Romain was 20 years old when he left his home in Lyon to go study on the basque coast and live out his passion for surfing. While in graduate school, he met Matthieu with whom in 2008 he created Lastage, an eco-friendly boardshorts brand that aims to change mentalities.
Romain, where did you grow up?
I’m originally from Lyon but I’m one of those guys who discovered surfing, got completely hooked and who eventually wound up settling on the coast.
How old were you when you discovered surfing?
I was round 12 or 13. I waited till I was 18 before leaving home to go study sports and athletics in Lyon. When I found out there was a boardsports management program in Bayonne, I jumped at the opportunity.
“I thought it was possible to create an eco-responsible brand that is also cool and funky”
Is that how you got the idea of creating an eco-friendly boardshorts brand?
Yes, I got the idea when I was in grad school. We were always outdoors, right in nature. All week I went surfing and on weekends I was in the mountains. We were very rock’n’roll and I thought it was possible to create an eco-responsible brand that is also cool and funky.
How did your projet get off the ground?
During first year as a Master’s student, I joined an incubator in Bidart to examine how feasible my project really was. Once the project matured a bit, Matthieu De Tarlé, a friend from college, joined me in the project. After one year of working with the incubator, we decided to launch Lastage and set up a small office in Biarritz.
And how did you get funding to launch Lastage?
We started out with 10 000 euros, which is to say not much. We scraped up every cent we could find, which allowed us to launch our first T-shirt line to test out our logo.
Then, to keep the business going we took the traditional entrepreneur way. We sought out “love money”, which is basically seeking out people around us who were willing to invest small amounts into our project and since that worked, we raised funds with private investors.
Why did you decided to create a boardshorts brand?
Because we are summer specialists. With the rise of alternative boardsports like SUP, cable wake boarding and lifeguarding, every one winds up owning a pair of boardshorts, even people landlocked in central France.
Your boardshorts are made from recycled materials, aren’t they?
Yes, they are made from Repreve, which is recycled plastic bottles mixed with elastic material. It is an extremely light weight material, which is water repellent and quick drying. We also develop other products such as T-shirts or sweat shirts made of 100% Organic Exchange certified cotton.
What about winter products?
This year we launched socks made in France and delivered in a camembert cheese box, which was a real hit. We are also thinking about other products like sweaters made in France and a few capsule collections.
How do you choose your suppliers?
I used the list that Patagonia publishes. I called all the traditional apparel producing countries to get information on product sourcing and I realized that Turkey, which is right at the doorstep of Europe, makes really good products and has some highly committed companies. We also work with China, Portugal and of course France.
We really have a global approach to design. We look at where the raw materials come from, who will transform them and assemble them and how we will deliver them.
“Since we couldn’t afford to hire Kelly Slater to promote our brand, we decided to let Mr Everybody become Lastage ambassadors.”
You got word out about your brand through an innovative distribution system called “VIP deals”. Tell us about that.
We realized that distribution is increasingly vertical, so we launched a new network sales system along the lines of the Tupperware system. Since we couldn’t afford to hire Kelly Slater to promote our brand, we decided to let Mr Everybody become a Lastage ambassador to sell our products through his or her own network.
We met amazing people and trendsetters, who through their passion have a huge impact and almost propaganda-like power and who can spread the word about us and our brand. That’s how people started hearing about us and how we built our little army.
Ecology isn’t very fun. How did you get the rock’n’roll side into the brand?
We organized events that were anything but boring. We created the “Zarbi Tour” (weird tour), which was two week ends of a surfing and snowboarding competitions in which contestants ride in costumes. There was a huge festive part to it and a huge athletic part, both of which came together with the costumes and solidarity. Through these events, we created awareness around various social and environmental associations to which we made donations. Also, one year, instead of asking people to register, we put a shopping cart at the entrance of the beach and asked each participant to bring food for the “Restos du Coeur” food drive.
You decided to stop after the eighth edition. Why?
Those were our first events. They were wild so they resulted in monumental parties. We stopped because they required so much time to organize. We reoriented our marketing strategy towards online efforts and quite logically, we decided to produce a quirky web-series “Bienvenue chez les boops” (welcome to the boops) in which we include environmental awareness contents.
“Today, the mass market tells the consumer that it is easier to buy three crapy t-shirts than one quality t-shirt. We are trying to fight that idea.”
Respecting the environment is the core message you are trying to get across, is it not?
The idea is to do intelligent marketing. We want to show that behind the huge barrels in boardsports brands there is also a reality: that our actions and our consumption habits all have an impact on the environment.
Today, the mass market tells the consumer that it is easier to buy three crapy t-shirts than one quality t-shirt that will last. At Lastage, we are trying to fight that idea.
The message we want to get across is that today the industry needs cleaner people who have an authentic approach to sustainability and eco-design.
What do you do on a daily basis to protect the environment?
I start with simple things like sorting the trash, cycling to work, paying attention to where and how my clothes are made.
For our events it’s the same thing. We try to keep it clean. It’s a culture and a state of mind. We don’t have a radical view of ecology. We like to eat, we like to drink, we are like everyone else, but we have a clear and set vision. We aren’t trying to lecture people. If you want to drink or smoke, fine, it’s your choice as long as you throw out your cigarette butt or bottle in the trash!
Where can we find your products?
We have an online store and two physical shops, one in Biarritz and one in Guidel in Brittany. Our objective for the future is to get into shops. We tested out a few and our products sold very well. We are currently working on our structure to become a brand that retailers can count on. It’s part of the next step in our strategy and new fundraising.
How do you pitch your brand to shops?
We offer quality products that respect the environment, are innovative and have style. In fact, our team members like bodysurfing World Champion Fred David, have been working with product engineers for the past three years on our boardshorts closing system “scratch age 2”, which we patented in June 2014. We are also working on innovations that will surprise more than a few…but shh! We also offer boardshort customization for shops and at the moment we supply all the Basque Country lifeguarding clubs and three surf clubs.
What are your resolutions for 2016?
Surf more, work less. (laughs)
No seriously, it is to keep listening to advice from people around us because you can’t always be at the top of your game.
How do you see yourself in ten years?
Fat, with glasses and bald! (laughs)
No! I hope that Lastage will grow to become a voice that can represent eco-committed franco-europeans in the surfing world and beyond. It’s a huge challenge, but we’re willing to take it on!