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How John John Florence makes waves with his community-led outdoors brand Florence Marine X

The two-time world champion surfer is building an innovative outdoor apparel brand.

How John John Florence makes waves with his community-led outdoors brand Florence Marine X
[Illustration: Nicole Rifkin]

This story is part of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business 2022. Explore the full list of innovators who broke through this year—and had an impact on the world around us.

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Superstar surfer John John Florence raised many a sun-bleached eyebrow in January 2020 when he walked away from an eight-year, $30 million contract with ubiquitous surf giant Hurley with two years left on the deal. Rather than sign with a rival, Florence launched his own brand, Florence Marine X.

Unlike fellow legend Kelly Slater’s Outerknown, which was launched with backing by the luxury fashion conglomerate Kering (but is now independent), Florence Marine X, which launched in May 2021, is part of an independent company (called Kandui Holdings) and is focused on producing highly technical gear that stands up to the gnarliest of conditions—made responsibly and designed to specifications Florence wasn’t finding elsewhere.

He started with surf-specific hooded rash guards ($70), adding raglan sleeves for greater flexibility, flatlock stitching to reduce chafing, and four-way stretch fabric with light compression. The rash guard has become one of the brand’s most popular and top-selling items.

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For wetsuits, Florence worked with the company’s head of innovation and sustainability to utilize thermodynamics research from Cal State San Marcos’s Surf Research Lab to optimize for longevity, warmth, and flexibility by altering how the neoprene is distributed around the body. These academic insights were worked into the wetsuit’s final design, which surfwear creators at companies such as O’Neill and Patagonia have lauded as one of the industry’s only innovations that’s been led by science rather than anecdotal experience.

Florence Marine X also introduced a membership model that gives fans early access to products and exclusive content such as surf videos for a one-time $20 fee (which is then credited back on their first purchase), as Florence seeks to turn customers into evangelists. To tap into that community further, he asks members to apply to become “Test Pilots,” a small group of 10 or so outdoors enthusiasts from around the world who are tasked with testing product prototypes. Florence credits the program with allowing his brand not only to deepen its connection to fans but also to scale its R&D more quickly, thanks to the early feedback.

“Having this group of people around the world who are super into it, love it, really push the gear, and then genuinely want to give their feedback? I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Florence says. The brand has now expanded to include welded-seam board shorts, storm fleece hoodies, and surf lifestyle gear such as trucker hats and hoodies.

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Meanwhile, amid all the brand building, Florence is still blowing minds with how he’s able to combine his raw athletic power with acrobatic artistry on a wave, maintaining his stature as one of the best free surfers on the planet. He represented the U.S. at the Tokyo Olympics and finished in the quarterfinals or better in four of his first five 2022 World Surf League events.

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity.

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