Quik Change Artist

An interview with Quiksilver CEO Bob McKnight offers a look inside the wide world of action-sports apparel.
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If the phrase "sports apparel brands" brings to mind names such as

Nike

(NKE) - Get Report

, Adidas and

Reebok

(RBK)

, well, you may be getting on in years.

Younger and hipper athletes engaged in gnarly endeavors such as surfing, skateboarding and snowboarding are more likely to immediately think Quiksilver (ZQK) or other trendy brands under its corporate umbrella such as Roxy, Gnu and Bent Metal.

It can be argued that Quiksilver's cultural impact transcends its more traditional competitors. And it's making serious bank, too, as the Huntington Beach, Calif.-based company had revenues of $541.1 million in the first quarter (up 58% year over year).

Quiksilver's reach is global, with offices in France, Australia, Argentina, Turkey, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, St. Croix and South Africa, and it's also a major presence in alpine skiing, beachwear and even

golf.

TheStreet.com

spoke to Quiksilver CEO Bob McKnight, 56, from his Huntington Beach office, which sits above the newly built wooden skateboarding bowl in the backyard -- perfect for employees and brand endorsers to let loose.

TheStreet.com

:

What does your research tell you about the action-sports athlete?

Bob McKnight

: The typical action-sports athlete is a

young male or female ... who enjoys individual sports, goes to school, wants to get a job -- within these sports, if possible -- has disposable income from jobs or family and heavily follows these sports through magazines, the Internet, television, movies, computer games and music.

What would surprise people and transcend the stereotypes about young action-sports aficionados?

These kids are actually very bright and extremely athletic and talented ... and they "huck" their bodies into these radical sports,

cut and dye their hair weird, ink and pierce their bodies, talk in slang, ... drink Red Bull -- all because it's part of the culture, not because they're bad kids or rebels. They're not typically punk-type kids, just heavily into the look, feel and vibe of these sports.

How has the action-sports world changed over the past decade, both internally and regarding its place in American sports?

Simply put, there are just so many more people in America and globally participating and/or following these youth, active, outdoor environmental, individual sports. There are millions of participants -- younger and older, male and female, and these sports and their culture are changing the face of culture more generally. They're influencing fashion, art, design, music, food, language, style, attitude.

Is there a danger of action sports becoming too mainstream or professional? Or is that no longer an issue?

Action sports are mainstream already and, in some ways, "professional," but I don't believe there's an issue with either one. The pure act of these sports is still very underground and grassroots at the core level.

Quiksilver has just launched a new line of performance apparel, Quiksilver EQPT. There's a lot of workout gear out there -- what makes yours different both in terms of the product itself and its marketing? What do you see as the opportunity in the market?

EQPT is a range of technical, intelligent sportswear for our surf/skate/snow customer for his or her off-the-beach or mountain activities. Most of them also play volleyball, tennis, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, water polo and so on as they grow up.

We want to offer an alternative to the existing "stadium sport" companies' sports apparel lines:

Under Armour

(UARM)

meets (surfer) Kelly Slater, (skateboarder) Danny Way and (snowboarder) Todd Richards! There will be art graphics, color blocking, different global themes, camouflage and prints on technical performance fabrics.

Your business is obviously about staying on the cutting edge. What are the key elements to doing just that?

Good product, correct marketing and core distribution -- those are the keys.

A lot of brands throw around the word "authentic." Is authenticity important to a consumer who didn't grow up on the water or next to a skatepark?

Authenticity is all-important. It's only achieved through the keys I just mentioned

above over many years to gain global recognition. The bottom line with authenticity is that you have to earn it.

There are various entities under the Quiksilver Inc. umbrella -- the Roxy girls line, Quiksilver Edition for older guys, etc. Does each brand live entirely on its own, or is there some consistency and connection that you try to achieve between them?

Each brand at Quiksilver Inc. lives entirely on its own with regard to product design, marketing and sales, with a shared backroom logistic system. There are obvious related parties. For instance,

Raisins is linked with Radio Fiji, Leilani and Roxy Swimwear. But all brands operate independently for their direction and vibe.

Few people probably realize that Quiksilver also owns Cleveland Golf, which plays in a very different game from your surf/snow brands. Have you been able to apply knowledge from the action-sports world to golf, or are they too dissimilar?

Golf is obviously a very different business than our surf/skate/snow brands, but the art of running a business and building product, as well as marketing and distribution for any brand and/or business, is the same.

And most action-sports athletes play golf -- they're mesmerized by the game. Golf is also an outdoor activity, so it plays into our "outdoor" company theme, and there is an emerging apparel piece within Cleveland Golf called

Fidra.

Quiksilver has partnered with Filter magazine to provide new music tracks to quiksilver.com's visitors. What's the thinking there?

Music is part of the action-sports culture and very important to our consumer, our accounts and our company. With our size and clout, we believe we can give support to young bands around the world, incubate their music and expose them in the right way through our Web site, movies, 500 retail stores, hang tags and so on. Partnering with bands and music distribution companies has been an ongoing goal of the Quiksilver Entertainment division. The results so far have been fantastic.

The Quiksilver Foundation is an initiative that might surprise some people. Is this a case of doing well by doing good?

The Foundation was formalized last year after years donating our time, products and money to certain community and global causes. It focuses on giving in the area of kids, science, and environmental and humanitarian endeavors.

Each of our base operations around the world support their local communities with products and money, and all of us support chosen global initiatives such as the

Surfrider Foundation,

SurfAid International,

Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies,

Sumba Foundation,

Reef Check and

Keep Abreast.

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Evan Rothman is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. A former executive editor at Golf Magazine, his work has appeared in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Esquire, Men's Journal and other leading publications.