By Tiffany Montgomery | Published Aug 23, 2018
One of our best interviews of the year. We talk about Bernard’s growing active brand Lolë, how he has changed since leaving Quiksilver, and what he thinks of the Quiksilver/Billabong union.
While in Montreal in July, I spent several hours with Bernard Mariette, the former Quiksilver president who is now the CEO and partner in active lifestyle brand Lolë. I wanted to see the business he is building. And I also heard he is a changed man. Bernard’s forced departure 10 years ago after the Rossignol acquisition went south was traumatic not only for him, but for the executives who banded together to oust him. But as time has passed, and the wounds have healed, I have been hearing more about Bernard’s strengths: his mentorship of promising employees, his financial acumen and gift with numbers, his charm, his vision. I wanted to talk to him about it all – his present with Lolë, and how he got through that difficult time in the past. In Montreal, Bernard showed me the loft-like Lolë offices that he designed in an old Montreal building, and we visited an impressive Lolë store on the main downtown shopping street Rue Sainte-Catherine. We lunched at the Sofitel before he caught an afternoon flight to Europe.
We talked about his new outlook on life and the soul searching he did after the bad ending at Quiksilver; how that reflection and new mindset led him to invest in Lolë; and, of course, we talked about the strategy for Lolë, which has been growing rapidly. I also asked him what he thinks of Quiksilver and Billabong being under one roof, and about the general state of the surf industry. Bernard had interesting things to say on those topics, which I’ll get into later in the story.The Bernard of today is very different than the Bernard of 10 years. He is passionate about meditation. He stopped drinking. He seems calm and at peace. He lost weight, and his eyes are clear.
“After what happened at Quiksilver, I knew I needed to change the way I think, and change the way I see the world,” he said.The passing of time, and his new outlook on life, have given him a very Zen perspective about his 15 years at the company, including the ugly ending.While yes, the ending was painful, he also remembers the good.“Some of the best things that happened to me professionally in my life happened at Quiksilver,” Bernard said. “I learned so much from Bob McKnight, Harry Hodge, and AlanGreen. It was a huge part of my life. It was a wonderful part, truly.” His energy is now devoted to the development and growth of Lolë, a brand that reflects his new outlook on life.
Lolë – A Spiritual Active Brand
Lolë rests on three main platforms: athletic, outdoor, and lifestyle, with yoga and meditationat the center. The brand is all about harmony, unity, and authenticity with oneself and
others. Lolë has been posting solid double-digit growth, and the brand is aggressively rolling out stores in resort areas of the U.S. and Canada including Park City, Tahoe, Vail, Whistler, andLake Louise.
The brand has 42 stores, and the stores work very well in winter resorts because of Lolë’s strong year-round offering, Bernard said. “We are strong in all four seasons,” he said. “If you are Burton, or Salomon, you are good in the winter. If you are Adidas and Nike you are good in the summer. We have a strong offering in both. In winter, people are buying our outdoor product, in summer the buy more of our athletic. And because we have an element of fashion knits, people can buy that year round and also wear it when they go back home.” And once resort shoppers leave, they continue to buy the brand. Bernard cited Lolë’s bige-commerce business in Mexico, which he attributed to Mexicans going to resorts like Whistler and Vail and getting introduced to the brand, then buying more online when they get home.
“We made distribution complex at the beginning, but it ended up being the right thing to do,” he said. “We started with three channels – wholesale, our own stores, and the web. We
did that nine years ago. So of course there was the conflict with wholesale back then, but today, all the channels are strong, complimentary and profitable.” Together, Lolë e-commerce and stores account for 37% of total sales.One thing is certain: Bernard knows how to grow a business. When he became a partner in Lolë in 2009, annual revenue totaled CAD $15 million. Now revenue has reached CAD $100 million.
And some big names have an ownership stake in Lolë including Herbert Simon, the cofounder of the Simon Property Group and owner of the Indiana Pacers basketball team. He and Bernard together own 85%. Others who own smaller pieces of the brand include a member of the Hermes family and a founder of Cirque du Soleil. So far, Lolë is underpenetrated in the U.S. But in Canada, Lolë is a solid No. 2 to Lululemon, Bernard said, which he thinks is good for the active industry overall. “It’s like watching tennis or golf – you can’t have just one good player,” he said. “You need competition to get better and to help each other grow. “Lululemon is the leader by far in the industry, and there is a need for a No. 2 with the same values and commitment to product, but with a difference,” he said. While yoga and mediation are central to Lolë’s mission, they are not the entire mission.“We believe in balance – we want people to have fun, to go to parties, and to integrate yoga into their life because it will enhance their life,” he said. “But we are not promoting yoga to take over your whole life.”
Bernard believes it is not a coincidence that Lululemon and Lolë are both from Canada. “There’s a true element of balance here between nature, culture, respect,” he said. Since 2011, the brand has been hosting an impressive event around the world, the Lolë White Tour, where thousands of people come together in public spaces to practice yoga and mediation and experience harmony and fraternity with others. Bernard was inspired by two festivals he attended – the Fêtes de Bayonne in France where people from all walks of life come together wearing red and white to celebrate a grand tradition; and a Summer Solstice celebration in New York where thousands of yogis celebrated with free yoga classes despite being surrounded by the cacophony of Times Square.
The Lolë White Tour has become a major event, and has stopped at sites around the world including the Grand Palais in Paris, the Museu Nacional d’Art in Barcelona, and Central Park in New York. In mid-August in Montreal, thousands turned out at the Old Port for the White Tour. (See photo in slide show.) Visually, the events are striking. All the yoga mats are yellow and participants wear white. Lolë makes a special white collection for people to wear for the events. When I noted to Bernard that the Roxy Fitness events seem similar, he pointed out that the White Tour started several years before the Roxy gatherings and he believes the White Tour may have had a hand in inspiring the Roxy Fitness events. One next big initiative for Lolë is the launch of a men’s collection this fall, which includes essentials such as a down vest, a jean, a chino, a running legging and a running short. For a yoga brand, they will market the men’s brand in an interesting way – with a tattoo artistic twist that will be led by Lolë’s Los Angeles outpost in Venice.
The Game Plan
As the CEO of Lolë, Bernard’s role involves a lot of travel and intensity. I asked him about the end goal. Is it to sell the brand someday and slowdown? “I’m not sure what I want,” he said. “I like to share the passion for a brand with a team, to build something together. I like to see people blossoming, and to see a vision unfold. “But do I like how long it takes? No. It’s always longer than what I thought in my head. And it always takes more money than I expected. “Would I like to have more time to see friends and pursue all my other interests? Yes. But would I happy? I don’t think so. I like the pressure, I like the challenge. “At some point would I like to bring in a strategic shareholder to make the bigger vision a reality? Maybe. I idn’t build to sell and make a bunch of money. I did it because I wanted to be happy and I believed in the mission and the brand’s values.”
The Action Sports Industry Today
Bernard watches the industry from afar, and had some interesting insight into its current state. While everyone likes to blame Rossignol for Quiksilver’s downfall, there was a big looming
problem that every company in the industry missed, including Quiksilver, he believes. “I missed it as a professional, and I wasn’t the only one – the downturn in surf as a whole,” he said. “Look at Billabong’s problems and Volcom’s. Is that because of Rossignol? No. “The problem was we were all not managing our companies properly,” he said. “We were all just living too much of an extravagant lifestyle. Everything was so good, and we thought it would last forever.
“We really needed to rescale everything, to drastically cut down costs and get rid of the sacred cows. Instead, everyone looked for the short-term solution and compromised to move to lower distribution, which hurt the brands in the eyes of the kids,” Bernard said. “It’s easy to speak in hindsight, but I wish I – and everybody else – would have seen that downturn coming,” he said.
Bernard is optimistic about the Quiksilver/Billabong merger, however. “I think the industry is fighting for survival and Thank God somebody is there to believe in it like Oaktree,” he said.
“I am sure David Tanner is a great leader – you don’t end up in this position out of luck. Oaktree will make it work. They have to, so they will. “I think the surf industry will always be there in some way – in fact, I would love to buy a small surf brand.”
I asked Bernard if he still wears Quiksilver even after everything that has happened. “100 percent I wear Quiksilver – and I buy it,” he smiled. “I love it, and I’m proud of it. It’s like
my baby. I love the people in it.
“Was there a bad finish? Yes. But that doesn’t mean everything else was bad,” Bernard said,
smiling. “Everything else was beautiful.”