Behind The Brand: NCHE Wetsuits

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posted by James Willmott

When three surfers unite to build a brand focused on fit, affordability, comfort, flexibility, durability & style, chances are it will be a hit. Even more so when those three individuals happen to be ex pro surfer Jarrad Howse, designer Michael Eaton and former Billabong marketing guru, Simon Barratt.

Attention to detail is something the crew at NCHE have believed in since day one, so much so that they have molded each and every range of rubber to focus on what the modern day customer wants; subtle logos, large panels and no zips, breaking away from most major label standards and forming a following of their own.

Loving the fresh range (including a steamer exclusive to SurfStitch) and eager to learn more, we caught up with Mic Eaton to discover the world of NCHE, a modern wetsuit brand with minimalist aesthetics.

Thanks for catching up Mic! can you tell us a little about yourself and your role at NCHE?
I’m in charge of Design and Art Direction and grew up in Tasmania. I was surfing at a young age. For a short time I followed the competition scene, then turned my interests to design. My design background is in Fashion. I’ve spent most of my career developing menswear collections. I worked for a luxury fashion brand while living in Europe. The experience taught me a lot about quality, design and formulating the creative process. 

When did NCHE first come to fruition and what inspired its creation?
The first thought of NCHE came when I was living in Antwerp, Belgium in around 2012. I was deprived of the ocean, I wanted to create more surfing in my life.  I began talking with Simon Barratt, a long time friend since our Junior Series days. Simon had years of experience in marketing surf brands. We both saw the opportunity to bring a new and unique wetsuit concept to the surf industry. We spent three years developing and sampling wetsuits and evolving our ideas until we had a product we were happy with.  I moved back to Australia in 2014 and then former CT surfer Jarrad Howse came on board and we founded NCHE.  It was 4 years in the making, we launched with a small winter range in 2015. 

Where are you based?
I spend 8-9 months of the year form the Hinterland of Byron Bay and my second base is in Europe. I’m there 2-3 months of the year.  The NCHE HQ is in Freshwater, Sydney where Jarrad and Simon are based.

What’s a typical day look like in the office?
The key for me is not having a fixed routine. Each day I have meetings, calls and emails but I try and reserve most my energies for uninterrupted creative time.  My days are about concept building through conversation and research. I’m most proactive in the night when there’s very little disturbance. Its quiet normal for me to sit at my desk til 2am.  Both Jarrad and Simon work full time jobs, so they’re on the NCHE program early and late.  It works well for us. 

 Who are the other key individuals involved?
Simon Barratt, who cut his teeth at Billabong and Red Bull, Jarrad Howse, former tour surfer with O’Neill and more recently Jay Taplin who works across graphic design and wetsuit production also.  

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Where does the name come from?
It was simple, the name had to respect our vision and principles. NCHE, (pronounced Niche) was exactly what we were trying to offer in the wetsuit market, something a little different, a little less branding, more minimalistic and simple in design.  

What’s the best thing about running your own show?
We make suits we want to wear.  We were over the big logo’s and bad aesthetic choices in the market  We stripped all that away then made them as flexible and as durable as we could. We eliminated all the functions we didn’t need, zips, super seams, welded external seams, anything that would weigh the suit down or could potentially fail in design. 

What’s been the biggest thing to happen to the brand so far?
A highlight moment was Craig Anderson on the cover of STAB wearing a black NCHE Short Arm Steamer. When Ando dropped off Quik, we sent him a few suits and the next month they appeared on the cover of a magazine. Right now there are a few paid surfers buying our suits because they want to wear them over their sponsors suit, which is cool endorsement  but in general its a sincere complement to see them enjoyed in the water by all types of surfers. 

You’ve just released your winter range, one of which is exclusive to SurfStitch (You can shop the suit HERE). Can you give us a run down of these suits and tell us what makes them so special?
Clean lines, large panels, minimal aesthetic. These are our principles when designing a suit.  In our collaboration we’ve worked close with Bart, the wetsuit buyer at SS. When it comes to neoprene Bart has a lot of knowledge and he knows his customer. His insights and feedback has really helped us with evolving our 3x2mm Full Suit.  The suits this season are Triple Stitched GBS for added strength and durability, we eliminated another seam which again means less panels and more flexibility.  The exclusive Surfstitch colour Abyss Grey  is a deep grey with a hint of mauve. A wetsuit should compliment its environment which is we generally stick to organic, full coloured suit in our range.

Can you describe the process form first drawing the concept to eventually wearing the suit out in the water?
I’ll sketch first concept with pencil on paper, then create a digital tech file for the manufacturer. The techfile is the blueprint of all construction and technical information. A prototype is made by the manufacturer, then sent to our office. We’ll fit the prototype on a body, check the fit, cut line positions and construction techniques before testing in the water.  We test in the water several times, get an idea how they wear, dry and feel in a climate that best suits the design.  We evaluate its overall performance, iron out any imperfections and often repeat the process to ensure the design is 100% right.  From initial sketch to delivery to the market the process is 9-12 months.  Before we dropped our first suit into market we had been evolving it for around 3 years. 

What’s next for NCHE?
Continue to evolve our staple performance suit, expand the range for colder climates then take the NCHE concept to new places.  We already are distributing into Europe through select accounts and will move into the US end of 17.  

In 2012 when it came to delivering a suit to people it seemed a different playing field . If we stay true to our concept,  make wetsuits people are stoked to buy and wear then we will continue to evolve out brand and product. 

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