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Behind the Brand: Wylie Von Tempsky

Behind the Brand Series
A Conversation with Wylie Von Tempsky, Slowtide Co-Founder/Creative Director

 

When you talk about solid creative directors…the best ones? They take chances. They’re bold. They fail. They get back on the horse. They see their passions through, because those very passions keep them up at night. Guys and gals like Ive, Wang, Abloh, Abe; when you hold their creations, you can feel the fun they had designing them. Same sentiment goes for Maui-boy and Slowtide Co-Founder/Creative Director, Wylie Von Tempsky. “In my mind, the mission has always been: Let's do fun, expressive things,” he says. “Relevant things. Let's just do things that give people the ability to have that expression or that connection to something, be it art or print or a feel or a texture, things like that. Just create a product that really amplifies the good life that we like to live.” While there’s clearly more to creative directing at a newer brand like Slowtide than merely “expressing the good life,” Wylie filled us in on what his role looks like—small, unforeseen details and all—while maintaining that bold flame.

 

So Wylie, what's your role at Slowtide?

 

Wylie: All three of us are, of course, co-founders, and then my official title is Creative Director. So, the trenches of that look like me doing all of the visual elements for the brand and as we become a larger one, it’s more and more into the little details of everything. Like: the new product categories to trims to the digital marketing…The progress of everything, how it presents through our marketing campaigns, and then how it turns into digital ads or retail space, everything on that front. 

 

So, it's wild, it's everything and more. When I was a designer for Nike for five years prior to starting this, or with Billabong and Ezekiel, that was truly just apparel design. I was just doing graphics and apparel. But now, it’s like, okay, I might have to get out the saw and cut some sheets of wood and make an installation for a store or do a window layout, you know? [laughs]

 

Wow, yeah, as a younger Wylie, did you picture all those other unknown design areas you’d be working on, like installations?

 

Yeah, that really caught me by surprise. Especially the more we do on the eCommerce side. I wasn't building web banners and digital ad sets and things like that, which I now learned become more the face of the brand more than anything because of social media…There's the two beasts in the brand: the retail and/or brick and mortar, and then the eCommerce business. But the eCommerce has been a natural fit for us because we have great friends who do photography and we have the ability to create our own.

 

It’s like, in the past, every surf shop just had a galvanized bucket or a box, and they just jammed a bunch of towels in them. But that doesn't really do the product justice. I think it's probably the same process that Stance went through thinking about ways to merchandise a sock. For us, with a towel, we have this big, beautiful canvas we make art on, and then it gets rolled up and packaged and then put into a bucket or a box. So, we had to break that mold and reinvent how you see it in a store.

I can’t imagine. So, was having towels doubling as a kind of “canvas of expression” a goal from the start or was that just something that you developed and realized?

 

That was definitely the ethos from the start. I'm a huge vintage-guy so I would always go to estate sales, garage sales, and things like that. I had stacks of the old vintage towels and it became the inspiration for what we do. It's cool, it is a different form of expression. They were more colorful. I was like, let's just turn this into something that allows you to exercise a bit more of your personality. 

 

There's a daily interaction with the product all the way through. Which, is why we have multiple categories, from yoga to travel towels, to fitness towels, to bath towels, to blankets, to beach blankets, to the staple 30" x 60" or 34" x 62" beach towel. So, now we're realizing, okay, we run that gamut, but then again, you might not want a whole lot of art on your towel. How about a really well-made, eco-conscious product that's got an awesome stripe and has some cool little details to it…we’re just continually trying to keep an ear to the grindstone.

 

What were some Slowtide towels that have done really well, whether you predicted it or not? 

 

Often, it’s like, the 10% underdog that you don't expect performing becomes this 90% adopter. Some of the earlier products I created in the very first season when I was truly just designing them or hand-dyeing them in the backyard are actually still in the line, like, four and a half years later. They're still some of our best-sellers. Then, there are some things where I'm just like, okay, let’s get a little bit more expressive and weird and/or make a collaboration. Even if you personally think it’s a really rad concept, sometimes it doesn't have the legs that you would have expected it to. [laughs] But that's one of those things—the people who know—are into it. But the people that don't—just don't really get it. And that's art. I mean, that's how it works all the way across the board. Some people love Basquiat, other people have no idea if a kid did it.

 

Totally. Backing up a bit, how did you get into this? What’s your backstory to becoming a co-founder/creative director?

 

I was born and raised on Maui. Just a Maui boy who was working in surf shops and actually didn't even have any intention to be an artist or graphic designer. But I was working in surf shops and every time we would have a sale or some promotion, I'd just dive in and say, oh cool, I'll illustrate a little sign for this, or I'll do the promotional bit of it just for fun because I liked drawing. I went out to California to go to school, studying Business, Law, and Entrepreneurial Finance.

 

And, I loved it. It was really challenging study. I had a roommate at the time who was like, "Dude, every time you're not standing, you're sitting there drawing or making little sculptures and stuff like that." He was like, "Why aren't you doing something with that?" I'm like, "You can't get paid doing that." Just kind of being naïve. But I went and met with the professors and they filled me in, and I started taking my first computer design classes, in terms of Photoshop and Illustrator, also some painting classes, while still mixing them in with the business/law side. I was like, man, this is just way too much fun, this can't even be real. I couldn’t believe you could design as a job, so I ended up double majoring in both. Then, by the time I was done, I was kind of worn out, I'd been working and I'd been studying super hard and after I graduated, I just kind of bailed and went and traveled for two years.

Amen. 

 

Right. So, after that I came back to San Diego and started working as an arborist. And then I was dating a gal at the time and she's like, "Well, you still love doing art. Why don't you look into things like that?" I had a good friend who worked at Billabong, and an opportunity came up there where they were like, "Oh, give us eight designs or what you think would be a good representation of the brand and this product category." I came back to them with like 30-something designs and then presented this whole thing. And they were like, "Oh wow. You really went for it." That just opened the door for me and I started working there, doing what they called “juniors,” which was the women's designs.

 

One thing led to the next, as it often does in the industry, and I was working for freaking Nike. I remember going to the campus up in Beaverton and I'm like, Oh my gosh, it's like I'm going to Harvard right now. This is insane. All the sports facilities and famous athletes walking around and thousands of people and I'm like, whoa, this is nuts. I've arrived. I did that for, I guess it was four and a half years, I’d moved up there to Beaverton/Portland and eventually, I was like, dude I can't do it. I'm a Maui boy. I can't handle eight, nine months of rain and no surf. 

 

So, I went my separate way and was like, hey, I'm going to figure this out. I'll do something else. Kyle and I had been working on a towel idea prior, when he was working for DC and Quiksilver, while I was at Nike. Dario came around and was like, "Dude, the towel thing that you guys were going to do, I really think we should still do it. Are you guys interested? Going forward, I want to be a part of it." We were like, "Yeah. Timing's great, let's go for it. Let's see what we can do."

 

I love it! What would be some advice to little Wylies out there trying to follow your path, potentially creating their own brand?

 

I guess the very first thing is just: Be bold and go for it. It does stem from passion, but it also stems from the ability to set a goal and be productive towards that goal. Don't be afraid of looking like a fool at times. You got to start somewhere. You got to refine, and as you refine, it becomes what it's meant to be. And yeah dude, it’s hard work. Like nonstop hard work, sprinkled in with a bit of balance. But don't lose your entire life to what you're trying to do. You got to have the things give you joy, still.

 

What are some things you're particularly excited about for Slowtide in the near future? 

 

We’re doing a license with the NBA coming up in a couple of weeks at the end of the month as NBA gets back on. That's pretty cool. I'm always interested in the things that have a greater story to art and stuff like that. The NBA thing's really cool, it's like, dang, we're working with the NBA, that's sick! But getting down to the smaller things, I'm most excited about maintaining relevance and/or expression. There's still so much that I want to create and ideas—they'll wake me up in the middle of the night and I'm like, ‘Oh man, that'd be so fun to do, why not?’ Just continually exercising that creativity, which I think is the core of what we do. Let's do fun, expressive things, relevant things, and let's just do things that give people the ability to have that expression or that connection to something, be it art or print or a feel or a texture, things like that. Just create a product that really amplifies the good life that we like to live.

 

In my mind, the entire time, Slowtide has been a product that suits the good times that we have and that makes me stoked to be a part owner of this brand. I make a product that I love to use and I love the fact that I can go surf and have a towel that I made, or go to the gym and I have the towel that I made, or yoga…

Yeah, that is really cool.

 

Oh, we also just worked with Mikey February. I got to sit there and design things for his nonprofit that he's doing in South Africa called JuJu Surf Club?. All proceeds are going to underprivileged kids in South Africa. Mikey wants to share the joy of his life and surf with these kids that don't have that. 

 

At the end of the day, I just want our product to feel like you went into a gallery and pulled that canvas right off the wall and took it to the beach. And you have that opportunity. It's like, I definitely couldn't afford that multimillion dollar piece, but I sure can afford this bitchin' $40 towel that has the same art or artist or aesthetic to it. And it becomes your favorite product. You're like, dude, this has been my favorite artist, now I got the Murakami towel, this is so sick…