A decade in business is a major milestone, and the crew over at Coal Headwear aren’t taking it lightly. With an ever-present awareness of what 2012 marks for the brand, and the evolution of the product that they’ve been working tirelessly to create, the brand is ringing in its 10th anniversary by releasing a special collection of headwear for the upcoming snow season.
TransWorld got an inside look from Coal Founder Brad Scheuffele at how the brand has grown up since it got its start back in 2002. Check out the interview and video for a look at the brand’s history and a peek at Coal’s 10th Anniversary Collection.
A 10th Anniversary is a big step for a company- how did Coal get its start?
In fall of 2002, I was a pro snowboarder living in Salt Lake City, and a small group of friends and I got together with the idea of making a headwear brand that represented our lifestyles. I had friends who were making hand knit and crocheted beanies, just because there wasn't anything in the marketplace that represented our personal style. We hated all the boring, off-the-shelf logo beanies that were just an accessory, and we ultimately wanted our brand to be more than that. Those handmade creations ended up being the inspiration behind the initial designs. Around that same time, my current partners—Bob Gundram, Johan Malkoski, Bruce Bannister, and George Kleckner, who went on to found C3 Worldwide—were one of the largest distributors of snowboard boots and bindings in North America.
Is there a timeline of important events that coaxed it along?
I can think of one event that gave Coal a jumpstart: namely, being first to market with a unique product. We were the first legitimate and authentic headwear-only brand in the marketplace, and since day one we've designed everything from the ground up. These aren't off the shelf blanks that we put our logo on. In addition to that, we introduced a display rack that most snow and skate shops had never had an opportunity to implement before, and most importantly we had an incredible group of friends, athletes, and ambassadors that supported us. Here’s a video on how the brand has evolved:
Over the past ten years, how much has Coal grown?
We hit the ground running and haven’t slowed yet. We’re not trying to be everything to everyone—nor are we trying to be everywhere—but with the variety of styles and an incredible sales force, most of our reps have been with us since the start, we’ve gone from 100 or so shops in the first year to nearly 1,400 accounts in the US. We also have distributors in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Japan, and throughout Europe.
What’s the biggest difference for the brand, now versus then?
Besides a real office and warehouse, as opposed to the spare bedroom in my rental? I’d have to say that the biggest difference from year one to today is that people accept that headwear can actually be a brand, in and of itself. Don’t get me wrong, there were and have been many headwear-only brands before us, but none were from our generation and none shared our same passion and background in action sports. Our first trade show was SIA in 2003 where we had a tiny booth and a collection of 16 styles. Retailers came by and we talked for 45 minutes about the idea, why it mattered, what was special and different about it. Then I’d show them the styles for 15 minutes. Now we sit down and show them styles for 2 hours, then talk about the brand for 15 minutes.
At the time, it seemed like everything was a challenge because it hadn’t been done before. Today it's the rising costs of producing quality-made products both foreign and domestically, and knockoffs and competing with disposable fashion. Consumers want it all at the lowest price possible. Direct to market retailers are able to see a product at a trade show and reproduce it in time to reach the market before the original design can.
What lessons have you taken away from starting your own brand and seeing it through to where it is today?
Don’t overthink it. Your first decision or idea is usually your best, and a decision made—even if it's wrong—can be corrected. You can’t correct or learn from a decision that’s never made. As I like to yell during soccer matches, "You can't make 'em if you don't take 'em!"
Do what you love and what you have a passion for, or at least build a business around that passion. That’s where innovation and new ideas come from.
Where do you hope to take the brand in the coming months and year?
Keep doing what we're doing and make the best designed, best made products that we can.
What sets this season’s product apart from years past? What was the inspiration behind it all?
Every season is special in our eyes, but this fall / winter release is the culmination of ten years of focus on making the beast headwear possible. I’m going to turn the inspiration question over to our head designer, Jenn Long:
“Each category gets its own special treatment every season, and for Fall ’12 the dominant themes are ’70s rock, caps that your granddad would have worn, and homespun and throwback inspired knits.
Both the men’s and women’s hats are inspired by late-’60s to early-’70s bohemian/rock and roll style. The caps range from functional earflaps, outdoorsy animal embroidery and foamy truckers to early baseball style caps.
Men’s knits inspiration comes from chunky, old sweaters, old knit patterns and 70s era team inspired toques. The Women’s knits were inspired by everything from vintage turban silhouettes, chunky homemade knits, and girly details like floral prints and bows”.