Fans of Bob Marley have no doubt noticed the late, great Reggae star’s recent come back in the action sports industry. From a Burton board, to Billabong line, to VonZipper shades, Marley’s image and message have been popping up across the industry via partnerships with the House of Marley, an organization founded by the Marley family to spread its core values of equality, unity, authenticity, sustainability, and charity.
The next move for the company, which has already launched a line of coffee and relaxation beverages, is a foray into the personal electronics and accessories market. The House of Marley is releasing a full range of headphones and docking stations which are targeting the action sports market, and will ship to retailers worldwide, including 1,700 doors in the US, on August 15, with bags, eyewear, watches, and other accessories to follow.
We sat down with House of Marley Co-founder and Bob’s son Rohan Marley; Director of Sales, Lifestyle and action sports industry veteran Jen McVey; and General Manager Don Inmon to learn more about what makes their products sustainable, why the world needs another headphone company, and the responsibility of carrying on Bob Marley’s legacy.
Rohan, you are a pretty serious entrepreneur with endeavors including Tuff Gong Clothing, Marley’s Mellow Mood, and Marley Coffee. Why did you decide to focus on headphones and the action sports market for your next endeavor?
Rohan Marley: Music is what my family is known for—my father’s message is known through his music. We decided to enter the electronic world through headphones to keep the message going. Also, why we decide to do anything, it’s all about sustainability and being eco-conscious, realizing that there’s more to it. If we are going to do something, it has to be done right. Charity plays a great part in that too. We can bring one story with all the messages.
So how do you make headphones eco-conscious?
Marley: You start off with the material: recycled aluminum, eco-friendly fibers such as hemp and cotton, and also canvas. If we use any plastic, it has to be recyclable and reusable as well. The first thing is research. Don and the team went to China and all over America, finding the people that have the resources to be sustainable and eco-conscious and do things to leave less of a footprint.
Don, you’ve been in the consumer electronics industry for a long time, how much of a challenge has this posed?
Don Inmon: I’ve been in CE for 23 years. I know how to build headphones and products in this category, but to make them out of sustainable materials has been a challenge. We literally have to bring people in and educate the factories on how to do it—there certainly wasn’t a high level of desire. We explained that there’s a shift going on that people are starting to embrace. It’s going to branch out beyond clothing and obviously companies like Billabong have already had a lot of success doing it with the Marley brand over the last few months.
Jen, you have a great deal of experience in action sports. I’m interested to see how you feel the industry ties in with House of Marley and why you joined the team?
Jen McVey: It’s straight up the sustainability. Of course, I love being around the Marley’s and the culture, it’s so much fun. But for sure, it’s the sustainability message—I have wanted to do the right thing inside the industry. I work closely with Protect Our Winters, and I felt that I needed my career to have some kind of meaning. It’s really inspiring when you meet with a retailer who is on that train with you. There’s a huge shift in the industry and I’m really excited to be part of it.
How does the final product compare to a traditional headphone from a sustainability standpoint?
McVey: It’s not just the guts of the product, it’s our packaging, it’s our POP displays, it’s everything. We try to avoid using plastic whenever we can. Our packaging is going to have a completely different look, it’s going to be an organic feel, and I think that retailers that are trying to go that way are excited about that. It also differentiates us, differentiates the product from everyone else, because the headphone game is really saturated right now in action sports.
Are you guys tying in with Tuff Gong Clothing as well?
McVey: No. This is all House of Marley. We are not stopping with the audio [though]. Eventually, this will be a full-blown accessory brand, luggage, bags, wallets, we are going to do eyewear, all sustainably made.
What is the time frame for rolling out those other categories?
McVey: We started design development on watches, bags, and backpacks. I’d estimate we would have a product in the market next year for those categories.
As far as reaching out to consumers and retailers in the action sports channel, how are you tying in your roots and the Marley name, how much of a leg up does that give you with that demographic?
Marley: Action sports has always been important to us, because that’s where the roots people mainly hang out. Billabong has done a great, great amount of work with us on the recycled shirts, and they’ve been doing that for the last few months, so that’s really who we’ve joined forces with to walk us through that region and become a strong partner in that space.
McVey: Billabong is an amazing partner to be working with and for a retail partner to launch into that space.
What other retailers are you working with?
McVey: Backcountry.com will be a really good partner for us in the outdoor snow space, Karmaloop is going to be a really good partner in the streetwear space, and CCS in the skate space. I love the fact that we can be at Outdoor Retailer, at Project, and we can be at Agenda. We’re also in all the better action sports stores.
Don, why did you decide to join forces with the House of Marley crew?
Inmon: A short answer is, if you meet Rohan, you can’t say no to him! That’s an honest answer. I wasn’t looking for a job at the time, I was really happy with Klipsch [Audio Technologies], it’s a great company, but this was more than just an electronics play, it’s a lifestyle play. We are collaborating to give back. The money is going to go toward building schools, helping needy children, providing fresh water. This is not something we are trying to do for a couple of years, this is going to be forever. The brand is going to continue to grow and evolve.
Rohan, can you talk a little bit about the cause aspect of it, and how you’re 1love.org is going to be incorporated?
Marley: Part of the proceeds are going to go toward 1love.org, our charity. You have to care about what it is you are doing and you have to have the vision of wanting to do the right thing, wanting to do things that are good for the earth, people in general, and maintain the philosophy of what we represent.
We believe that being a part of something, such as House of Marley, with the experience of Don and the rest of the team, just working with everyone, and knowing the value and quality of work that they have been doing before meeting with us, and putting that work ethic with the philosophy of what my father represents, and turning that into something sustainable, eco-friendly, is just the right thing for us to do.
The Bob Marley name is a big legacy to carry.
Inmon: Nobody needs another headphone, you know. This isn’t another celebrity brand. If you look at our logo and you look at what our company represents, all of our products are branded Marley, this is a family coming together. That’s why there isn’t Bob Marley plastered all over the headphone, that isn’t what this is. My decision to come over and to collaborate with the family is because it really meant something.
Marley: Yeah, mon. You need to know where the products are coming from. Don’s been in the factories, I’ve met the guys personally— They really believe in it. With the music aspect and my father’s message, the mission, and our 1love.org charity program—we love what we are doing; we really do.
Drilling down to the actual product, it looks really solid. Who’s doing the design on that?
Inmon: It’s a design firm out of Santa Barbara that we’ve collaborated with. I’ve personally collaborated with that design group before I worked with the House of Marley. It’s really cool. In August, we are going to ship 53 SKU’s ranging from $30 to $300, and they will be distributed in handpicked channels, really focusing on the space you speak to.
Marley: [Of the three lines,] Jammin’ is geared toward the younger gongs, the youth whose ears haven’t been abused. The Freedom Collection is for a guy like myself, who is not really a musician, but I love good quality products and to listen to good music with good quality headsets and earphones. And then you have Destiny, which is geared toward the musician, like my brothers, who are in the studio, and need to listen to their music properly. We really set these collections for different gongs. The younger gongs, the stylish gongs, and the musician gongs.
How many doors are you guys going to be launching in August?
McVey: On the lifestyle side, if you count all the Billabong doors, like 200. We are trying to be with all the right partners in the beginning. Don would have to speak to the consumer electronics space.
Inmon: In North America, 1,500 doors. We will be throughout the UK, Australia, in Japan. Orders are significant right now, we are just trying to get production up to speed. We will be in all of the airport stores throughout the US. Best Buy is done, and we will be on Amazon, as well. In all these places, we are looking for people who are going to be great stewards of our brand-that are going to tell our story-if it is simply going to be hanged on a hook, we are not going to do it.
Are you guys going to be using outside sales reps?
McVey: In lifestyle we are. We are actually working with show rooms right now. We got West Coast show rooms, and we got a rep in the Rockies and a rep in Hawaii to start with.
Is there anything we didn’t hit on?
Marley: It’s important to us to stay true to the principles my father has left in place for us, his children to carry on. What would Bob do? What would the Marley’s do? What would Bob say? We make sure we answer those questions before we even create anything.