Instinct, a brand with a rich South African heritage, took the surf apparel industry by storm in the 90s and is now making a comeback. We sat down with the head of the Instinct brand to dig deeper into its history and, even more importantly, its future plans. Let's get into it!
Meet the Head of Brand for Instinct
I'm Simon De Robillard, head of Instinct Brand at O2 Clothing in Durban. We are an established clothing manufacturer with 25 years in business. We recently acquired the Instinct license for South Africa, and I head up all the brand and product developments.
Can you give us the backstory of Instinct?
Instinct's story is almost a two-part story. The brand was founded by Shaun Thompson in Durban in 1979. It rose to fame and prominence through Shaun's professional surfing career, which ended towards the end of the 1980s. He was South Africa's first world champion and won the Gunston 500 on six consecutive occasions.
Instinct became one of the biggest surf apparel brands in the world to the point where it was positioned third behind Quiksilver and Gotcha in sales globally.
Instinct had distribution channels in multiple countries and continents across the world and was a pioneer in the surf apparel industry in the 1980s.
Shaun sold his share in the license to a local family, who then sold it to the Foschini Group, an established South African retail group of companies.
That's when we saw the brand disappear from markets in the early 90s.
How did Instinct make a comeback?
The Foschini Group owned the license whilst it was dormant, and there were no products within the market until Shaun was approached by some guys out in Australia in 2021 to express an interest in reviving the brand.
Shaun subsequently inquired with the Foschini Group to understand the license's status, and it happened to be coming to an end at that time. Shaun then negotiated with the Foschini Group to gain the operating license back but at no extra cost.
It was a great gesture of goodwill from the Foschini Group to give the brand back to Shaun, with the agreement that he would contribute a percentage of sales to a local surf therapy organisation called the 9Miles Project.
What did 2023 mean for the brand?
Shaun approached us, having expressed interest in reviving the brand in South Africa at the beginning of 2022.
We spent most of 2022 positioning the brand from a strategy point of view, identifying potential distribution models, developing graphics and product range, and starting our production process.
If we look back on what 2023 meant for the brand, it's been a year of learning for us and finding our feet, reflective of what the market looks like in South Africa today.
When we eventually launched the brand, it was a case of establishing and building relationships with key people within the market and building relationships at retail level within the independent core surf markets.
And eventually, coming to terms with what it meant to launch and manage an ecommerce store.
What has changed and what has remained the same?
Many things have changed, but a lot has stayed the same.
The most obvious is that the brand founder, Shaun Thompson, is still actively involved, even though he lives in the United States of America. He's there from an advisory and a creative direction point of view.
We've also decided to use a lot of the old heritage elements that made the brand as well-known as it was throughout the 80s. We decided to keep the logos the same and bring back old print graphics, colours, garment silhouettes, fabric techniques, and wash techniques as much as possible within our launch range.
What do Instinct customers resonate with?
Our customers resonate mostly with the fact that we are a heritage South African brand.
We are authentic. We have rich stories about the brand throughout the 80s, about Shaun's surfing achievements.
Instinct was a massive brand within South Africa and globally. So, this brand has a huge amount of authenticity and people connect with that.
They have positive memories of summer holidays, travelling to the beach, buying their first Instinct products from the factory shop in Stamford Hill Road, or collecting stickers at the beachfront, or watching their favourite surfers surfing and representing the Instinct team.
What is the vision that keeps Instinct going?
Our vision for Instinct is products with purpose. Instinct is a brand with roots and soul. All the products are locally manufactured at the premises, contributing to local employment and actively involved in local communities.
At the end of the day, it's just contributing to employment, making a difference in local economies, having the freedom and flexibility of being an entrepreneur, and developing a product and running a business that has had many successes in the past and still exists after 25 years.
What advice do you have for people wanting to start a business like Instinct?
If you have a passion for clothing, production, and manufacturing, then there can be a lot of rewarding elements to being involved in this industry.
From a brand point of view, there's a huge amount of opportunity and potential to develop a brand and connect with audiences and communities across the country and internationally.
But at the same time, like any business in South Africa, you need to be resilient. You need a level of positivity and optimism because we face several challenges relating to labour, raw materials, currency, etc.
What does community mean to Instinct?
Community means everything to us. It's a brand that relies on a community to survive, and we've put much effort into building those communities.
Instinct was a brand that emerged from surfing culture, and it was all about team riders and serving local and international surf communities. The surf culture is a unique thing.
It's still early in the process, but it's a part of our plan to serve the local communities in some shape or form. One of those communities is our employees, who work hard and sacrifice a lot. Without them, the brand and our business wouldn't exist.
From the outset, we've made them aware of the Instinct brand and what it stood for, but also the potential it has to have a real positive impact on their immediate communities, their families.
Can you tell us a bit more about the 9Miles Project?
[The collaboration] was a very natural fit from the outset. Understanding and learning about the programs they run and the lives they change daily is inspirational. They're doing such an amazing job of uplifting the youth from disadvantaged areas in the Cape, bringing them into these programs of safety and security, and removing them from environments of stress and violence.
How is iKhokha bettering the journey for Instinct?
We launched our ecommerce store in March of this year. One of the most important decisions was to find a reliable payment gateway partner established locally, compatible with our ecommerce platform and that we knew really wanted to grow with us as a business.
Having done some research into the local payment gateways, iKhokha came out on top, and we felt it was the right fit.
The whole integration process was seamless. We're getting a great service from our support team and have some really beneficial rates in place. That helps us as we're a start-up, and margin is hugely important. It's also really user-friendly and easy to run and manage. We haven't looked back.
Get in on the Instinct Tribe
Instinct is more than quality surf apparel - though if you're looking for that, you'll get it. Instinct is a brand with a rich history and inspiring purpose. To join the Instinct Tribe, you can shop Instinct's iconic wear online or connect with them on their socials;
Online store: Instinct