January 9, 2024

Rise Of The Direct-To-Consumer Apparel Brand

What's with all the Instagram and Shopify Golf Apparel brands?

How awesome does it sound to create a cool golf apparel brand with some buddies and simply golf around the world, promote the brand and live the good life? I’ve always been curious about this concept and admire those who went for it - they got a few friends together, pooled some resources, designed a few products, developed the brand and some content, created a few ads, and sold millions in products.

This is an extremely oversimplified view and doesn’t pay any respect to those who have been successful in this industry. But many have tried, and there is a graveyard of brands that have come and gone over the years. Nonetheless, I’ve always wondered how hard it is to start your own golf apparel brand. What kind of experience is needed? What kind of relationships and access are needed? How much money is needed? How big of a team is needed? What are the key determinants of success?

Building New Golf Companies to Evolve the Game

There’s a lot of ways to create a business in the golf industry. But just like the sport itself, it’s incredibly competitive. With the rise of technology over the last couple decades, there’s an app for everything now, from tee time booking, to on course management, to training and pre course management, to game improvement/ stats tracking, to on course betting, and so on. There’s even been a proliferation of newer direct-to-consumer equipment companies. But apparel tends to have the lowest barrier to entry, albeit the highest competition.

However, with the right strategy in place it’s absolutely achievable to create a successful golf apparel company. It’s much harder than most think and while many do try and fail, some do succeed. This piece takes a look at some recent successes and attempts to provide some insights into what it really takes to do this successfully, however that may be defined.

Supporting the Next Generation of Golf Brands

By my count, about 30 new golf brands (including apparel, & accessories) have launched since the pandemic began. 30! That’s an impressive number - but then again, the industry is massive. Over $10 billion is spent annually in the US each year on apparel and equipment alone. The beautiful thing about the golf apparel industry is that having a brand name doesn’t really matter to consumers themselves. Of course it’s a competitive advantage for the brand itself and its distribution, but golfers only really care about the design, quality and price. There’s little brand loyalty otherwise and people freely mix and match their outfits from different brands. Case and point, in a recent survey our audience responded with:

Several of the bigger independent brands in the current generation started in the smallest of ways:

  • Palm Golf - Simply started with buddies wanting to make a new highly fashionable golf glove and has expanded into accessories, headcovers, and apparel. They’ve got the best hats in the game in my humble opinion.
  • Swannies Golf - Started with a Kickstarter campaign in 2015 to create the world’s first soft spiked golf sandal. They hit their fundraising goal and parlayed this success into building out a product line that was focused on environmental sustainability, and now employs over 50 people and their products are sold into over 1,000 golf course shops.
  • Bad Birdie - Similarly started by a guy that thought golf apparel is boring, and his journey started by Googling “how to make golf polos” and three years later the founder was pitching his company on Shark Tank. You can now find their products almost anywhere.  
  • Primo Golf - Four cousins that grew up golfing together in California started with a simple idea to make a good golf jogger. Launched right as the pandemic took off - sourced their first order with 250 pairs - all presale - took off from there
  • Syron Golf - Started by two brothers working as the grounds crew at a golf course in Ontario, Canada with a mission to bring the industry the best quality golf accessories with a unique fashionable twist.
  • Random Golf Club - Started with an idea to organize a golf group with people that were struggling to find playing partners. The company in its early days focused on producing media content around the game and has since grown into a full fledged apparel and media company with a strong community. I recently watched some of their shows on a United flight.

All of these companies and many more not mentioned have found a wedge into the industry by focusing on one particular product and/ or mission that was different from the status quo. And the industry has responded by handsomely rewarding them with demand to fuel their growth.  

Finding Success in the Golf Industry

The lowest common denominator of their success appears to be they were founders that were immersed in golf. You’ve got to really eat, breathe and live golf. But that’s the great thing about the sport – there’s nearly an unlimited supply of obsessed golfers that want to consume just about anything in and around the sport.

But there’s much more to it than just that. It’s going to take a mix of business savvy, knowledge of trends, resources, access, hustle and persistence. It’s truly an uphill battle to break through the noise and be able to compete for attention from consumers. And even harder doing this all as an outsider, when so many successful brands have been created by insiders - ex pro golfers or ex leaders from other golf or fashion companies.

The Upstarts Are Challenging the Titans of the Industry

So it’s no accident that some of the largest independent brands such as Travis Mathew or Malbon Golf were started by teams with strong connections and access in golf.

Though the game these companies are playing continues to evolve and selling apparel into Dick’s Sporting Goods or PGA Tour Superstore is no longer the main way to win. Smart newer brands are finding new ways to create golf content that attracts huge groups of people. Good Good Golf has to be the best recent example of this, weaving together events, apparel and content into one money making machine.

Add to that the rise of influencers in the space and even more opportunities through NIL partnerships, the ways to reach the next generations of amateur golfers are exploding. And distribution channels are improving, from new online marketplaces to social media - making it easier for consumers to discover and purchase from new brands.

The cool thing about where the industry is, is that the pie just continues to get bigger. So even with all of these new independent apparel brands seeing success, Callaway reported 27% growth in Q1 2023 apparel revenue compared to the same period in the prior year.

Are You Ready to Build Your Brand or Business?

So for those motivated to start their own brand, take note. It’s not easy, it can be expensive, you will make mistakes, and building a brand is something few can successfully do. At the same time, opportunities to build in golf are abundant.

Is anyone considering launching their own brand? If so, please reach out!