Etnies looks to 2024 Olympics with new skateboarding brand ambassador Aurélien Giraud
Looking ahead to the Paris 2024 Olympics, streetwear brand Etnies has recently signed up Lyon-born skateboarder Aurélien Giraud, 24, as brand ambassador. Giraud was a finalist at the Tokyo Games last year alongside fellow Frenchman Vincent Milou. Etnies is a skateboarding brand based in California, founded by former French skateboarding world champion Pierre-André Senizergues.
“Interestingly, three athletes had a chance to win in Tokyo. American Nyjah Houston, Aurélien and Japanese athlete Yuto Horigome. Yuto skated very well, while Aurélien and Nyjah both made mistakes that cost them the podium. But what was best for the sport was that an Asian, an American and a European athlete were all in with a chance,” said Senizergues. The boss of the Sole Technology group, owner of streetwear brands Etnies, Emerica, Es and Altamont, and of snowboard shoes brand 32, is a businessman who employs over a hundred people at the group’s headquarters in Lake Forest, California, and at offices in China and Europe. But above all, Senizergues is a passionate advocate of skateboarding.
And while Senizergues has lived in the USA for over 30 years, he now has his sights firmly set on Paris. He hopes to see Giraud shine at the 2024 Games, and watch him fulfil his dream of winning gold in the skatepark that will be installed in Place de la Concorde. Since travel rules have been relaxed, Senizergues has frequently been flying to Paris, where he is involved in the Games’ organisation.
“I got involved in the preparation of the Paris 2024 Games to help stage the skateboarding events, not just the medal competitions but also related cultural and artistic events,” said Senizergues. He added that “what’s key is winning the culture games in Paris. There is a very strong connection between skateboarding and culture, in terms of graphic arts, music, cinema and more. For example, film director Spike Jonze (of ‘Being John Malkovich’ fame) is a former skater who started out as a photographer and then made videos for the Beastie Boys, before turning to cinema. We need to talk about culture, and defend skateboarding culture. I think this aspect makes the practice attractive to everyone, it’s a huge draw. The IOC realised that the average age of people following the Olympics was around 50. This is why they decided to introduce sports like snowboarding, which drew record audiences, then skateboarding in Tokyo,” said Senizergues.
Some skateboarding fans worried their practice might be overshadowed by a global event like the Olympics, but the Tokyo Games actually raised the sport's profile, energising the entire sector.
“The impact was huge,” said Senizergues, “the number of skateboard practitioners hit the roof. In 2020, it grew by 30%, and as for last year, it is still difficult to quantify, but it surely has increased by more than 50%. It's partly a consequence of Covid, which made it impossible to practice team sports, and plenty of people took up running, as well as skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing. The other aspect is that many girls have now got into [skateboarding]. They meet up to skateboard, and don’t mind what the boys think. At first, it was 18 to 20-year-old girls, and plenty of them looked cool, they weren’t afraid of making fools of themselves, and they inspired younger girls. Now we have teenagers and kids getting into it. And the youngest medallist in Olympic history is a 12-year-old skater girl.”
As the new generation steps on the board, some parents are finding the inspiration to try out, or get back into skateboarding. A genuine opportunity for a sector that took several years to recover from the financial crisis of 2008. “I set up Etnies 35 years ago, first by manufacturing my own footwear line in the Paris region, then moving out to the USA. We studied bio-mechanics to offer new solutions for skateboarders. Basketball players absorb seven times their weight when they slam dunk, skateboarders 14 times their weight when they jump 20 steps. We created shoes that cushion shocks and are extremely durable. Then major brands like Adidas and Nike began to wonder who this little French guy was, and started developing their own lines,” said Senizergues.
The two sports giants have now refocused their marketing investments and are concentrating their retail activity on major accounts and their own monobrand stores, leaving room again for independent players like the Sole Technology group. The group still sponsors about a hundred riders around the world, and continues doing business with independent skateboarding stores. In the last two years, Sole Technology has started growing again after going through a troubled patch. “We never stopped working with independent stores, because they are our bedrock. The crisis has hit hard, and in many markets the number of retailers has shrunk. Even if businesses have been supported, for example in France, this is a critical time for retailers because they are open and stocked up, but currently see scant consumer traffic. That's why we have to talk about skateboarding, so that people will go shopping in skate stores, making sure for example that parents aren’t intimidated by the fact of visiting a specialist shop,” said Senizergues.
Sole Technology does not operate its own monobrand stores, but managed to weather lockdown periods by tapping e-tail growth. For the last two years, the group, which does not provide revenue figures, reported annual growth rates from 20% to 30%. Its success hinges on its products’ performance features, notably shoe soles developed by Michelin, but also on its environmental commitment, something Sole Technology has invested in for more than 20 years, for example having been one of the first companies to install solar panels on its building's roof. The group is currently advertising a tree-planting program in a number of countries.
Sole Technology has a retail presence in 70 countries across the USA, South America, Europe and Asia. It is keen to tap the interest in skateboarding manifested by fashion and luxury brands, with riders showing for labels like Louis Vuitton and Gucci, while taking full advantage of the boost provided by the Olympics, for the Paris Games and beyond. “We describe Etnies as ‘born in Paris, raised in California and around the world’. ‘Born in Paris’ is important given the prospect of the 2024 [Olympics] and the energy of street culture in the city. California is of course essential. Most of the major skaters are based there. And after Paris, the next Olympics will be staged in Los Angeles. For us this means continuity, and a huge opportunity for skateboarding,” concluded Senizergues.
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