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Upstarts: Duvin

The Florida-based crew from Duvin at September Surf Expo, from left to right: Co-founder and Financial Director Cam Martin, Co-Founder and Operations Director Garrett Watzka, Duvin Advocate Andrew Huff,  Co-Founder and Sales Director Shaun O’Meara, and Co-Founder and Creative Director Austin Duvall.

The young founders behind the brand Duvin, based out of Central Florida, grew up working together at Curl Surf Shop by Sammy Duvall. It was there that Garrett Watzka, Cam Martin, Shaun O’Meara, and Austin Duvall learned the in’s and out’s of retail, as well as the key aspects of managing a business. Although the concept for their own brand had been brewing for a while, that dream became a reality after the four friends finished school  and started brainstorming ideas for a surf-inspired apparel company unique to the region.

“The concept of Duvin has been around for a while. It took all of us coming together after school and really noticing an opportunity for a brand to represent Florida,” says Co-founder and Creative Director Austin Duvall. “We’ve made full collections for almost two years now. It started very small and has grown over time. We wanted to learn everything we could and develop a strong base before expanding.”

Duvall, who spent considerable time as a manager and buyer at Curl Surf, as well as interning with Mark Tinkess and brands like Element, Von Zipper, and Plan B, brings his already well-connected industry knowledge with him to the new endeavor. Alongside Duvall, O’Meara had also worked within the industry at a position with Stance Socks, learning first hand how to start and grow a brand. Watzka adds to the team an Advertising & Marketing degree and affinity for social media. Martin rounds out the team with a degree in Finance, and “makes sure our eyes don’t get bigger than our stomachs.” He also happens to be a wizard on the sewing machine, says Duvall.

Duvin’s roots lie in Central Florida, a homebase in which they take great pride. The small brand has been growing steadily over the past few years and recently started showing at Surf Expo earlier this year, a move that has helped them on their path to moving from a regional to a national brand. We caught up with Duvall to hear more about the direction of the start-up, how they plan to expand distribution in the coming months, and their take on creating a brand with a different flavor than the rest.

What is the point of differentiation for the brand in this market?

We are a lifestyle driven brand based in Florida. California has been the base of our industry, but we want to create another avenue where trends start. We are operating on the opposite side of the country and I think that shows. I think our retail knowledge gives us an advantage as well. We understand how retailers work and what they need from us. Our customer service and retail support has helped us differentiate our brand.

What was the response at Surf Expo to your Beach Brigade collection? What was the design inspiration behind this line?

The response was insane at Surf Expo! We ended up being completely booked for the first two days. It was exciting and humbling at the same time. We didn’t want to rush into doing the show until we could do it right.

On the design side, we really tried to keep it simplistic and quality driven. The Beach Brigade line is based around us having to commute to the beach. Whenever a vehicle is headed to the beach, everyone jumps in. We end up having a huge crew of girls and guys ready to surf and have a good time. That’s what led us to the name, “Beach Brigade”.

How did you decide what to include under the brand umbrella as far as categories? It seems like you’ve gone pretty deep in your most recent line and cover the gamut from apparel to accessories – has the line always been this diverse or have you been steadily expanding? Do you plan to expand more?

The line has grown substantially over the past 2 years. It has been a mix of our vision for the brand as well as retail driven requests. While it has grown, it is still very concise and to the point. We prefer to show a smaller amount of items but all viable options, rather than having the buyer sort through a lot of skus to find key pieces in an attempt to convey the brand story themselves. We will expand further when the time is right. We received only positive reactions in terms of line size for what retailers need from us.

Take a spin through some of the brand’s collection right here:

What do you hope your distribution looks like in the next 6-12 months? Do you plan to broaden the number of retail doors you are at, and if so what does that strategy look like?

The majority of our retailers are currently here in Florida. We wanted to own our home base before growing the brand in other states. That being said, we are ready to start expanding up the coast and out west, but will do it cautiously. We don’t want to become a brand that constantly under-delivers product. Surf Expo will continue to be our base for growth and we are currently looking at more lifestyle driven shows like Agenda, Magic, Capsule, etc.

Why do you think it’s a good time to start your own brand? What are the advantages and disadvantages you’ve faced as an emerging brand in the surf industry?

There are a lot of unknowns throughout the industry and many retailers are starting to open their minds to newer brands. This has been a big help in terms of getting a new retailer’s attention. At the same time, this opportunity in the industry has led to more and more new brands emerging every day. Retailers are bombarded with new brand phone calls and emails. You have to be able to prove to them that you are here to stay and not just a fling brand that will be gone next month. I feel like we have been pretty successful with that so far. Another disadvantage has been battling for floor space with the bigger companies. Some retailers look for similar terms that the big companies offer and it is pretty hard for a new brand to match that.

How do you think your geographical location plays into the brand design, development and execution? Do you think there is a big point of difference in Florida based brands versus West Coast brands?

There are some differences in style between the two coasts, but at the end of the day, making good product is our main focus. I don’t think there is a specific template for what a brand should be, based on where they are from. We just want to create what we appreciate, and what we think is missing from the market. I think we have found a good balance as feedback has been very positive throughout the country. If fresh product is there, everything else will fall into line. We are currently producing product in Florida and California and constantly traveling back and forth. So while we are based in Florida, we can stay up to date with trends out west and put our own twist on them.

How did you come up with the idea to include sunnies holders on your tees and tanks? Are you planning on collaborating alongside any specific sunglass brands in the future, or are you in talks with any particular brands on this?

The sunglasses holder came about a few days after we bought our first sewing machine. The idea is super simple yet very functional. The tanks with holders have sold really well in retail locations- nobody likes broken sunglasses! We have talked with another brand about collaborating, but haven’t actively pursued it.

Where is your product manufactured ? 

Almost all of our apparel is manufactured between our factory in California and one in Florida, with the exception of our hats, which are made in China. Our goal is to be 100% made in the USA and we are working towards that.

 What are three keys to success for emerging brands?

Be consistent, learn from your mistakes, and stay true to what the brand is (Don’t chase every fad out there).

What are some specific lessons you’ve learned along the way in starting your own business?

A lot of people over-promise and under-deliver. You also have to keep looking for ways to improve what you make. As soon as you are content, things get stale.

What do you think are some specific strategies that successful retailers are picking up on, and what do you think core independent retailers need to focus on the most in this industry?

The most successful retailers we have dealt with are the ones that:

-Know their inventory

-Keep track of their inventory turn

-Are serious about their business and provide great customer service.

I think it’s important for the core retailer to merchandise well and purchase compelling product that customers can’t find everywhere.

Anything else that I forgot to include here that you’d like to add?

Just want to thank everyone that has been so supportive through the start of Duvin. Customers, retailers, and brands included! If you want more info contact us at DuvinCompany@gmail.com