With a degree in marine biology from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, local free diver, spearfisherman, waterman, photographer and writer Ryan McInnis never planned to start a clothing business. That is, until he noticed a market yet to be tapped in the clothing industry for free divers, spearfishermen and others who play underwater.
“The surf industry is pretty unique; surfers are laid-back people but generally have money to spend and once they have all their equipment, they spend their money on apparel and accessories that say, ‘I’m a surfer,’” McInnis said. “I drove dive charters forever and all the divers were wearing surf T-shirts, there was no brand that said, ‘I play under the water.’”
Capitalizing on the following he accumulated through In-Sea TV — a series of videos McInnis produced about free diving, spearfishing and underwater exploration — he began marketing In-Sea T-shirts and found there was a market.
Where most surf shops devote a majority of their inventory to clothing and accessories, most dive shops focus on gear, and McInnis saw a chance to introduce a line of clothing that dive shops would want to carry and would help dive shops increase profits.
“Surf shops don’t make any money on surfboards or wetsuits. You walk into a surf shop and all you see are T-shirts, hats and stickers,” he said. “You walk into a dive shop … and all you see is dive gear, metal, black and gray.”
Once divers purchase the necessary equipment and gear, often the only reason to revisit the local dive shop is for air tank refills. McInnis said the shops that have begun to carry the In-Sea line have seen a marked improvement in sales.
Now, three and one-half years worth of calculated growth later, the In-Sea brand is featured in retail locations throughout the coastal United States, Dubai, Australia, South Africa and Bali, with more international locations on the way. Oddly enough, McInnis said the dive shop in downtown Dubai is his biggest client.
The In-Sea line features men’s and women’s T-shirts, tank tops, performance polos, hats, visors, stickers and water sport-specific garments like the blue camouflage sun sleeve. Most of the pieces bear the brand’s signature trident, which McInnis said serves as a symbol for the lifestyle, both in and out of the water.
“People that dive have jobs, they have to go to work. … Why would you put on a shirt with a guy riding a horse or an alligator when you could wear the symbol that represents your lifestyle?” he said.
With big things planned for the brand in 2015, McInnis said the company has grown slowly but steadily on purpose.
“For the most part, I have been pulling back the reigns because it would be really easy for me to spend a bunch of money to do all the things I want to do, and let it sparkle and fade,” McInnis said. “I really believe in slow growth because when you are underwater, doing things quickly is unsafe, and if you go fast you don’t get to enjoy the scenery.”
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