In 2010, pro surfers Dion Agius and Mitch Coleborn, along with surf film producer Kai Neville were wrapping up a long stint of traveling together that culminated in MODERN COLLECTIVE, a film that gained attention and accolades within the surf industry. Spending a great deal of time together on the road, the three began brainstorming a way to bring a brand to life that they could call their own.
“Taking close note of the way companies were run in the industry we just compiled a bunch of different ideas that we thought we could implement into the marketplace and hopefully create something that was a little different,” says Agius. “I think it was mainly the idea of having total control over something and being able to do whatever we wanted for products, films, ads, ambassadors. We found a gap in eyewear, took note of what we wanted to wear, and just pounced.”
Although the crew acknowledges it’s been a long road from concept to finished product, Epokhe —a boutique-inspired eyewear brand with a slightly modern yet vintage twist— was unveiled at retail about six months ago, followed by a successful run at Agenda Long Beach earlier this year. Gaining traction in the market Stateside with several major retail accounts including Thalia Surf Shop and Sun Diego, Epokhe has provided a new sense of confidence and freedom for the new business owners, including Neville, who added, “I never thought I would be travelling and working on projects for my own company, especially with friends.” Despite its early success, the start-up is definitely taking a more relaxed and humble approach to its business model – think Kerouc’s “On The Road” instead of Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.”
“From day one we have had a vision to create,” says Neville. “We are looking at putting back the majority of profits into working on projects, staying on the road, and having fun,” says Neville. “‘Beauty Pockets’ was our first road trip as a team, and I hope people enjoy what we create and that we can inspire creatives and kids to also follow a similar path. It’s an awesome time for emerging brands and for independents to band together.”
Still trekking across continents, Agius and Neville put down the cameras for a few, and gave TransWorld Business all the details behind Epokhe. Before you read on, make sure to check out the latest film “Beauty Pockets”, right here:
What’s it like to create a brand within the surf world after being on the athlete side as a pro surfer? Agius: It’s amazing, and something that I have always dreamt of doing. My dad has owned businesses since I was young so I always envisioned myself trying to start something on my own one day. You definitely learn a lot really fast about how the industry works. It’s a completely different standpoint as a pro surfer looking in from the outside, once you step into the business world you realize it is a lot more intricate and intense than you would think. Having the creative freedom to create products we have control over, as opposed to products we simply endorse, is also great. Mitch, Kai, and myself just combine our tastes and focus on an eyewear line we are really pumped to market and wear. Its been a very steep learning curve but one we have all really enjoyed so far.
Where does the name Epokhe come from?
Neville: The name actually comes from the phonetic spelling of Epoché ( epokhē “suspension”). We loved the meaning behind the word and the direction we could take the brand with it, hence the first campaign External World 1.0.Epokhe has been inspired by and has been running off this line, which is an ancient Greek term and in its philosophical usage, describes the theoretical moment where all judgments about the existence of the external world, and consequently all action in the world, is suspended. We loved the look of EPOKHE as it felt raw, industrial and had a very Scandinavian feel.
Describe the process of bringing Epokhe to market?
Agius: It’s been about two years of solid work now. We spent a lot of time, setting up the back end properly and making sure that the business side was water tight before we stepped too far into production and distribution. So we have a really amazing team in place that makes sure the company can run extremely efficiently and gives us more time to be on the road, working on the branding, marketing, design, and product development instead of worrying about figures.
How has the brand been received by retailers? Which ones do you have on board, both domestically and internationally ?
Agius: The response has been really amazing so far, we have sold out of a bunch of styles in the first few months and have been having to re-order consistently. The sell through has been great in store and so far we are yet to have one complaint about the quality of the product, which we are very proud of. I have original samples that I have worn every day for a year that are still in the same condition as when I—we got really lucky with a very experienced factory who’s quality is second to none.
We’ve been working close with the existing retailers to keep it to a small boutique family that stock EPOKHE for now. Working on events, product specials and just getting to know the retailers that support the brand. In the US we have been working with Thalia Surf, Sun Diego, Need Supply Co, Swell, Univ, Surf City. In Australia we are stocking Glass Avenue, Surfstich, Afends, Alfred’s Apartment, The Pocket Gallery, Le Deux, and Finbox.
What are pricepoints like? This seems like a very high-end product from just looking at the marketing, art, and visual merchandising you’ve created for it.
Agius: Price points start at $119 US and vary up to $199 US, depending on the style. Kai, coming from a photographic and film background, has had a strong influence on maintaining the highest degree of quality and this is something I’m also very passionate about. All our eyewear is finished in Italy and manufactured from the highest grade Italian acetates and metals. We are also very proud of the fact that all our glasses use Carl Zeiss lenses. We want to sit equal to high end brands and everything from campaigns to a simple Instagram pic we treat with a very professional and pedantic approach. We spend a huge chunk of our sales and our own money on marketing and research.
The collection seems like a tight, smaller mix of men’s and women’s eyewear. How many SKUs are available and do you hope to grow this number with future collections or keep it the same?
Agius: We currently have eight SKUs that are all uni-sex and we have just finished designing nine more, which will be out in the next four-to-six months. We spend about six months before each design meeting to research and collect samples and references from all over the world. And then bring them back to our office in Byron and spend a good month working with our CAD designer Dave to really knuckle down the styles that are working. There’s no limit to the number, it just seems to be what ever we feel comfortable with and are really happy with at the time.
What are some of the key lessons you’ve learned in launching your own start up company?
Agius: It takes time and try not to bolt right out of the gates. We spent over a year working on the back end, sampling with different factories, trademarking, working with the right business partners. I think we are in a really good place right now with the business, that’s mainly due to being patient and making some good decisions early on. We were stoked on the first set of samples we received from one factory, but looking back I’m so happy we didn’t go into production with them they were pretty bad.
If you could describe Epokhe in three words, what would they would be?
Agius: Minimal, Classical, Raw.
Where do you hope to see the brand in six to twelve months?
Agius:In 6 to 12 months we are looking to roll out the second range and campaign 2.0. The designs and CADs are now ready for sampling. The new is looking incredible and I’m counting down the days until we get the first samples back. We are also looking to expand into Europe and Japan. Focus has been in the US and Australia for year one. We are close to finalizing distribution deals in those territories, Europe and Japan are really exciting markets for our brand.
Are you working on broadening this distribution or do you hope to keep it smaller?
Agius: Expanding in the future for sure but still with a boutique sales plan for now. We want to keep a tight, limited number of stores around the globe with a focus moving towards the online. Through our blog and social networks we have developed a strong online presence in the first six months. Epokhe online stores are launching in other territories so we can provide a streamline business for our customers. Ordering is easy and totally risk free. Next day delivery is now available in the US and Australia. We are all having so much fun working everyday on EPOKHE and learning so much. We are just letting the company grow slowly and organically and just seeing where it takes us.
Many would argue that the sunglass/eyewear market is pretty heavily saturated. Why did you see a place for another sunglass brand?
Agius: Mainly taking notice of what people surrounded by us were wearing, vintage and hard to find boutique styles. We are surfers and wanted to create something as different as we could to what was in the current market place. Through the ambassadors in the brand we put a large focus on what we like to wear and hope this appeals to the consumers.
I flipped through a few photos on your blog and was really impressed. How long have you been doing photography and how does that correlate and/or help you be creative when working on Epokhe?
Agius: It’s amazing to have the team that we do tuning the brand as well as helping with all the creative. Kai and I talk on a daily basis coming up with ideas for shoots, or films and new products, but having Kai there to not only conceive the films but then go and execute them really well is a huge bonus for us. I’ve only been shooting photos seriously for the last year or two but its something that I enjoy so much and am very passionate about. I have a lot to learn but its helped us a lot starting out as we can usually keep all of our production in house.
What’s been your most favorite recent surf trip and why?
Agius: We just released our first surf short “Beauty Pockets” which we travelled the east coast of Australia filming for 10 days and that was an amazing experience. It was the first time we had the entire team including our first team rider Creed Mctaggart all together, so it was great for everyone to hang out, kick it, shoot, surf and have a really hell time.
What location has been your favorite place to snap photos?
Agius: I really enjoyed Utah, where we shot out first campaign. We went to a little place about 5 hours out of Salt Lake City and it was the most unbelievable landscape I’ve ever seen. So surreal, it felt as though we were on mars so taking photos was made a lot easier because everywhere you looked was so beautiful.
With all the traveling you’ve done lately how do you find a good life/work balance, especially with managing the brand?
Agius: It’s really hard, between managing the brand and constantly travelling it can get very difficult. My personal life definitely takes a beating as I am only home about 2-3 months out of the year, the rest of the time is spent between couches and hotels and surf trips so it can get a little stressful especially coming up to deadlines and trying to do everything on the road. But it is such an incredible position to be in, and I’m thankful every day, so I certainly can’t complain.
What’s your favorite local surf spot?
Agius: Tallows in Byron. It’s so close to my home and it’s a beautiful beach that always has something to surf. I really enjoy coming home and being able to surf there most days.
Where is home for you? And where is that where the company is based out of?
Agius: At the moment I live in Australia and I’m just about to get a place in LA as I spend so much time there throughout the year. I’ll be going backwards and forwards between those two, and then late in the year around October I am going to try and move to Sweden for a month or two. I love it over there and have always had an incredible affinity for the place. So I want to go an spend some time there and see if I might move there for good one day.
What else are you are stoked on for the future?
Agius: We are just stoked to be working with such an awesome team. We have been so lucky so far and the fact that we achieved what we have so far is something I’m so proud of. Being that it’s a rider owned company, doing things like loading up the cars and heading down the east coast of Australia for our first surf shoot is so amazing. To be able to create products and work on projects surrounding the brand is a huge focus for Kai and myself and something we both enjoy so much, we hope to inspire young creatives to do the same and would love to keep seeing emerging brands rise through the current pack.