Action Sports Most Influential Women: Summer Rapp

Even if you don't realize it, you've met Summer Rapp. Maybe not in the literal sense, but if you've been exposed to any facet of female design and merchandising in the action sports market, chances are you've seen her influence.

Rapp's design acumen began to develop when she was a senior in high school. At the time, after working in the warehouse for a brand called Ton Clothing, the Owner/ designer took her on as a design assistant.

Rapp took the experience in stride, and left to study at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. By 1998, she had landed a job as a design assistant at Roxy.

"In the early days it was a design driven industry and having an original point of view was extremely important," Rapp recalls of her early days in the action sports apparel market. "Every brand had their own identity and there were identifiable market leaders."

In 2001, when Volcom decided to branch into the women's market, Rapp began a six year stint with the company that would leave a lasting imprint on the brand's direction.

"It was such a fun time in action sports," she says. "Volcom was a great brand who was leading the market at the time, in both men’s and juniors. I was fortunate to be part of the creative team there and become friends with some insanely talented people. I will always have a place in my heart for that brand!"

Leaving Volcom, Rapp went on to work with Jason Blieck, a designer who made a name for himself at Quiksilver by escalating the brands denim offering before leaving to launch his own brand, Ever.

However, when Quiksilver decided to launch its women's line, they called on Rapp.

"In addition to Quiksilver women's, I started overseeing design for Roxy sportswear and swim. I then left the company to be on my own in January of this year."

Alongside her husband, Steve rapp, the couple opened a design firm in Costa Mesa, California called Add-Black, which caters to brands in action sports as well as contemporary markets.

According to Rapp, the action sports market has evolved since she began designing in the late 90s.

"Now days the industry is very competitive with fast fashion—forcing product to get cheaper and deliver quicker—and as a result the industry as a whole has become very homogenized." Rapp says another change she has seen is that merchandisers have taken the lead role in line development at many action sports brands today. "Designers aren't as free as they once were to create," she adds. "That's a bummer in my book.

"At some point we made the entire process way too complicated," Rapp continues. "When it worked best was when we did what was innate to the brand, and when we were more hands on in design…When I worked with Volcom, we had a hands on tech and pattern team and we would spend quality time working with our pattern maker to come up with unique designs. That was the most intimate time in action sports; the design teams, who were very passionate about their styles, also managed product development. Now days most companies develop via merchandisers and just have tech teams, but no pattern makers—the true artists. We need to get back to the basics!"

But despite the changes she' seen over the course of her career, Rapp still believes that action sports brands have something special to offer the broader marketplace.

"I love the industry we are in," she explains. "The unique lifestyle that action sports brands personify is still what makes these companies important to the broader women's market…I just want to see these brands take more of a stance on quality, innovation, and point of differentiation. I can’t say it enough. As a design leader there is nothing worse than being directed to copy another brand in your competitive set."