Volcom’s Ryan Immegart talks through a successful merch collab as fans old and new soak up the grunge resurgence.
On a sweltering July evening, Ryan Immegart is surveying the queue snaking for a good six blocks through the Shoreditch lanes. As the Chief Marketing Officer of Liberated Brands and Volcom, and the co-founder of Volcom Entertainment, he’s seen some fanboys and fangirls in his time. “But someone arriving midnight and queuing through the night on the London streets to buy Pearl Jam and Pixies merch? Well, yes, that did surprise me.”
Immegart became Volcom’s first sponsored snowboarder not long after Richard Woolcott had founded the brand in 1991. A few years later an 18-year-old Immegart walked into a meeting with Woolcott with a proposal. Owed a couple of grand in photo incentives, and with a cheap demo of an album he’d made with his post-punk band The Line, he asked Woolcott to match his incentive money to launch a record label and cut an album. The boss agreed, and Volcom Entertainment was born.
Over the next decades, the label continued to grow through a mix of traditional and non-traditional record retail, launching bands such as CKY, Vaux, Pepper, Valient Thorr, Riverboat Gamblers, Year Long Disaster, and Guttermouth. International festivals, subscription-based vinyl record clubs, plus competitions for unsigned rock bands were other ways that a core surf and snowboard apparel brand carved a unique space in the music industry.
“I see our biggest strength and the biggest drawback is trying to stay credible across a range of different boardsport and music genres,” Immegart told Wavelength. “It’s easy to fuck it up, and we’ve been lucky we haven’t fucked it up too bad.” Wearing cargo pants, a plain Volcom tee, and a beanie he looks like what he is; a 46-year-old snowboarder and punk muso. Yet despite being one of the biggest players in the industry, he exudes both warmth, humour, and authenticity. Though that could have been the cold tins of beer he insisted we drank during the interview.
Ryan was in London for Volcom Entertainment’s latest project. With Pearl Jam and Pixies playing at the BST festival in Hyde Park, the bands had teamed up for a one-day-only, pop-up shop. The official merch, including tees, posters, skate decks, caps, and socks, could only be bought in person, in limited numbers, and was unavailable online.
150 lucky customers, plus 50-odd industry hangers-on such as myself, would receive an invite to watch the Pixies play a rare, exclusive acoustic gig that evening. And while for this aging Pixies fan, the gig was some type of golden ticket, the apparel was the real attraction. If the midnight queuer was an outlier, the first merch punters had still arrived at 4am that morning, and the queue remained blocks long all through until closing at five that evening.
“I find it interesting that early 1990s grunge and all the fashion that goes with it is seeing a resurgence now,” says Immegart. “But I was so pleasantly surprised by the diversity of the line-up. It was made up of all ages, and not just diehard Pixies and Pearl Jam fans, but a whole new generation from all over the world. I talked to teenagers in the queue who just recently had got into the same albums that had such a huge impact on me as a kid.”
Pearl Jam has had a relationship with Volcom going back 25 years. Before Volcom, Woolcott had worked for Quiksilver and had met the members of the band when he sourced the soundtrack for the seminal surf movie, ‘Kelly Slater in Black and White,’ which he had directed and produced. Immegart met Vedder on his first Volcom trip as a 16-year-old snowboarder and it’s that early shared background and love of boardsports and music that has helped fuel the relationship ever since. While the band and the brand don’t have a formal contract, they have collaborated on various individual projects ever since.
“This has been a fun project and more in keeping where we will be heading,” said Immegart. “During the pandemic, I had time to think about what was crucial to me, and to the brand, and I just kept coming back to music. It’s such a common denominator that brings people together. With our heritage and history, we wanted to re-establish our credibility. Volcom Entertainment was dormant and nothing new was happening, so we wanted to kickstart it again. So far so good.”