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Interview with Bruce Pettet, President and CEO of Collective Licensing International
I recently had the opportunity to interview Bruce Pettet, President and CEO of Collective Licensing International regarding Airwalk's silver anniversary. Collective International is Airwalk's parent company and it also has ties to Vision Street Wear and other brands known in the action sports industry. My mission in interviewing him was three-fold. I wanted to find out more about Airwalk's rich skate history, what the company has in store for skate fans this summer, and what they look for in a skater when it comes to offering sponsorships.
Gonzalez: For the young action sports fans, please explain the history of the Airwalk brand as it relates to skateboarders and other action sports.
Pettet: Airwalk was established in 1986 in Southern California. The company was founded by Bill Mann, a footwear designer whose son had taken up skateboarding. Mann's son requested that his father craft a shoe to cater to skateboarder's needs - at the time, skateboarders were skating in regular sneakers or basketball shoes—and one that was affordable, too. Mann agreed to the undertaking, and per his son's recommendation, the company was named for a well-known trick that Tony Hawk pioneered at Del Mar's skate park. Airwalk was born and was headquartered in Carlsbad, CA.
The first Airwalk shoes released featured an all-over print vulcanized high-top. The brand went on to introduce the first-ever performance-enhancing features for skateboarders, starting with lace savers in styles like the Enigma and VIC and later the iconic Prototype. Ankle straps, mid-sole reinforcements and cup-sole construction followed.
Airwalk continued to grow, and eventually expanded into other disciplines. The brand developed products for BMX and snowboarding, becoming the first board sports company to release a snowboard-specific boot and BMX-specific shoe. The product offering expanded further to eventually include casual footwear, apparel, outerwear, hardgoods and accessories.
In addition to product, some of the most influential board sports athletes have been part of the Airwalk team over the past 25 years—including skateboarders Jason Lee, Christian Hosoi, Eric Koston, Bucky Lasek, Andy Macdonald, Steve Berra, Andrew Reynolds, Geoff Rowley and Mike Vallely. Snowboarders Jamie Lynn, Tina Basich, Shaun Palmer, Todd Richards, Romain DeMarchi, Shannon Dunn and Devun Walsh were part of the roster, as well as BMXers Dave Mirra, Matt Hoffman, Van Homan and the Foster brothers. Pro surfers Rob Machado and Tom Curren also rode for Airwalk. The current team includes pro skaters Andy Macdonald, Mike Vallely and Tulio de Oliveira; pro surfers Anastasia Ashley and Warren Metcalfe; and FMX rider Ronnie Renner.
Airwalk, as a whole, was an innovator—raising the bar for not only skate-specific products, but for the industry overall.
Gonzalez: Speaking of sponsored athletes, what does your company look for when considering an action sports athlete for sponsorship? Are there any specific actions skateboarders looking to secure a sponsorship with your organization should consider?
Pettet: When looking to add an athlete to our team, we ensure that their values and ethos align with that of the Airwalk brand. Of course performance is important, but an individual doesn't necessarily have to be the biggest celebrity in their sport. We want our skaters, surfers and riders to be authentic, driven and passionate about what they do. There isn't one specific action per se that will earn an athlete an Airwalk sponsorship—we look at overall presentation, on the board and off.
Gonzalez: Looking back at the past 25 years how would you say the action sports industry has changed as a whole and what role do you envision for your company and its subsidiaries within it for the next 25?
Pettet: Twenty-five years ago when Airwalk was officially founded, skateboarding as a sport was still relatively new and the industry was still largely in its infancy. Over the past 25 years we've seen the evolution of skateboarding - from a niche sport and movement in Southern California, to become a global, mainstream activity. During the same time, the action sports industry overall grew and now encompasses other sports, such as snowboarding, BMX and Moto. We've essentially seen the evolution of an industry.
As one of the original players on the board sports scene and one of the first footwear brands to address skaters' needs, Airwalk will always have a strong presence in the market, particularly with the youth market. Additionally, Airwalk has loyal customers since the brand's early days that are still extremely fond of the brand's original and now iconic styles. Our 25-year anniversary is evidence that the brand has staying power—that the brand resonates with our fans whether you're 15 or 35.
Looking forward, the next 25 years will only see more growth, both domestically and abroad. As a whole, Airwalk's values have remained the same for the past 25 years, delivering innovative, high-quality products that are accessible to whoever wants to get on a board.
Gonzalez: Does your organization have any immediate or future plans to combine its interests in skateboarding, BMX, FMX, surfing, snowboarding, footwear, music and the like to create a large, annual signature event?
Pettet: In addition to our ongoing support of our athlete team and our big September celebration, Airwalk is sponsoring the Fall 2011 AP Tour, one of the biggest youth music tours in the country. Our focus right now is spreading the word about Airwalk's 25th anniversary. We are always open to the idea of an Airwalk-branded signature event in the future, however at the current time we are not planning one.
Gonzalez: Would you be willing to give skateboarding fans a hint of what products are to come?
Pettet: We've got some great releases slated for the remainder of 2011. In honor of the 25th anniversary, we have been rolling out old-school reissues since late last year - the first drop being the reintroduction of the iconic JIM Tennis and Plastic in November 2010. Since then, we've re-released the Enigma (March 2011) and Enigma Fossil (April 2011). The Reflex reissue will hit Airwalk's online shop in early August of this year.
By way of athlete collaborations, we recently added skate legend Mike Vallely (Mike V.) to the roster. Mike is one of the most respected skaters ever, and was part of the Airwalk team in the late '80s. We're thrilled to have him as part of our athlete family again. Mike will be collaborating with us on three silhouettes this year - an Enigma, a Reflex and a JIM. The Airwalk x Mike V. Enigma Brooklyn Banks will release first on July 13, followed by Mike's Sadplant Reflex in mid-August. The Mike V x JIM collaboration will drop later this year. We're excited to be working with Mike again, especially on three of Airwalk's most famous sneaker designs.
Airwalk skater Andy Macdonald also has his own signature shoe, the Andy Mac IV. The shoe is available in two color ways and is available for purchase now on www.airwalk.com/shop.
Gonzalez: I also heard that Airwalk will be releasing an anniversary skate deck. Would you please share with me who designed it as well as when and where it will be released.
Pettet: The 25th Anniversary skateboard deck was created by Airwalk's own graphic design team and was inspired by a crazy collection of shoe boxes from the mid-'90s that used multi-colored animal prints for inspiration. It looks awesome and will be released in July exclusively on Airwalk's online store.
Gonzalez: Now that we've talked about the products, would you be willing to give us a hint on what giveaways, contests and events action sports fans can look forward to from Airwalk this summer?
Pettet: We'll be hosting a number of 25th Anniversary-themed contests and giveaways through our social media channels in 2011. And the year-long 25th celebration will culminate this Fall in Southern California, where we'll be hosting a silver anniversary blow-out. Be sure to follow @Airwalk_Online on Twitter to stay up-to-date and find out when our contests go live!
Gonzalez: I have one final question before you go. What do you personally think about the idea of skateboarding becoming an Olympic sport?
Pettet: Adding skateboarding to the Olympic line-up would be great for the sport. It would not only raise awareness for skateboarding as a whole, but hopefully, it would open up new opportunities for growth and sponsorship for the athletes. The key is to make sure that if skateboarding, or any other sport, becomes a part of the Olympics that the athletes themselves get a say in how the sport is set-up and judged for the competition.
My children are skateboarders and I have a history of following the sport.
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