The New Normal: With The Man Behind The Beach Towel Empire

by stab May 12, 2020 6 min read

The economic and existential effects of the Coronavirus pandemic will pervade the entire surf industry, top to bottom. 

But looking at the broad and varied industry landscape, there are a handful of brands that seem almost predestined to wether this storm. 

With an exceptional digital marketing game, and a healthy focus on direct to consumer sales, Slowtide is one of those brands, and with their digital savvy and experience working with their stable of artists on charitable collaborations, they’ve been able to not only keep food on their tables the last month and a half, they’ve been able to put food on the plates of some of the most vulnerable, raising money for Feeding America with their Ty Williams special edition. 

With so many things up in the air right now, it’s been very interesting to see how each brand has handled the daily curveballs, and what might be more remarkable than Slowtide’s nimble movements the last month if the fact that they’re being made by three men thousands of miles from their California headquarters, and even further from one another. 

We caught up with Dario over the weekend at the Tofino bunker/surely lovely family home we didn’t even know he had.  

How you riding this thing out?
I’m good. I’m good. Can’t complain. Definitely crazy time in the world right now, but I’ve got two little kids to keep me busy, and we can still get an occasional wave up here. I’m actually up in Canada at the moment. I’m in Tofino, on Vancouver Island.

Well fucking played! Was that preplanned? How did you end up in probably the most ideal place to be stuck if the world really ended?
Well, I’m originally from Vancouver, grew up coming to Tofino to surf all the time.

You’ve never struck me as a Californian, Dario. 
I’m officially a dual citizen now. I originally moved back up to Tofino for the summer with my family and two kids, just to spend the summer, working on Slowtide remotely and I just fell in love and want to stay here. Great for the kids, lots of fishing, out on the boat, and uh, surfing a bunch and yeah, it’s just a different lifestyle. Way less people. There’s less than 2,000 people that live here. 

I don’t mean this in any diminutive way, but you just radically shifted my perspective of what your life is. So you’re telling me Slowtide is run from Hawaii (Dario’s partner in Slowtide, Kyle Spencer is a North Shore staple) and Tofino.
Well, there’s two of us in Hawaii. Wiley’s in Maui, Kyle is in Oahu and then I’m in Tofino. So yeah, I guess we have all of our own little remote operation.

Being able to live where you want and operate Slowtide has to be some personal mark of success for all of ya. 
Yeah, for sure. When we built the company, we wanted to be able to travel to different places as a team—you know, go to the South of France in October and rent a Slowtide house and work from there, or go to Hawaii in the winter times, and for me to be able to come to Canada and kind of not be so restricted to one place. That was always part of the plan. So it’s really rad to see that come into fruition. 

We have our office in California and we spend a lot of time there, it’s just having that balance. And for us, we have to learn how to work well from multiple places and can use Slack or Asana and all that, and be more forward-thinking and change as the world is changing. Those are the reasons why we left the big brands we worked for—so we can create our own scenario.

I was in California in December and in Japan in January, but other than that back up here. I was just about to come down to California with the whole family for a month and we canceled it last minute. Kyle and Wiley had just gone back to Hawaii right before it all kicked in. They’re happy about that. 

why we started

So what’s the operation currently? 
We had to unfortunately furlough all of our staff, so it’s kinda come back to square one…like it was when we launched the brand—Wiley, Kyle, and I stepping in and pretty much doing everything. Creating content, managing everything—it’s actually pretty refreshing to know that we can still jump back in and really communicate well with three of us. We’re all just staying connected daily and changing with the times and really trying to be aware of what everyone’s going through. 

Slowtide’s a super modern brand as far as direct to consumer and online marketing, but also working with retailers in smart ways. What has your guys operation looked like through this? 
We’ve been able to keep things sort of operational in Costa Mesa. We’re still shipping and receiving, we’re still doing online, still shipping a bit of wholesale. For the accounts that have an online presence, we’re still supporting wholesale as much as we can. But that took the biggest hit.

Most of our stores that we sell to are closed, but our online business has continued. 

Has this situation pushed you guys in a different direction? 
Well, kind of jumping back in doing everything, and re-engaging in and reigniting that passion—we’ve been talking more with artists and trying to do some charity givebacks, and just being able to do things quicker. To look at the situation and think, ‘What are we doing this for? How are we supporting that? People are hungry. How do we help feed them?’ Because with our business, there are all these incredible ways you can implement campaigns quickly and actually make a difference. 

What else has surprised you, positively, during all this? 
It’s funny and interesting, but I feel I’m almost more connected to people, personally. More connection with people that I haven’t talked with in a while. I’m having FaceTime Happy Hours with people that I haven’t seen in years. 

Anything else getting you through this? 
My wife’s a cook, she’s been cooking a lot and getting into the sourdough… I love that people are diving more into their side hobbies.

Anyone that has a nice kitchen and a backyard garden is feeling good right now.
I also brought my turntables out of storage, so just breaking those out a little bit. I’ve been playing with them and my little guy—he’s one and a half and he’s really into hip hop. [Laughs]

So what does the world look like post-Coronavirus? 
I think the new, as you say, The New Normal—I don’t think it’s going to go back to how it was. I think a lot of people are gonna continue to work remotely—to use Slack and Asana and Zoom and all these apps to stay connected—but also to kind of have that balance to spend time at home, with your family, kids, etc. 

At the end of the day, you’re going to have to change your mindset and change how you work and pivot whatever you do. It’s not going to be how it was. That’s just the reality. 

I think anyone with multiple high-overhead retail stores are going to be severely challenged. For us, we’re a small team, we’re a unique category and a leader in that category, and we have lower overhead and can pivot and just do things quicker. 

But at the same time, people are going to be surfing again. They need wetsuits, boardshorts—certain things are not going anywhere. But who the leaders in those areas are going to be after this, that’s up in the air. 

I think there are a lot of smaller brands that are doing a really good job during this time, brands like Banks who are on-point with their messaging and the products they’re creating.

We had so many people tell us the big brands were trying to ship literally everything that they had in their warehouses to their accounts right before they closed. Even if they knew the shops weren’t gonna accept them, because the insurance would pay for them.

Yeah, that’s crazy. We’re getting crazy emails from accounts being like, ‘Hey, we’re gonna pay you a year from now, we’ll want a 50% discount of what you’ve already shipped up. And we’re like, ‘Holy shit, this is not possible. How’s that going to work?’ 

If you don’t get paid, you can’t pay your factory, you can’t pay your staff. Everyone gets affected. 

Any silver linings?
For us as a brand, we’ve seen a lot of opportunities to be able to give back. Even just looking at our inventory, or excess inventory from cancellations, we were able to go,  ‘Okay, let’s donate it to local LA homeless shelters. Let’s help raise money for different charities.’

Yesterday all of our travel towel sales for Earth Day went to Sustainable Coastlines. There’s all these little things that can be quick decisions and can easily give back. 

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