth. Many brands, whether it be apparel or consumer goods, have only just begun to embrace technology and digital as a means to expand their brand and to attract not only followers and customers, but to create ambassador. With the case of Matuse, however, this strategy has been Campbell’s priority from the start.
“People today obviously connect with a brand’s message or they quickly unsubscribe…”
The Matuse formula is a great example how a smaller company has been able to use digital channels, such as Instagram and blogging, to promote their brand and mission. “Social media makes it easy for Matuse to go beyond the wetsuit and deliver its lens and ethos to an audience that wants to take part.” Said Campbell, “People today obviously connect with a brand’s message or they quickly unsubscribe. So for us, social media provides somewhat of a real-time channel check.” Simply searching the tag #lovematuse will bring up hundreds of fans and supporters of the brand, including the likes of Steve Nash, Joel Tudor, and many more. Thanks to this following Matuse has enjoyed a lot of success recently, “year-over-year sales are up over 60% while 70% of our total sales were online, with 40% of our customer base being international.” Said Campbell.
With all that growth, it’s easy to see why John’s pushing into international markets. Through a partnership with Global Wetsuit Supplies, a surf wholesale company based in the UK, Matuse looks primed to make a splash overseas delivering their ethos and quality products to an ever-growing customer base. According to an article published in Transworld Business, a spokesperson for Global Wetsuit Supplies said “Our goal is to work with only the finest, most innovative and creative brands in the wetsuit marketplace and Matuse epitomizes these qualities. We’re really excited to be working with the team out of California to bring the best wetsuits on the planet to Europe’s surfing community.” With this partnership Matuse is sure to gain a larger presence in the UK and Ireland among other European markets.
Although Matuse is much younger than some of the more prolific brands of the industry, and comparing them might be a bit exorbitant with their size disparity, it is clear that the Matuse model will certainly continue to bring smaller brands success and growth, while building loving fans around the world. So It might just be a matter of time before we are all using the hashtag #loveMatuse.