Can a golf brand be fashionable but still functional on the course? Can it cater to streetwear fanatics hungry for preppy gear, as well as the more traditional crowd, looking to upgrade their Dri-Fit polos and khakis? Erica and Stephen Malbon, the Los Angeles couple behind the new shop Malbon Golf, are hedging their bets on it.
The Malbons have a history of building companies that straddle the schism between hip and bougie: Erica cofounded The Now, a boutique spa and massage parlor with four locations, and Stephen is the creator of Frank151, a street style magazine and creative agency that’s been around since 1999. Now, they’re taking on the golf world. Why? Because they both deeply love the sport but see it in decline. “The mission,” Erica explains, “is to introduce the sport to the youth, because golf isn’t at its peak right now.” On that point, the entrepreneurial duo thinks they can help.
Happily, the Malbons’ goal already seems within reach. Though they are still in the soft opening stage, it’s already become a local hot spot; a recent long drive competition drew hundreds of the couple’s famous friends. Others have come through this month: Travis Scott (a regular golfer), ScHoolboy Q, Illegal Civ’s Mikey Alfred. Last week, actor Troy Garity (HBO’s Ballers) arrived, carefully leaned his phone against a shoe, and placed it behind the hole on the putting green. He sunk his first shot and received high fives from everyone in the store.
These celebrity fans are proof that golf apparel has its own innate cool—see Tyler, the Creator’s Golf Wang label, the couple notes. “The Wu-Tang Clan used to wear snow goggles in the city, because it was so chic to be wealthy and go to Aspen, even though they never skied,” says Stephen. “These kids dressing real extra, they’re wearing our golf gloves in the club with their cocktail and their pinkie out. One glove, only the left hand, drinking.” But where Golf Wang zeroed in on the look, Malbon Golf is focusing on the sport as a whole. For that, they’ve received a little help from Justin Bieber, who stopped by the shop on his way to the PGA Championship to pick up a lime green Malbon Golf hat and hit a few balls with the couple’s 5-year-old son, Remington. “Justin is on a golf thing right now,” says Erica. “He actually has a pretty good swing.” What more do you need?
Here, the couple chats about how they met, their shared love of the sport, and what it takes to build a brand together.
Stroke of Luck
“Magic,” says Stephen when asked how he and Erica met. He’s only half kidding. As a fashion student, Erica attended the Magic apparel trade show in Las Vegas, where she met Stephen’s brother Mike who worked at Frank151 at the time. Stephen was in the process of moving to Los Angeles to be closer to the magazine’s biggest client, Toyota. So, Mike saw an opportunity to play cupid. “He was like, ‘Hey, my brother’s moving out to L.A. Why don’t you guys hang out?’ ” says Erica. “And then we did, and then we got married like a year later.”
Par for the Course
Stephen grew up playing the sport in Virginia Beach but quit at 16 when he saw his friends going to hang out, party, and play beach volleyball—“golf just wasn’t that cool,” he says. When he rediscovered his love of the game, he began playing nonstop. Now, at 40, Stephen has worked his way down to a handicap of 5, which in layman’s terms, is excellent golf.
The Malbons’ personal passion for golf turned professional once Stephen started posting about it on Instagram. “He decided that his friends who weren’t golfers were sick of seeing golf images,” says Erica. “So he started an Instagram, which would chronicle his golfing expeditions.” For the new account—Malbon Golf—he created a cartoon golf ball character that eventually found its way onto products. “And people bought them, so we were like, ‘Okay, let’s do more,’ ” she says.
Around the same time, Nike asked Stephen to put together a golf tournament for Frank151’s crew of fashion and music kids. At first, he was gung ho—then he gave it some thought. “I realized that none of [my friends] knew how to golf,” he recalls. “So they’re going to go out excited at first, but by the second hole, they’re just going to be embarrassed. Golf is like hockey or skateboarding, you can’t fake it. Then, they’re going to get drunk and drive the golf carts into the sand traps and on the greens.” The Malbons decided that an indoor arena, where they could bring friends and slowly introduce them to the sport, was the smarter approach.
The 19th Hole
The two admit that spending all their time working together is not easy. “When you read articles about families that work together, they’re like, ‘We’re so happy, and everything’s great,’ ” says Erica. “There’s times when you wake up, and you’re like, ‘Did you do this? Did you do that?’ Imagine working and living with your business partner—it’s not always great.” Finding that work-life balance, she admits, is the hardest part. “We’re trying to make rules like, ‘After 7:00, we can’t talk about work anymore,’ ” she says with a laugh. “You have to create boundaries. When you spend time with the kids, you have to shut it off. But when you’re really passionate about anything, it’s not always work—you’re more excited about it—so we’re constantly sharing inspiring images, or things that we think we should make.”