Wave of Change: A Conversation with Creative Marketing Professional, Chris Clark

Chris Clark is a Creative Marketing Professional and the founder of Shaper Studios — the world’s first public surfboard workshop. The concept of DIY surfboards evolved into a robust company with seven locations across four countries. Along with designing surfboards, being a Lululemon ambassador and a brand consultant, Chris teaches “The Art of Business” lecture series for the Sports MBA Program at San Diego State University — the same program from which he graduated. Shaper Studios was just the beginning. With each new venture, early lessons about curiosity, creativity, and authenticity were reinforced, as well as the power of art. As inquisitive students, we were fortunate to gather key takeaways during our live conversation.

Chris’s passion for surfing was evident; how he would build a business was not. While attending a surfboard trade show, he and others immersed themselves in the art of making surfboards. Immediately, Chris realized he would never go back to buying boards off the shelf. Shaping a board introduced elements of creativity and skillfulness to surfing long before catching a wave, with the hope that a perfect cut might prolong the ride. The key to Chris’s business idea was honing in on the unique experience of crafting boards as a means of inviting people who never surfed a day in their lives to learn something new. “Even the beginners that come through our studios tend to be more knowledgeable about surfboard design than a lot of the pros I’ve worked with. It’s fascinating to see how anyone can enjoy making anything with their hands,” shared Chris.

In the same way that Shaper Studios aims to make surfing more accessible, Chris teaches “The Art of Business” to communicate entrepreneurial principles, knowing most of his students won’t embark on their own ventures. Still, these skills can add immense value to the workplace. Two fundamental principles of entrepreneurship are curiosity and creativity. Curiosity and creativity have a symbiotic relationship by which the former initiates a learning process, and the latter deepens and refines — sparking new interests.

Curiosity drives individuals to explore outside of their deepest passions. While most sports MBA students are hungry to learn more about sports organizations, Chris encourages them to read up on tech, food, and hospitality — elements of big organizations. “Be inspired by things outside of your lane. I could easily digest three or four surfing outlets every day. However, I try to look for things outside of action sports to be inspired by, bring that inspiration back into action sports, and have a fresh perspective for people in that realm. That curiosity allows me to be dangerous inside of action sports,” said Chris. As far as creativity goes, people should continuously look for what ignites their imagination and then strategically simulate those types of experiences. Creativity lives in the construction or act of cultivating curiosity. Once you’ve made something worth designing a business around, how do you go beyond selling a product to establishing a brand?

Technology revolutionized marketing — the engine behind branding. There’s a clear trend: businesses are investing more in digital marketing because it offers concrete data and invaluable insights regarding the consumer’s journey; yet, the yearning for human connection is irreplaceable. “As digital gets very noisy, I’ve seen brands be extremely successful by getting out there in tangible ways,” says Chris. As a Lululemon ambassador, he’s witnessed first-hand the power of the company’s ability to craft its story by authentically connecting in-person with consumers. Lululemon’s 2,200 ambassadors humanize the brand in different geographical locations and are an extension of the core team and marketing efforts. While ambassador programs may be a far fetch for smaller businesses or early startups, building a brand around authentic relationships is achievable with a “good old road trip” to interface with potential consumers in various communities. It’s all about showing up in a human way.

COVID imposed barriers to showing up in person, but events — like the death of George Floyd — sparked movements that offered a new meaning to “showing up.” In August, Chris and the broader surfing community organized Shaping Diversity 2020. The event used art, conversation, and the films “Sea Us Now” and “Textured Waves” to inspire meaningful action. Black surfers and people of color in the industry facilitated and contributed to the conversation. Chris positioned the entire event around art — a catalyst to emotions that change our hearts for the better. “Art is very powerful; music is very powerful; films are very powerful; shaping surfboards can be very powerful. I thought we could discuss how each one of those artists was shaping a larger conversation through their art.”

Click HERE to learn more about Shaping Diversity 2020.



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