By skater, for skater brand Etnies was established in 1986 to offer everything to meet the needs of skateboarders under foot. More than three decades later, under the leadership of owner and CEO Pierre-André Senizergues, nothing has changed.
Last year, Senizergues — who holds the owner and CEO titles at Etnies — celebrated the company’s 35th anniversary at a time when skateboarding may be hotter with the masses than ever. Skateboarding made its Olympic debut in Tokyo to much fanfare, and Etnies held its first public event, the Red Bull Paris Conquest in Paris in August, since COVID-19 forced the world indoors a year earlier.
Also, in the year-plus of people having to engage in more individual sports and fewer team activities due to COVID-19, skateboarding has flourished. According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, 6.3 million casual skaters, or people who skated 1-25 times, skated in 2020, a 48.1% year-over-year increase from the 4.3 million who participated in 2019. As for core skaters, or people who skated 26 or more times, the number climbed 9% from 2.3 million in 2019 to 2.6 million in 2020.
During that time, skaters new and old turned to Etnies. Senizergues confirmed with FN that the brand experienced double-digit sales growth in 2020, and is expected to see the same for 2021.
Below, Senizergues shares the wins of 2021 and reveals what will define Etnies in 2022 and beyond.
What defined 2021 for you?
Pierre-Andre Senizergues: “I think 2021 was basically passing through the ups and downs of the past 35 years, starting with the beginning, surviving and figuring out how to make it, from France to the U.S., surviving in California, branching out internationally, passing the global recession of 2008 to later on with COVID, logistics and everything.”
What were some of the highlights from 2021?
PS: “The growth of the brand. COVID was complicated — of course, it’s still complicated today — but we had growth in ’20, growth in 2021. And we had our first major event in a while in Paris in August with the Red Bull Paris Conquest right in front from the Eiffel Tower where I grew up skateboarding. That was a huge thing for us because obviously we saw the popularity of skateboarding exploding in 2021 with more people doing individual sports versus team sports. It also was a big challenge if the event was even going to happen because COVID is so uncertain. And with Tokyo passing the Olympic flag to Paris for Olympics in 2024, we did the event right after the [Tokyo] Olympics in Paris, which is the birthplace of Etnies, and it was great fun because the Olympics was basically locked down. The [Olympic] riders went from their hotel room to the event, there were no spectators, and then back to the hotel rooms, so they were pretty bummed out and it was tough for them to be secluded for so long. When we did the event in Paris, it was open to everyone — there was still a limitation on how many people the city of Paris allowed to have, but every day of the contest was packed. There was a crowd, and it was an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower. It was kind of like a moment where people were breathing and sitting like, ‘Whoa, that’s amazing, we can get back together.’ Because it was in Paris, some of the soccer players from PSG showed up, like Neymar.”
How has the resurgence in the skate market impact Etnies sales?
PS: “Our sales grew in mid-double digits [in 2020]. People needed more skate shoes. For ’21 yet, I’m sure they also grew mid-double-digits. Also, what we saw that was very interesting is it wasn’t only guys skateboarding. There’s way more girls now skateboarding. I would talk to some of the skate shops and they would tell me 50% of sales was girls buying skateboards. Maybe five years ago, skate shops would say maybe 10% of the customers who come in are girls, and now it climbed to 50%. We saw a lot of girls coming into the market, and guys and kids, of course. What was also interesting was the dad coming in a skate shop. The dad is coming because his kid is now skating.”
From speaking with skate shops, did you find out that fathers were coming in to buy for their kids? Or were they also buying for themselves?
PS: “They’re buying for themselves to skate with their kid. The parents, they want to do something with the kids, of course. They’re coming back to skate shop where they used to go, buying the brands they used to buy. It’s cool because they get back into it, they’re excited. Also, one particular thing that really surprised me was there were a lot of dads that started skateboarding for the first time, which is not easy. I’ve also noticed a lot of girls who are starting skateboarding but were not yet confident to meet other girls skating or meeting other people skating, they want their dad to skate with them as a kind of a support system.”
How have supply chain issues impacted Etnies?
PS: “It’s complicated, for sure. From raw materials to assembling, production, shipping by sea or by air and getting it. For us in the United States or in Europe, it is a constant battle, and is very costly, too. Sea freight is way higher, maybe like five times higher, and on top of that we also air ship because we want to deliver, and the air shipping is extremely expensive, so it erodes our margin. We’ve been also increasing pricing to recoup some of these, but it is very sensitive in skateboarding in general because people can only afford the same price of shoes, which is different in running shoes or basketball shoes because they are a little bit more expensive than skate shoes, but has as much technology as there is in other shoes. It’s a constant battle to make sure the shoes are affordable and extremely durable. The supply chain has been a problem, we’ve been having a few months delay on delivery, but the people love the brand, and there’s so much participation but there’s only so much supply, so everybody wants to grab whatever they can. We try to allocate our inventory equally across the market, and I think overall, we’ve been pretty good in general delivery, but it’s not like we’re near the top of our performance.”
How, if at all, did the debut of skateboarding in the Tokyo Olympics help the sport?
PS: “We always try to build and skateboarding and skateboarding culture as a whole because we’re really passionate about skateboarding and we all skate. I’m 58 years old, but I still skate every week, and I will try the shoes because I’m passionate about it. But the Olympics helped skateboarding to be accepted by the masses. The parents and even the grandparents see the Olympics and start recognizing and hearing the names of those athletes on TV, so skateboarding is getting accepted now in a big way — it helps a lot. And with more infrastructure, it’s easier now to get a skate park now that it was even 20 years ago. The government helps a lot because they’re allocating budget for those national teams and they see that there’s a lot skateboarders in the world. Tokyo made a big difference with acceptance, and over the next seven years it’s Paris in three years, then Los Angeles seven years from now, so there’s a runaway basically that we’re going to see more and more skateboarders because there’s way more structure at a state level and a governmental level to push skateboarding.”
What is Etnies place in greater skate culture both historically and today?
PS: “Historically, we’re probably the first company making shoes specifically for skateboarding to start with. We never made any other shoes before, we started straight up with shoes for skateboarding. We also did the first pro model with our shoes in ’87. And today, we’ve been keeping up with making the best shoes possible. The last five years, we’ve been working with Michelin tires, they approached us to work with Etnies and gave us an exclusive contract to make outsoles for us for skateboarding, so our shoes basically last three to five times longer and they also grip better and are more comfortable for impact.”
There are several anticipated collections from Etnies in 2022. What do you expect to stand out?
PS: “From the start, Etnies was in a rebel sport, skateboarding was a rebel sport. It was about inventing and creating. Our Rebel Sports collection uses colors and design from back in the days — we had a lot of red, black and white — and we’re bringing geometric patterns into it to make it super cool and exciting. Also, Ryan Sheckler, he’s been riding for us since I think 7 years old, we’re launching new shoes for him called the Estrella. It is a shoe that our designer, with Ryan and I worked on. They have a very nice aesthetic, we’re bringing something different to the market. And, of course, we’re using all of the usual Etnies technologies, things like the Flo2 tongue so the shoe doesn’t get too hot and the best foam for skateboarding. This evolution of foam, we worked on it for 10 years before bringing it to the market. We also have these shoes called the Marana, which is one of the shoes we made with Ryan Sheckler 10 years ago. We keep pushing the shoe to make them the most durable for skate, and we’re using Fiberlite technology, which makes them extremely durable. It is in our DNA to push the limits with any product. We now have a vegan offering in our collection, and being eco-friendly is very important to us. We’re reducing our footprint and one of our big initiatives 10 years ago was to plant forests. We’ve planted over 2 million trees over the last 10 years and starting with Costa Rica and then to Brazil and Africa.”