My friend Dan Sullivan (who I have named “the barometer of hip”) wrote me an email dissing brands and the surf clothing industry a while back… It is a topic he and I chat about often… branding, trends, style, culture etc. Here is what he wrote…(in one huge long single sentence with 17 commas… classic Dan style…) and it succinctly sums up what many people feel about the marketed “surf culture” and “action sports”… or truly… about brands in general.
“Since ESPN and Orange County apparel and footwear peddlers coined the act of surfing, skating, riding a dirt bike, or snowboarding an “Action Sport”, these activities, which use to be about fun, personal enlightenment and self challenge, have deteriorated to just another over-marketed activity that requires “specialized gear”, which former surfers, skaters and snowboarders of Orange County, will gladly sell you, at inflated prices, even though the goods are the same quality as a a Wal-Mart garment, and sewn in the same factories in China, so they can live in faux Tuscan Villas, drive Range Rovers and keep their wives in shoes, handbags and sunglasses, purchased at South Coast Plaza.”
I love his comment. Dan and I have been friends for many decades and have watched as surf culture was absorbed by large brands… and as action sports was born. Indeed I am guilty of helping create the monster as creative director of the first “skateboard clothing” company: Vision Street Wear…. and via the shoe brand I built Simple Shoes.(Full disclosure… Dan was marketing director for a while)
So I will just come out and say it… “there is no such thing as surf clothing”. Surf clothing is a bathing suit. That’s it. Birdwell Beach Britches may be an authentic surf clothing company I suppose… all they sold was trunks back in the day… and pretty much only to surfers. But the list is damn short after them…. a few Authentic Hawaiian shirt companies are authentic. Everyone else in the category today called surf or action sports including me pretty much made up what we now call surf style or action sports. These days there are even re-issues of classic (made up) surf style. There are even re-issues of classic skate style from the 1980’s… but it wasn’t original then… it was just made up.
Dan would say “it is all bullshit”. And it is true… it was bullshit then… and it is now.
Think about it…. WHY ON EARTH should you PAY to wear somebody’s name on your shirt? In all honesty… they should be paying you to wear their name. Why pay to have a surf clothing company… or any company for that matter… on your shirt? It is ridiculous. But marketers have been making up stories about how the cool kids all wear “X” and so if you want to be cool you have to wear “X”. They pay pro athletes to wear “X” and or really incredibly beautiful girls to wear “X” and people buy it. Over and over.
THIS IS CRAZY! WAKE UP PEOPLE!
Why have we allowed ourselves to be defined by what we wear… what we drive… etc. It is NOT who we are. It is a dream… a false reality. You are not cooler because you drive certain kind of car. You are truly just a sucker. You are not cooler if you wear some branded article of clothing. Again you are just a sucker. There on only so many hours in a day to work to earn money… don’t waste it on stuff you have been fooled into thinking will make you cool.
I suppose it has to do with fitting in… not wanting to be the outcast. But when you think of the truly interesting and cool people you have known… did they wear branded merchandise and was that what you remember… NO WAY. Does anyone give a crap what pants Pablo Picasso was wearing.
DEFINE YOURSELF somehow… you are not the sum of your possessions or your wardrobe. The people with the cool new clothes from the cool new store are not cooler than you… they are sheep.
Trends are all born from trend forecasters who watch truly cool individuals doing things that are different than the norm. Those different things… when they occur randomly… are noted by trend forecasters and photos are taken and various style trend books note the oddity. These style trend books are then sold by the trend forecasting agencies to the fashion houses for HUGE sums of money… the fashion houses research the trend books accuracy by sending their designers out around the world to verify the trend within certain core constituencies and at a certain threshold of adoption amongst “alpha” examples. Once it is fairly obvious that a given trend is going to become mainstream enough for the fashion house to be able to sell this to the dept store, surf shop etc it is given the greenlight to go to production. So they copy the idea and sell it and it is part of their “forward” collection at first… until it proves itself for a season.. at which time it then gets put into the regular line.
You will never see the truly cool people wearing the branded products unless they are being PAID to wear them. Think about this. Does the coolest person you know wear brand t-shirts? Probably not.
Most brands are vultures preying on our lack of self confidence and our desire to be cool. But truly cool people don’t wear brands.
Yes… there are some exceptions… where a company makes something that is truly useful or performs in a way that other clothes don’t. Smartwool socks for example… They are warmer than cotton socks and they wear well. But these are just socks… they are not surfer socks or action sports socks. So if some surf brand slapped their label on wool socks would they be better… nope.
Branded clothing is probably less than about 150 years old. Somehow we humans seemed to survive without wearing big logos on our chests for millions of years.
So be brave… be original… find a truly unique style that is your own. Be the one that the trend forecasters take the photo of.
and yes I did design and sell action sports clothing… and action sports shoes… and am thus a hypocrite I suppose… The nicer amongst you will notice that I no longer sell fashion clothing or shoes though… and simply call me a sell out. The very few of you left that haven’t called me a hypocrite or a sellout probably actually know me and will simply snicker quietly.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Henry Thoreau: “avoid all activities requiring special clothing”