Sanuk®, the playfully hip and funky footwear company, is one of those unconventional businesses whose whole mantra revolves around having fun. Even the athletes Sanuk sponsors exude a cool, chilled, laid-back feeling. Not necessarily athletes chasing glory on the circuit, but those looking for the perfect wave to surf or rock to climb. It’s all about lifestyle, which has given the brand an almost cult-like following.
A few years ago, I was invited to interview Sanuk at the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in Salt Lake City. I had my doubts that I could find a fit with Southern Ascent, as we tend to focus on Technical gear rather than Lifestyle. I expressed this to Sanuk, and without missing a beat, one of the young Sanuk employees looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Don, you can’t wear your technical gear ALL of the time!”. I took home a pair of Sanuk Vagabonds after that meeting and they still sit by the front door today, a little worn on the soles, but as comfortable as ever.
With the shift into Lifestyle and Activewear by many brands in the Outdoor and SnowSports Industries, firms like Sanuk are worth exploring. Sanuk, while not the most technical, is still an innovative company. Jeff Kelley, the founder of Sanuk and a keen surfer, has a long history of entrepreneurship. Back in the 1980s, Jeff started a business called Trac-Top out of his garage, making traction pads for surfboards instead of using surf wax. He then moved on to help further develop Reef, the now global surfwear and sandal brand.
In 1997, Jeff went back to his garage and started making sandals out of inner-tubes and indoor-outdoor carpet. The brand became Sanuk, a word in Thai culture often translated as ‘fun’, but is more about striving to achieve satisfaction and pleasure from whatever you do. Many of the early models, including the popular Sidewalk Surfer, were built on a sandal base with canvas, hemp or alternative fabric as an upper. A closed-toe sandal or ‘non-shoe’, so to speak, discards the insole board in favour of obtaining a walking action that is closer to barefoot.
The Deckers Brands acquisition of Sanuk in 2011 has been seen as beneficial. Larger, more structured corporations can sometimes squash a unique company culture, but Deckers understood Sanuk’s needs. Deckers and Jeff Kelley have worked closely together to give Sanuk space to continue to innovate, yet supply the brand with access and tools to take their products global. Deckers are themselves footwear specialists with a collection of big brands including Teva, Ahnu, Hoka One One and Ugg Australia.
Sanuk is distributed in Australia and New Zealand by True Alliance, which also carries many of the other Deckers brands. Sanuk footwear can be found at numerous retail outlets, at Style x Deckers, as well as with other online retailers such as SurfStitch.
Featured Photos: Sanuk Media Images