How do you get someone to pick up a new sport? For Erica Malbon, co-founder of Malbon Golf, the answer is clear: fashion. It’s one thing that golf has always had going for it – looking the part is at least half the fun. And Malbon Golf has been taking care of that for over six years now. But Malbon Women is still in its very early days, the brand launched just a few months ago.
Although Malbon Golf has never been explicitly gendered, the brand has historically been geared towards men. But Malbon Women is designed specifically for women, and the brand’s tenniscore meets coastal grandma vibe could propel a generation that gets most of its fashion inspiration from TikTok to take up golf, tennis and more. While non-traditional golf items like graphic tees and sweatpants have been a big part the menswear offerings, the women’s collection is a lot more country club coded. White dresses come in different forms – some collared and some with low necklines – and knit cardigans are the perfect combination of style and utility. It’s designed to function not just for golf, but for tennis, pickleball and padél, all sports on the rise with a generation that romanticizes Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give and Bette Midler in The First Wives Club.
The women’s line has created an avenue for the brand’s introduction into professional golf too. Malbon’s sponsorship of Yealimi Noh, a 22-year-old native of Northern California, was a natural way to begin its journey into both women’s apparel and professional golf as a whole. Not only is Noh young, but she’s well-spoken and looks equally natural wearing Malbon clothing as the models chosen to style the new campaign. But it doesn’t stop with her, because Erica and Stephen Malbon are already identifying other potential partners on tour with the goal of reaching what for many heritage brands may be their core following, but for Malbon is an untapped audience.
In the latest Hypegolf interview, we spoke with Erica Malbon to learn more about process of starting the brand, as well as where it fits in to the modern golf landscape. Later on, we talked about her background in health and wellness, and finished off with a discussion about brand ambassadors.
First off, take us through the process of starting Malbon Women, from inception to realization.
So we launched roughly about a month ago, it’s something that’s been in the works for several years. When Stephen and I started Malbon in 2017, we started with men’s because that’s where we felt the market was at the time. But then we started to get a lot of interest in female product.
And specifically through the last three years, there are a lot of new golfers playing that are women. And so it felt like the right time to start developing our first women’s official collection for the US, and it’s definitely been a process. So we started just gathering inspiration and samples and pieces and references that we felt were aligned with the brand and our first collection. And we are really excited that it’s finally here.
There are obviously other brands making golf clothes for women, but did you see a gap in terms of fashion forward offerings?
Yeah, the brands that are like united in this new wave of golf that we’ve seen over the last couple years, they’re definitely more male focused in my opinion. And us, we started before we saw a lot of these other brands in the marketplace. It felt authentic to present a women’s collection specifically because Steve and I started the brand together, it’s a family business and we’ve grown so much in terms of our men’s offerings and our community.
And it felt like there’s this opportunity to speak to the female consumer the same way and kind of just carve out a little bit of a niche in terms of the fashion forward golfer, but also tennis player, paddleboard or pickleball player; people that are playing club sports and they want to wear something that they feel reflects their personality. And they are wearing this to play a sport, but also they can wear it in their daily life.
Interesting, so the idea is not just golf, but racquet sports as well?
Yeah so when we were creating women’s we were looking at different silhouettes and pieces that we felt were first golf-centric. But then we realized there’s such a crossover because, especially for women, what you play tennis in or what you play golf in is not that different. Obviously with some of the more sporty, like sports bras and stuff, yes you can play tennis in those. But in terms of a skirt or a polo, the functionality should be there for both sports. So why not broaden that offering to people that are not just playing golf, but also playing other club sports.
“Something we thought about a lot was, ‘what do fashion and sport have to do with each other?’ Well if you look good, you’re more likely to start trying something because you want to dress the part.”
Do you think the female golf consumer is looking for clothing that’s specific to them, as opposed to genderless, unisex sizing?
Yeah so that’s what we found a lot. Like a lot of women were buying some of our pieces, and still are, in the smallest size available. And I think that’s great, that would definitely work for some of the lifestyle pieces. But when you’re actually playing golf, you want a polo or you want certain pieces that are going to fit your body properly.
And I’d say that in general, golf is still a male dominated sport, and so it makes sense to create apparel first and foremost for the biggest consumer of that apparel. But women are the fastest growing sector in the sport, which is super exciting. So I think that was something that drove our interest in expanding as well, is that there are so many more women playing and not enough fashion first brands in the space that are speaking to them.
Malbon is already this established brand with a strong core following, how do you strike the balance between using that association to your advantage while still having Malbon Women feel like its own entity?
I mean we started our own Instagram and social channel just for that reason alone. Because we have such an awesome and dedicated base and community of people that love Malbon as a menswear bread. And so I think it’s definitely a different consumer and community that we’re speaking to through the women’s product. But I think there’s also a lot of crossover…that was also something we thought about a lot was, ‘what do fashion and sport have to do with each other?’ Well if you look good, you’re more likely to start trying something because you want to dress the part.
And as far as the creative direction, comparing it to the men’s brand, it feels more chic and elegant and less street. Would that be fair to say?
Yeah I think that’s based on our personal aesthetics, [Stephen and I], but also who we’re appealing to. There are a lot pieces that women can wear on the men’s side, but it’s definitely more geared towards that streetwear appeal. Whereas the women’s brand definitely has a female touch and is a little bit more higher fashion, I’d say, mixed with sport and that intersection.
Got it, so Malbon is more influenced by Stephen’s taste, but the women’s brand has your stamp on it.
Yeah, totally. I think that’s a really good observation and reflection. It’s definitely highly influenced by what I personally like and the style that I’ve come across that I like to wear and my personal aesthetic.
Going back, you have a background in health and wellness, did you ever think you’d end up in golf fashion?
You know it’s so interesting, I would never have thought that in a million years I would be designing golf apparel and running a golf business. My dad was a big golfer and I was always around it. So I feel very comfortable in the space and I’ve always loved fashion, observing it and shopping and looking at it as an art. But it’s exciting to be able to create things. You see the process and learn a lot about how different fabrics fit or different silhouettes and going back and just really kind of understanding the entire process from start to finish on how garments are developed and made.
“I love the whole experience in the wellness space and what that means for a person in their daily life. And then with the golf line and the golf brand, it’s the same thing.”
And do you see a connection between health and wellness and golf? Because it looks like the recent Evian collection was heavily influenced by that world.
There was definitely a wellness inspiration behind that collaboration. And yeah I always said I just want to do things that I’m passionate about and actually like to do. So when I launched my spa business, that was something that I was passionate about. I love getting massages. I love the whole experience in the wellness space and what that means for a person in their daily life. And then with the golf line and the golf brand, it’s the same thing. I think golf is such a beautiful outlet for people. It’s such a way to bring people together, it’s really nice to be able to spend time outside.
Moving on to ambassadors, you’re sponsoring LPGA golfer Yealimi Noh this season. Now, Malbon already has a ton of support from entertainers and athletes in other sports, but why sponsor a pro golfer specifically?
I mean, first and foremost I think that she is a really good representation of what a female golfer can look like today. Because people have preconceived notions of what a female golfer is or who that is. And I think that shining light on somebody who’s young, youthful, determined and beautiful, I think there are a lot of aspects about her that we felt represented the brand.
Our brand is all about inspiring people to participate in this lifestyle. And so I think she was a really good example of somebody that we wanted to shine light on with Malbon. And again, Malbon was created around the recreational golfer, and so having someone that’s a professional on tour, I think that’s a good way for us to segment into that category as well.
So going forward, is there room for you to reach people who are already playing golf but are looking to maybe elevate their style?
Yeah I think as the brand has been growing, we’re looking at identifying who would be a good partner for us on the tour, whether that’s men or women. And we want to make sure that whoever we work with is aligned in the brand ethos and really speaks that language. So I think that over the next year or so you’re going to see more players that are on tour wearing our brand, which is super exciting. And I think that will then entail inspiring more traditional golfers to switch up their style because they’re going to see it where they are looking, which is on tour.