Interview by Beau Flemister
It’s often easy to be creative in a box. To take chances or innovate—within contained parameters. What’s a lot harder, and riskier, is going with your gut and leaping blindly into life and not giving two shits about what the rest are doing. One such human (and our very first US rider) who continually goes against the grain is Warren Smith. Pro surfer (and muse behind the “Psychedelic Germ”), artist, photographer, tastemaker, designer and, lately, co-founder of the rad, new clothing brand Welcome Rivers, Warren Smith sat down with us for an interview about the launch. “I guess Welcome Rivers is my take and my interpretation of what surfing is to me,” said Warren. “It’s not so regimented and narrow-minded. It’s all encompassing of all kinds of influences because that’s why surfing is so rad. So is music and skateboarding and art and fashion and all that stuff, and this brand is hopefully encompassing all of that from a surf perspective, I guess.”
Haydenshapes: Where did Welcome Rivers come from, and how did that all begin?
Warren Smith: Well, Welcome Rivers started as just a fck-around thing that me and Grady Archbold were doing forever ago. So that was like, gosh, it was probably ten years ago. It was just like a blog where we put shit up that we were into, we made some tees and stuff. It was kind of always on the back burner, but still a dream of ours to do. I think after we both left FORMER, we decided to go all-in on it because we just learned so much. It felt like we finally had the tools, the know-how, and experience to give it the love that it needed.
Awesome. And so, on your site right now, am I basically looking at your first line, or have those pieces been out for a while?
No, no. All of this just launched, about a couple weeks ago. So yeah, that entire collection on the website and everything, all of it just launched. We’ve been working maybe the past year on it flat out. We do all the clothing in Bali, so we spent half a year in Bali working with this small factory there. And now, it’s all shipping out of Laguna. So, this is our first drop.
And what’s that like, working with the guys in Bali?
Yeah, the clothing design aspect of it is something I really enjoy. So, I go and sit in the factory with the rad Bali dudes. These tailors and pattern-makers. It’s a really small operation; there’s only like ten people out there. I’ll sit in the factory with them all day and we design the clothes.
Sweet. And before FORMER, you had some experience designing with some other brands, too, yeah?
Yeah. I think the fun part of clothing is, I’d guess you’d call it designing it. But that’s much different than the production part of it. I had experience with brands like Raen and Insight. They let me play pretend-designer with the clothes and stuff. I had a lot of fun doing that. But that’s much different than what it actually takes to go get it made [laughs].
Because the fun part is sitting down with the designer of a brand who makes your ideas happen. You do a lot of that stuff. But it’s much different when you’re actually having to do it yourself. That’s a whole other ballgame. Dedication and skillsets and determination. It’s pretty fun to just pick stuff out and say, “Hey, go make that.” When you’ve got to go make it, you realize how hard it is.
So, do you think that you’re going to need to hire more people soon? Or at the very least get some interns?
Yeah, that would be great. [laughs] But right now, we’re trying to keep this thing as light as we can. So far, on the site, Grady and I came up with every single thing you’ve seen. So besides actually making the clothes, we did everything, every photo, every typeface, every graphic, every design. All of it.
But we’re having fun! So if it begins to get out of hand and we can’t manage it, then for sure: we’ll hire people. But for right now, we’re not even looking at that.
Where did that name come from, Welcome Rivers? Is there a story behind that?
You know, it’s basically as literal as you can take it. It’s meant to be all-encompassing of all of the things that we’re into art- and creativity-wise. It’s a big welcoming hug for all of that stuff. So, it’s as literal as it’s meant to be, this welcoming river or flow of creativity.
Yeah. And, you know, there’s a water aspect to the name too. We’re coastal. We surf. But we also grew up in all these other areas. We’re taking fashion, and we’re just being creative in general. So, it’s like an opening floodgate for all the creative shit that we’re into.
Right on. Where can people buy/find Welcome Rivers?
We have a pop-up in L.A. right now with some of our good friends in a store called Cota at the ROW, DTLA, which has a gallery aspect to it. So, they let us take over the gallery. We’re in there for a month. And then of course, you can buy on our site. We’re planning on offering wholesale as well, but we’re moving slow because it’s just two of us and we wanted to get it out and available. We’ll approach shops soon, though.
Awesome. Any brands or designers or artists that have influenced or inspired you guys?
Oh gosh, I don’t even know where to start. Unless I start when I was 14 and into punk rock. [laughs] It’s always changing. But the brand, it definitely borrows cues and tastes from fashion circles. But we’re a surf brand. And we care about the clothes that we wear, so that influences us too. Sure, there’s a bit of a fashion aspect to us, but we are two dudes who love to surf. There’s just no way around it. We grew up in the ocean, you know. Grady’s been one of the best skim boarders in the world, and I’ve traveled the world surfing. Even if we tried to make, like, say a record store, we’d have something surf in there.
I think we’re just trying to do something that we believe in, and that we want to see be out there. Making products that we’re psyched on. Not be part of the race toward $20 boardshorts and shit like that. We want to make great stuff. And it’s always to kind of promote from a surf place, as well. I think the main point of it is that we are a surf brand. Making rad products that are made nicely, stuff that we all want to wear. I want to take responsibility in that.
I guess Welcome Rivers is my take and my interpretation of what surfing is to me. It’s not so regimented and narrow-minded. It’s all encompassing of all kinds of influences because that’s why surfing is so rad. So is music and skateboarding and art and fashion and all that stuff, and this brand is hopefully encompassing all of that from a surf’s perspective, I guess.
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