I own a single belt. It’s a brown leather, no frills workhorse. For four years now, it’s had the singular role of holding my pants up. Nothing less, nothing more.
Robbie McKnight, son of Bob McKnight of Quiksilver fame, argues that the boring, generic, non-expressive way that belts are viewed as a utility and not an accessory needs to change. His venture, CUATER, is an accessory company that focuses on the belt as a means to add personality and style to an outfit. And if that sounds crazy to you, I encourage you to harken back to the generic all black and all white socks that, apart from a few variations, were the most stylish socks available. Now, Stance has literally reinvented that category, and the wild socks trend has even bled into formal menswear to such a degree that it’s not uncommon for a broker on Wall Street to strut downtown in an Italian suit with pink polka dot socks and leather wingtips.
CUATER, according to Robbie McKnight, is pushing to reinvent the way we use and envisage the staple belt in our everyday wardrobe. So we caught up with him to get the inside scoop on his new venture, the genesis of it, and where CUATER is headed:
1) What was the genesis for a dedicated accessory company specializing predominantly in belts? What were other companies and market trends that influenced you to go that route?
Starting my own business has always a dream of mine, and just graduating from college, the timing seemed perfect to go for it. Over the years, I’ve studied and familiarized myself with different business models, and the model of specializing in a single category instantly caught my eye. Knowing that I wanted to be in the surf industry, I took a trip to France and worked with the Quiksilver family out there. Pierre Agnes and Miky Picon took me under their wing and to my surprise, Miky was one of the Co-founders of Moskova. Already a fan back home, I picked his brain and learned all about Moskova and how he executed it. At the same time, I was noticing the success Stance was having with socks so I definitely saw the beauty of honing in a single category and putting a brand behind it.
2) Why belts, specifically?
After getting out the whiteboard and throwing up all the different categories, belts seemed to always stick out among all the others. If someone wanted to go buy a belt, there just wasn’t that go-to company and that’s when it hit me. Everyone needs belts, but at the same time, everyone just has the typical black or brown leather belt for the purpose of holding up their pants. It’s our goal to make belts a fashion statement in your wardrobe. We have the belief that even the smallest accessory, done right, can inspire your overall look. All CUATER belts are priced from $30-$50, which ranges in three different styles with one of our styles being a graphic belt. This belt gives us the ability to imprint photo quality images onto a paper-like fabrication. As you can imagine, this allows us to do whatever designs we want across these belts, which is where we can explore signature series with artists, photographers, designers, and athletes, and later on we can start doing custom belts.
3) Is the goal for CUATER to become a trend setter a la Stance, Moskova, or other brands that are primarily dedicated to a single accessory?
Yes, it is our goal to become the go-to belt brand. We want to set the presence of providing a large variety of quality belts. We also have our eyes set on evolving into other accessory items as well. Like our graphic belts, we also have graphic wallets. Our next item is top secret and I think everyone is going to like it!
4) Being your dad was the man behind Quiksilver, a company that began to set itself apart early with innovations in boardshorts like velcro and scalloped piping, are those elements of ingenuity, innovation and entrepreneurship an influence in your venture? How?
Quiksilver is a great example of staying ahead of the game and proving the necessity of always innovating. In today’s world, every successful brand needs to constantly develop and refine their product to be the best at what they do. If you fail to do this, the next company will catch up and go right past you. From different designs, fabrics, and stitching, the developing process should never stop and we are always looking at different ways to improve our product. Like many know, my Dad is a product freak, so having him as an advisor to help nitpick product apart and help us with the overall brand direction is very advantageous. On top of this, I think it should be every son’s dream to be able to work with their dad on a project, and CUATER definitely allows me to do that.
5) How do you think the everyman in the surf, skate, or snow world currently understands the belt, and how do you hope to see that change?
I think that everyone in this industry views a belt just like everyone viewed socks. A sock was just something you had to have and there wasn’t much variety or flavor at all until Stance came along. Now, everyman is buying multiple socks throughout the year that feature different colors, patterns, and designs to add a flare to their look. We hope that we can get that same mindset across with with our belts. We want people to wear our belts as a fashion statement and to pinline their outfit.
For more info on CUATER, check out their website.