By: Derek Nelson
Photos by Samantha Wolk
For those of you who don’t know Travis Fujita, he’s one of the most genuine and effortlessly cool guys on Georgetown’s campus. When he’s not busy taking classes in the MSB, you can find him making your favorite latte at MUG or running point on the courts at Yates. Travis also has some of the best style I’ve ever seen; he’s a member of Georgetown Retail & Luxury Association, and has influenced my personal fashion tremendously since rooming with him freshman year.
This summer, Travis worked for the label Outerknown, a company started in 2015 by 11-time World Surf League Champion Kelly Slater. Slater’s brand attempts to deliver fashion with a conscience, with looks inspired by his surfing career and a connection with the natural world. In addition to working for the company in his native southern California, Travis had the opportunity to travel around Japan with Kelly’s team, helping with promotion and serving as a translator. Always thoughtful, Travis sat down with me this week to discuss the experience of working for Kelly’s brand:
THIRTY SEVENTH: How did you start working with Outerknown?
TRAVIS FUJITA: It seemed to be perfect timing. I had been hearing about this new project that Kelly was working on since he left Quiksilver, and it just so happened that his design partner, John Moore, was also the director of a creative design agency that served my dad’s business clients. I emailed John asking if Outerknown was looking for any interns for the summer, and he got back to me after a couple months saying that they were, particularly in marketing, digital design, and supply chain management. I figured I had the best shot landing the marketing internship given my experience, so I sent the office manager my résumé, had a phone interview with the VP in April, and when I got back home to LA in May, I had an in-person interview at the office. I started working a week after that.
TS: Describe the style. How do you think it fits in with your personal style?
TRAVIS: The design is definitely influenced and shaped by a coastal lifestyle. Both Kelly (obviously) and John are avid surfers and so are about 90 percent of the people in the office. The style is timeless and functional — not over-spoken. My personal style is inevitably shaped first by functionality, then by how I want to tell the story of myself through clothing: where I’m from, how I’m feeling at a point in time, what I aspire to be, who inspires me. In that sense, I too, come from a laid-back, coastal lifestyle and get huge inspirations from my interactions with nature. Outerknown embodies this connection between man and nature, and adds an element of my wardrobe that reflects my coastal roots and connection to nature.
TS: What was it like working for a brand just getting off the ground? What were some of the challenges faced?
TRAVIS: There was a lot of adapting to do, especially as an intern. My advisors would give me ample time to complete a task or project, but there were always new challenges or deadlines to face as an office. At the same time, it was eye opening to see the process of launching a brand, from the construction of an e-commerce platform, to development of fulfillment center procedures. We worked tirelessly to meet necessary deadlines for launch. Despite the pressing environment, my advisors did find time to teach me marketing technicalities, such as search engine optimization (SEO), the importance of adhering to brand identity in all brand-related activities, and the necessity of competitive analysis in developing a unique and effective business strategy.
TS: I know that you got to have some face-time with Kelly. What was he like and did meeting him influence you in any way?
TRAVIS: My first time meeting Kelly was in Tokyo for Outerknown’s first international launch; he was always working on the road in the summer because he was on circuit for the World Championship Tour. I remember vividly the first time I shook his hand on the 40th floor of the Cerulean Tower hotel; I managed to mumble something like, “Uh I’m Travis, I interned for your company this summer.” Luckily, I had three more days with him to have some real dialogue.
The more time I spent with him, the more I realized how pure and intelligent a guy he is. There was one particular thing he said during an interview I was translating that struck me the most: when the interviewer asked what his thoughts were on the upcoming competition in Tahiti, he said, “To be honest, I don’t even know if I’ll go. I’m loving my time here in Japan, and if my girlfriend and I decide to spend another week here, I might do just that. I’ll see as we go.” This was classic Kelly, never altering his opinion for anyone, and constantly living in the present. From his child-like curiosity to his open-mindedness towards foreign experiences, I try to adopt these traits to make new discoveries of my own and draw inspiration from all corners of my life.
TS: Sustainability is a big part of Kelly’s vision for the label. Could you feel that in the company atmosphere?
TRAVIS: Sustainability is one of — if not the most important — elements of Outerknown as a brand. This stems naturally from Kelly and John’s connection to the ocean, as well as their philosophy towards environmentalism as a whole. Kelly is a super inquisitive person – he does a lot of his own research on health, the environment, GMO products, you name it. So in developing the supply chain, he was very much invested in the process. Kering (a minor investor in Outerknown) helped the brand connect with ethical and sustainable partners to create a global supply chain that spans from Peru to Slovenia. The ethos of Outerknown is rooted in a love for nature and protecting the environment that supplies us with so much, and that attitude was certainly shared by everyone in the office and was reflected in the work.
TS: How would you respond to critics that say the price point is too high for the target demographic?
TRAVIS: Well, first off, I would say the price-point is on par with the target demographic. Now, that demographic may not currently be what many expected it to be, which is the majority of the surfing community that adores Kelly, but cannot afford to pay $70 for a t-shirt. However, with the core of the brand identity being centered on sustainable practices, it was absolutely necessary for Outerknown to stick to its strict principles. And it being a brand new company, it is difficult to produce quality, ethical products for a price that a seasoned mass-manufacturer like Nike may be able to provide. I think it’s important to note that by sustainable, Outerknown does not merely imply environmentally sustainable material. Sustainability encompasses fair treatment and wages for factory workers, ethical treatment of animals, and constantly innovating to find fabrics and procedures that can help reduce our carbon footprint. It’s the brand’s ultimate goal to eventually be able to provide ethical clothing at a more accessible price point. For now, that means the target customer is the middle-aged, environmentally and fashionably conscious man looking to support a movement aiming to transform the industry.
TS: Any other cool experiences/information you’d like to share?
TRAVIS: I just feel incredibly lucky to have been able to work for Outerknown at such a critical time that was its launch, and first international launch in Japan. Being native in Japanese, I was given the responsibility for correspondence between Outerknown and its Japanese partner, Ron Herman Japan. On top of that, to be able to travel to Japan with the company and even get in the water with Kelly was a magical experience. I got to witness parts of Japanese media and some highly exclusive surfing communities that I never could have experienced unless I was tagging along behind the brand. I’ll add that this internship was secured in May – I really had no other plans if this had fallen through. In choosing an internship or job for the summer, it is without a doubt important to think of its financial aspects and the practicality of it for future employment, but above all, I would say following your passions and what genuinely inspires you would result in the most rewarding experience.