Publication Details

Warren, A. & Gibson, C. (2017). Subcultural enterprises, brand value, and limits to financialized growth: The rise and fall of corporate surfing brands. Geoforum, 86 177-187.


Geographical political economy increasingly scrutinises the socio-spatial contexts for brands and branding. Less understood is the influence of subcultures - neo-tribal groups sharing passions, a leisure pursuit or practice - on enterprise formation and the pathways through which brands emerge, trading on perceived authenticity. Subcultural contexts, we argue, unleash distinctive trajectories of enterprise formation, reputation-building, value-creation, global expansion and accumulation, and ultimately destruction. Here we focus on how particular subcultural values - of authenticity, competition, risk-taking, and active participation in 'scenes' - interact with capitalist growth dynamics, and where over time and space such intersections bring brands unstuck. Using the case of surfing subculture and collapse of corporate surf enterprises (Quiksilver, Billabong), we theorise subcultural brand value creation and its interaction with financialized expansion, culminating in destructive contradictions. Subcultural enterprises with 'authentic', 'back-of-the van' origins convert subcultural values of credibility, localism, risk-taking, and scene participation into brand value. Trading on place-origins and subcultural authenticity, enterprises expanded in two phases. First by widening distribution using specialist 'surf' retailers, and second by offshoring production, public floating, and debt-financing brand acquisitions and massive retail expansion. Dictates of shareholders and investment banks spurred market saturation, and high-volume/low-quality goods. Surfing's cherished insouciance gave way to unhinged expansionism and unmanageable debt. The subcultural authenticity that spawned brand popularity was undermined, amplifying financial risk. Disenchanted consumers who once co-created successful brands also co-destroyed them. As subcultural brands proliferate, geographical political economy must be attentive to subcultures as spawning-grounds for enterprises with accompanying limits to market growth, (dis)connections, and values.



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