Jetty Life, a New Jersey born and bred skateboard and surf apparel company (Est. 2003), has produced eight lines of clothing and is sold in over 50 specialty retail locations throughout North America. Co-owner of Jetty Life, Cory Higgins, talks with Dun and Bradstreet Credibility Corp’s Catherine Mangan about surf, sand, and business plans.
Dun and Bradstreet Credibility Corp: Do you remember the moment where everything went from being just a bunch of friends having fun to firing up a business?
Cory Higgins: I’ve always taken the business very seriously. I’m the one out on the road and in the stores talking to the surf industry people and because of that, it’s been easy for me to stay really motivated. I know we can succeed at this because I see what else is out there and how our product looks on the rack next to everyone else’s. We’re on year eight now and it was probably after the first or second year that I knew this was what I needed to do.
DandB: Rumor has it that Jetty originally started out with five partners. True or false?
CH: True. Four of us graduated from high school together and the fifth was one year behind us. We all parted ways and went to college, then came back afterwards and decided to start Jetty to work for ourselves at some point as a 10-year plan. After about five years, two of the partners dropped out due to wanting to start families and devote more time to developing “stable” careers. Then, about a year ago the third dropped out due to the same family related matters. It takes a ton of time and money to build a brand, and if it is not a top priority for you, it just doesn’t make sense. We were lucky enough to have two investors jump in a couple of years ago and get us some working capital to keep growing and moving forward. So now, we’re back to four partners.
DandB: Surfer Gary Sirota says, “There are no more committed people on the planet than surfers. We fall down a lot. We turn around, paddle back out and do it over and over again. Unlike anything else in life, the stoke of surfing is so high that the failures quickly fade from memory.” Do you feel as though this way of life can also equate to being passionate about the life of your business?
CH: Absolutely, that is a great quote and super accurate. It reaches to the whole surf industry in general. These days there are a lot of board rooms, neck ties and stock trading for the bigger brands, but the core of the surf industry is super tight-knit. Everyone knows each other, helps each other and everyone is extremely committed to keeping the stoke alive. From a Jetty business perspective, yeah there have been lots of failures, but the positivity and drive is so strong that you just move on, learn from it and don’t make the same mistake again. We learn everything as we go. None of us had ever had any surf or fashion industry experience, so it’s been a pretty big learning curve.
DandB: Can you tell me a little about what goes into selecting your various design partners?
CH: Well, we’ve been really lucky with our creative directors since we started. Within the first year of operation, a high school senior named Nick Zegel emailed us about getting involved with Jetty to help us with our website and design. We sat down with him and he blew us away with his creativity and what he was capable of. He ran the design department with one of our partners and the help of some of his artist friends for the first six years. Then, as he was ready to move on and go work for Roxy out in California, it transitioned perfectly with our investors stepping in and one of their sons, John Clifford, began to get involved. He couldn’t have been a better fit for our vision and moving Jetty forward. Now, twice a year, when we are designing a new line, we have a network of about a dozen artists who we send a creative brief to with colors, photos, videos, etc. All types of stuff to inspire them to design pieces for our theme for the season. Then, John takes all the submissions, we choose what we’d like to use and he ties it all together with his own art and layout. We’ve really progressed with our lines and design over the past couple of years. We’ve just matured and become more focused about who we are and what Jetty should look like from a branding perspective.
DandB: Jetty has been successfully catching waves ever since its founding in 2003. Do you feel as though everything usually goes as planned? Any famous wipe outs that you can look back and laugh at? (Please pardon the bad surf puns – they’re just too easy).
CH: Bad surf puns aside, the biggest “wipe out” I can remember is our first attempt at making boardshorts about four years ago. Surf fashion is based out of Los Angeles – not New York City – but I was determined to be able to make a pair of boardies in NYC, so I spent a couple of days a week, for a couple of months straight going into the city, sourcing fabrics, pattern makers, trim, cut houses, etc. It was so time consuming and costly and, in the end, the fabric wasn’t right and it was a total debacle. We probably lost two to three thousand dollars on that mess, and yes, we can look back and laugh at it now but it was pretty devastating at the time.
DandB: Can you tell us a little about your business goals established for the future? What do you see for Jetty and yourself in the next five years? Any plans for expanding to the West Coast?
CH: The goal is to be traveling around surfing and enjoying the rewards of all the hard work. Realistically, within five years we need to be distributing nationally and hopefully under the umbrella of a larger company that has national distribution channels and sales teams in place. The West Coast is on the horizon, but I need to be the one that introduces the brand out there and we’ve got our hands full on the East Coast for now.
DandB: Fear of the unknown. You know it well as a businessman and as an athlete. Would you mind lending some advice to other people starting their own business on how to get over that flutter in their stomach, that vague discomfort of flirting between the familiar and unfamiliar?
CH: You know, starting Jetty in the first place wasn’t the hard part, because we each threw in $200 to get our first shirts printed and we figured if it doesn’t sell, then we just won’t print anymore and call it a day. The toughest part has been to give up free time with family and friends and work two or three jobs at a time to pay the bills. You dedicate and sacrifice other aspects of your life in hopes that it will pay off down the road. My advice to anyone would be to make sure you really love it and want to eat, sleep and breathe it, because starting a business is a life changer and it becomes your identity to others. Be patient and make sure you have a business plan that works and makes sense.