From a young age, Alison Thomas has pursued her passions without worrying about what was expected of her. “I have always been drawn to challenges and never really took much notice of what I was supposed to do, or considered any limitations as a female,” she says. “I just went for whatever interested me or gave me joy.”
That attitude led her to become a professional snowboarder after a stint working in banking, before she eventually decided to apply her love of board sports to the corporate world. Today, she is General Manager for Australia and New Zealand at lifestyle brand Volcom, and has recently taken on ski brand Spyder and tennis brand Prince off the court for Liberated Brands.
The California-based company, founded in 1991, makes clothing and accessories for surfers, skaters, snowboarders and anyone else with a passion for board sports or the lifestyle associated with them.
Just as Alison pays no attention to the constraints often imposed on women, more and more women are participating in board sports that have typically been dominated by men. This comes amid a general rise in people getting into board sports, and organic growth in the industry as the world adjusts to the pandemic, all of which bode well for Volcom and are contributing to healthy growth.
But Alison and the company are not interested in rapid expansion for its own sake, instead favouring sustainable growth while putting the customer front and centre in everything Volcom does.
“I have always been drawn to challenges and never really took much notice of what I was supposed to do, or considered any limitations as a female.”
“We worry less about the numbers, although they’re very important obviously, and more about being the best partner for our customers and consumers,” she says. “The end consumer is everything to us. You look after your customer, and the numbers will follow.”
Environmental sustainability is another reason Volcom is pursuing growth carefully. “With a growing brand such as Volcom, you have to be careful with sustainable growth,” Alison adds. “You grow too fast, and challenges and pressure come with that.
“We have been committed to sustainability from the start. You can’t be perfect in this game – we all leave a footprint. But it is our duty to be as good as we can and to be a considerate citizen globally.”
The company’s most recent passion project is expanding into workwear, giving fans the chance to have Volcom’s durable clothing while on the job. “We see the Aussie tradie with our tribe already – they work for their passion,” Alison explains. “We applied all our knowledge from our surfers, snowboarders and skaters pushing our products to the limits to withstand the toughest of tradies.”
Family, colleagues, equals
Alison first joined Volcom in 2006 after spending four years at Rip Curl, and has witnessed the company develop its inclusive, creative and passionate culture.
“I have had the pleasure of working for Volcom for half its life,” she says. “Volcom for me is home. The people are my family, my colleagues, and my equals. Everyone has a voice, and we make sure that everyone is heard. I think this is our secret sauce and allows the free flow of creativity and innovation.”
Every leader in the business treats it as their own, she adds. “They throw everything into each day to ensure we are looked upon as being the best partner in the industry. Our relationships and how we are perceived are very important to us.”
“Everyone has a voice, and we make sure that everyone is heard. I think this is our secret sauce and allows the free flow of creativity and innovation.”
Inclusivity for Volcom is just as important externally as it is internally. “Inclusion is how we celebrate the power of diversity. We have an authentic commitment to foster belonging and empowerment at work and to our community,” Alison shares.
“We have always created relevant marketing for our diverse customers. If you look back in the archives, our Volcom image has always had a strong cross mix of size, race and gender, just as it does today. It is authentically who we are. We are inclusive, not exclusive. I love that when I look back to 30 years ago, I can see we had the right ingredients from the start,” she smiles.
“This is also reflected in our team. I was so proud to take the position of General Manager five years ago as one of the first females in the industry leading a brand in a male-dominated arena.”
Volcom’s success ultimately comes down to transparency, communication and empathy, according to Alison. “Not only in our own internal business but also with our vendors, wholesale partners, retail partners and the most important person in the whole story: the customer.”