Golf lifestyle brands are more popular than ever. What defines success?

by | Sep 16, 2021 | Golf Apparel

Who doesn’t love golf lifestyle brands?

In recent years, the golf landscape has exploded with hundreds of small, design-driven golf brands making golf apparel and accessories. Unlike the old days when a couple of apparel brands ruled the game, the golf lifestyle brand has stepped in and made sure it stays here.

I wrote about the grandfather of all golf lifestyle brands, Travis Mathew, on these pages. Not much has changed in my current attitude. Travis Mathew created and owned the golf lifestyle brands category and threw it all away to become a designer apparel brand for everyone.

Do you do nice things? Secure. Is it a real golf lifestyle brand now? Not really. It’s California casual with a touch of golf.

As soon as Travis Mathew saw the first successes with his design-conscious golf apparel, others immediately jumped into the emerging market. Since then, the golfwear landscape has been inundated with brands hoping to get a piece of the ever-growing golf lifestyle dollar.

There have been some hits like G / FORE, Linksoul, Stitch and Palm. There have also been hundreds of failures. Their names don’t really matter because they disappeared here and in a heartbeat.

So what does it take to launch a golf lifestyle brand and get over the hump?

I spoke to Ross Payne, owner and operator of Stripe Golf Co., along with his partner Nick Nielson, about the introduction of Stripe Golf a few years ago. As with any company, there are hurdles, but the duo are still committed to bringing Stripe Golf to retail outlets across the country.

So far they are getting results and the future looks better after the pandemic.

As with many golf lifestyle brands, the idea started with an after-round beer.

“Why were golf hats so boring?” Wondered Payne and Nielson. They felt that there was a market for golfers who wanted a little style that could be carried over off the course.

After doing some research, they found that a brand that says “I’m a golfer” without shouting it out might be catching on. And Stripe Golf was born.

Like so many small businesses, Stripe Golf started out in a garage. The inventory was received and sent by the owners themselves. But it was clear that they were in contact with their audience.

“I think in the fall of 2020, after we launched our website and released several new styles of hats and a few different designs, we felt we could be into something,” Payne recalls.

Over the past two years, Stripe has created several designs for hats and beanies, and recently launched branded t-shirts.

It wasn’t all easy. While Instagram offered cheap presence and a way to target golfers online, COVID has devastated the product supply chain. Getting hats, finding embroidery, and changing retail trends have taught the creators a lot.

Online sales alone cannot sustain a dream bigger brand. Payne and Neilson quickly realized they needed to hire local golf courses and place themselves in pro shops. This produced some results, but it also proved humiliating.

Payne recalls some pro shops wondering why they needed an independent brand on their shelves. Stripe first gained traction by promoting its message “locally owned, designed and manufactured in Kansas City”. This has resonated with some, but still others have not bitten.

Rather than being put off, Payne and Neilson credit some people who just didn’t get their vision. You learned the old advertising maxim firsthand – the most attractive and successful brands have a clearly defined audience.

Today, Stripe Golf builds on their early success and hopes to take the business to the next level. Specifically, that means building relationships with manufacturers for fully bespoke Stripe golf hats and apparel.

That means that instead of sourcing components and embroidery, Stripe is hoping for a direct relationship that will allow them to have their own production line straight from the factory.

For example, a G / FORE hat is a G / FORE hat – not an Imperial hat with a separate patch sewn on.

It’s a big step and requires investment on the part of the brand to make the manufacturers worth the additional time and effort.

This is what all successful golf lifestyle brands have in common. They control every aspect of product design and development and enable them to create a brand experience, not just a brand message.

Payne and Neilson hope the next step will serve as a launch pad for a wider collection of Stripe golf apparel and accessories.

Next year promises to be a critical year for Stripe Golf and dozens of other golf lifestyle brands. Golf has seen immense growth during the pandemic. There are even bigger and wider golf dollars to be won. Hopefully, as problems in the supply chain normalize, competition will increase quickly.

It is impossible to determine who will and who will not. Big brands sometimes don’t get the attention they need. Less inspired but well financed brands can often be successful through the power of economic power alone.

One thing Stripe Golf does for this is its honest roots. It’s just a few golf addicts who hope to connect with other golf addicts. Understanding your audience will never be a problem because they are living it themselves.

For the rest of us, golf lifestyle brands offer new ways to express our love for the game. It adds style and fun to a sport that has been associated with khaki shorts and pastel colored shirts for too long.

As Martha Stewart could say, “That’s a good thing.”