EDITOR’S NOTE: Noisemakers is a series spotlighting young companies that have built a name for themselves in their communities through organic, minimal branding, and with support from core influencers in their space.

Brand: Gnarly
Years in Business: 6
Interviewee: Brad Alband
Job Title: Brand Director

Gnarly swept the snowboard industry six years ago when they introduced the hooded face masks that many snowboard brands have since adopted into their own accessory lines.

That, mixed with a simple logo representing peace and mother earth, helped project Gnarly as a well-recognized young outdoor lifestyle brand, with a particular resonance among college kids in mountain towns.

Gnarly’s brand director Brad Alband attributes most of the company’s success to their community-based marketing approach and brand ethos: “Come one, come all.”

Internally, Gnarly is considering the last six months as their relaunch, otherwise known as “Gnarly 2.0.” When asked exactly what this means to the brand, Alband responded, “Gnarly is no longer a project, we’re turning into a real business; a brand.”

Alband shared much more about Gnarly with TransWorld Business, including how they came to fruition, the importance of being different and the recent Lucas Beaufort collaboration.

Gnarly started as a core snowboard brand and is now embraced by an audience beyond snowboarders and skateboarders. Can you speak to that?

At it’s core, when you hear the word, ‘Gnarly’ or see the peace tree logo, it conjures feelings that extend beyond snowboarding. It’s a part of the fun language that’s involved in our culture.

When it comes to our peace tree logo, it’s a symbol for positivity and nature … We want it to be the free pass for expression.

I was at a trade show in Portland recently and one of the retailers commented that it might be one of the last great logos/icons coming from this industry, as everyone has moved to fonts and typefaces. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I think there is some truth to that.

Our goal is for people to view our brand as a free pass for expression. Wearing the word ‘Gnarly’ or having the peace tree symbol on your clothes allows you to be a little more lighthearted in the styles you wear … It’s tongue-in-cheek. We design with a gender neutral idea in mind, and the number of women buying our clothing is increasing dramatically, so to expand in that sense too, is really humbling.

In terms of the actual products, we are playing in spaces that aren’t flooded yet. We don’t want this to be a snowboard brand, nor do we want it to be an outdoor brand. I want it to be winter lifestyle, where we look at skate, street, high fashion, outdoor and put it through a vintage filter. This is starting to come across for us – now more than ever before – and is opening us up to the Urban Outfiters and retailers who realize we’re doing our own thing.

Some of Gnarly's latest fleeces and beanies being showcased.

What regions drive the most sales?

I look at Gnarly as the brand of college towns – particularly the ones layered in the mountains. Salt Lake, Boulder, Bend, Rutland, Reno … The kids who are doing it and living it. It’s that age group that still looks at the world as a wide-open opportunity.

How has Gnarly been welcomed overseas?

Pretty well, but it’s trickier than it’s ever been. We have great partners in Japan, Korea and China. I think they are embracing the positive message and product design. But we discontinued a lot of European distribution because it’s a battle – and I don’t think we’re ready to take it on just yet.

We’re working with a distributor in Italy who’s a Gnarly lover, so that helps. We also opened Blue Tomato direct for the first time and are seeing if that can be our manageable platform for European sales, until we’re ready for more.

Who leads the design for your graphics and products?

So I ‘design’ and merchandise our entire line. I pull all the inspiration and then work with a graphics/trim freelancer and a cut/sew freelancer. I’ve been working with them for years, we all know each other very well and they know the vibe I’m going for – which makes it fun.

Where does the inspiration come from?

A lot of it comes from what I pull from Esty. I don’t subscribe to any of the trend forecasting sites. I think that kind of makes everyone look the same. So I’m constantly sending links or buying thrift to recreate for now. It’s a lot more interesting that way.

How would you say your marketing approach is different?

Well, we don’t show actual snowboarding on our social, and that’s a conscious decision …

We don’t believe that showing someone’s clip that you’ll see six more times on your feed is marketing. Instead, we do it as grassroots as possible. Showcasing product and reposting our fans who tag us and make the product look good.

We are operating under the phrase ‘Come As You Are,’ and it means exactly what it says: Come one, come all … no judging. You rode today and tagged us in a hooded face mask? Hope you had fun and we want to say thanks. We want to be the brand of the people. One world, united by winter.

In doing this, we have alienated the one-percent core audience. We know that. But like I said before, as an apparel brand, why not post about what we are actually doing and connect with the community? We may have lost a small audience that dug us in the beginning, but we have opened the door to a whole community of people who are having fun and enjoy having a brand that’s engaging with them.

You recently collaborated with Lucas Beaufort. How did that come about?

We talked last Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show and by mid February [2018], we were working on products together. We’re also going to incorporate more special artist capsules that speak to the brand. I’m really excited about that.

The Lucas Beaufort collection coming out in Spring 2019.

When we first spoke, you mentioned something about ‘Gnarly 2.0.’ Describe to me what that means for you guys.

It means we’ve grown up. This is no longer a project, we’re turning it into a real business, a brand. We have arguably one of the best rep forces in snow right now. Albeit we’re the low man on the totem pole, but we’re with C3, Salomon, Stance, Interior Plain Project; brands that are doing it right. We’re in the game.

That was really important to me from the start; Getting the brand in the position to be in the game.

We got known for our hooded face masks, and we love them, but everyone has knocked them off and we can’t build a business off one hood.

We’re still focused on our accessories, and think our beanies are something that can make noise. But right now, we’re primarily focussed on filling the void right under technical outerwear. Instead of putting the latest technology into jackets and pricing them over $300, we’re selling quality tops that you can wear on and off the hill, at the skatepark, in the outdoors or out in town right at the price point that our consumer demographic buys at: $70-$120.

What’s your view on the snow industry?

It’s an interesting place. There are not a lot of new brands coming in, likely due to the fear of the unknown.

Overall, I think it’s important to have a rep force that’s as pro as they come, as well as make your brand something that speaks to more customers.

All photos courtesy of Gnarly.

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