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Slowtide x 686

Born in garages in Los Angeles, both 686 and Slowtide were created from a DIY ethos informed by their founders’ time spent within the counter cultures of skateboarding, surf and snowboarding. Founders Mike West and Dario Phillips dive deep into their entrepreneurial journeys, the challenges they've faced, and their shared commitment to innovation and sustainability.

Dario: What's up, Mike? Are you in Cali right now?

Mike: Yep, I'm at the office, dealing with everything as usual. It's all good fun, though. I’d love to hear more about how you guys started.

Dario: Sure thing! I grew up in Vancouver, immersed in the skate and snow world. My career really kicked off when I ran marketing for Quiksilver in Canada, and that's kind of when Quik had bigger budgets and sort of in the heyday time and it was like, okay, make this brand cooler. So I created a Canadian snow team, skate team, surf team, all that stuff and did a bunch of tours and they moved me down to the US to Huntington Beach to run the global marketing. That transition was a huge leap for me. Then I joined Huf Footwear with Keith and the crew. Keith was inspiring, with his “fuck it” mentality that he always had - he was just inspiring people to do their own thing. I teamed up with my co-founders, who also had strong backgrounds—one from Quiksilver and the other from Nike SB. They had the idea for a long time, and I was just like, “Oh shit, this is a good idea.” The towel was a perfect canvas. No one had really owned it. We saw an opportunity in something unique—towels. We wanted to make towels more than just functional items; we wanted them to be a canvas for art and self-expression. That’s how Slowtide was born. We launched and started growing from there.

I was living in Venice at that time. I remember walking to the Western Union and sending a bunch of money overseas and being like, “Oh sh*t, I hope some towels come back…” And they did. It's wild to think about that time. I know everyone goes through it, and everyone's at different stages of entrepreneurship, but I was curious to learn more about how you guys started and where your stage is at. Because obviously we're probably couple steps behind you, but we have a lot of these same decisions and ever-changing experiences that you've probably already gone through.

Mike: That’s awesome. It's incredible to see how you guys have evolved. I didn’t know all that background. It’s always inspiring to hear how others navigate their paths. I think just by nature, me being around for so long… It's weird because if people know me, I'm not the type of guy to meet everyone in the room and I'm not a master-networker and just never have been, but just being in it for over 30 years, I guess you get your name out there for different reasons.

So, how do you manage the dynamics with your partners? Obviously, you guys are friends, but how does it split up in different areas and how do you guys all come together?

Dario: When we first launched, I was living in Long Beach. My two partners were in Costa Mesa shortly thereafter. They both grew up in Maui, and now one's back on Maui, one's on Oahu. I moved to Vancouver Island in Canada. We still have our office in Costa Mesa, California where our team is pretty hybrid - one day in the office (per week) and one of the founders is usually back every six to eight weeks. We try to be together, but the dynamic is that I run all of our marketing and kind of the business backend and then my partner Kyle oversees sales and operations and third partner Wiley is on product creative side of things.

Mike: Was it set up that way in the very beginning? The division of the mindsets and skillsets?

Dario: It's sort of interesting. Marketing was always my role at Quik and Huf. I used to DJ a bunch and was a promoter too and was always on that side of things. But my business partners were both in product design, so none of us really had traditional sales or operation experience at all. And we've been learning as we've gone and it is wild. I'm sure you've experienced the same thing. I worked in the action sports industry for 10 years prior to Slowtide and I've learned so much more in the first three years of starting my own brand than I did in the 10 years prior. It used to be way more siloed. Marketing was their own department, and sales was their own department, etc. Especially when the big brands were doing their thing and money wasn't really an issue. I'm sure it's pretty different now, but yeah, it's been a crazy learning experience…

Mike: Yeah, I don't think it ever ends too. I started from snowboarding, obviously. I was a snowboard instructor. I started 686 as a college project and then rode the wave of the 90’s snowboarding until that wave crashed. When everyone was focusing on everywhere else, we were focusing on the product and not major marketing hype and I guess we just outran others in a way that wasn’t so competitive, but it's been more “us.” Us meaning being in and from Los Angeles and being a mountain brand. We were known as a snowboard brand initially, but continually rethink our story and over time have been opening up to new areas. Looking at it from that aspect and going through the cycles of understanding who we are, and what we're really about opened my mind to that fact that it's not about just us, but also about our core and fan. This led to the realization more recently that I want to do more, I want to be more, I want to have more people that know more than me here. And then again, it went full circle.

Dario: One of the things I really appreciate about you guys is the connection and supporting the industry in and giving back. Whether it be through athletes or nonprofits or having a sustainable story that's something beyond just creating a product. I think it's super important and it's cool to see that you guys have done that and sort of led that way.

Mike: Thank you. That’s really awesome because a lot of things we do sometimes just go unnoticed. I don't think for us we've been like, “Hey, we've been here so long and we deserve this, or I need to be that.” And I think no one person can ever be bigger than the brand. The brand must live in every one of us and the messaging has to be more than an athlete or a founder. We want to rise to this occasion. We're still in process of doing this - it is a constant improvement that we are committed to. We recently became a B Corp Certified business. That was a lot of work over the last few years – constantly improving in specific areas. It was so humbling to understand what it takes and to go through that improvement cycle.

I think if anything here, at least maybe I am, and hopefully everyone else here is, very curious. Curiosity brings different things in the mix. Like, wow… When we did things back in the day, we didn't know any better. We were running into it all full speed. That was the fun part of it. Now it's much more calculated, which is good and bad. Like, should we shut every idea down because it's not going to sell or it's not worth our time? No. The fan changes all the time, you know what I'm saying? Their tastes adjust and being curious lets you experiment with ideally not taking everything down at the same time.

Dario: What was that B Corp process? I'm kind of curious because we've looked at it as well. A lot of our friends are B Corps. I know there's the assessment tool and then it kind of goes deep into that, but was that a year multi-year process?

Mike: Taking a step back we were implementing sustainable factors almost 30 years ago, but we didn't know what it was back then. 15 years ago, we were doing some up-cycling because I didn't want to go, “Here's something we make out of plastic bottle and it looks the same.” So all those series of steps led us to explore it. More recently we became Climate Neutral Certified. I have become more increasingly interested in asking, “What does carbon neutral mean?” And, “How do we become a circular company?” Not just because it's something to market, but so we can improve our best practices here. I learned about B Corp quite a while ago and it Intrigued me. I wanted to know “What is it? Why?” And then, “How do we be part of this?”

I think what really interested us is that B Corp is much more of a community. It took about two years of hard, focused work to get to the point that we could certify. Because we had previously implemented other practices previously here, we were actually already doing a lot of the what was required to begin with. It doesn't really matter how big or small you are, you can do this (become B Corp Certified). And so I would say if you're interested, you could probably talk to us and talk to others to go, “Hey, is it right for you guys?” Personally,I wanted to be part of a community with others that share the B Corp values. That was one of the main interests.

Dario: I know you launched in Venice, CA as well. How did you come up with the concept and what was the initial thought?

Mike: I was skateboarding in the mid-eighties. It was so funny; I just went to the Skateboard Hall of Fame awards and it was like I re-met all the same people that I skated with here in Venice when I was just a kid that was in the mix with the pavilion. I got kind of flowed from all these people. The pavilion in the mid-eighties and late-eighties was the Mecca of that whole thing. I later transitioned to snowboarding in Big Bear at the time when the whole aspect of park riding was starting there. So it was kind of the “right time, right place” and that just influenced everything after. I relate everything we do to my upbringings of just making it happen in Venice. I eventually started the business in downtown LA and then went to Big Bear and one thing led to the next. 686 wasn't planned the way that it's all happened. We lucked into great timing, worked with great people and we outlasted a lot of others.

Dario: Yeah, that's really cool. I remember going to the pavilion right before the pavilion got torn down. I mean, I grew up in Vancouver and going to Venice and seeing all the video spots it was so sick. Just such an amazing zone.

Mike: What inspires you guys to keep doing it? How much is it business? How much is it you? What kind of keeps you moving here?

Dario: Yeah, I mean I think we've elevated the brand and the brand has changed with us as we've grown as co-founders. We've launched when we were 30 and now we're 40 and we have kids, and as we’ve grown we elevated the products around your home and we’ve elevated with it. Also, just having a team and wanting to be able to give back. I think part of the reason we started was artists are stoked to get their stuff on a textile. You can tell these inspiring stories, but also just seeing your product in the wild is also a great feeling too. Take our changing poncho for example. When we first launched it, people were like, “Oh, ponchos are kind of whatever.” Where I'm at (in Canada), it's cold and you need a poncho when you're changing in the parking lot and when I surf in the morning now, I see people wearing a Slowtide poncho and it's so cool to see that. It's like, we're making a best-in-class product that is actually helping people with their days.

When we initially launched Slowtide, we wanted freedom. We didn't want the corporate culture. We wanted to make our own destiny and not have to go into an office from nine to five. And I think sometimes we moved forward, and sometimes we moved backwards. When we first started, we were single and we were broke. We went to France and worked there for a while just because we could. We didn't have families and it was a little easier then. As you get older, it does get more challenging and everyone kind has their own specifics. But I think we all, I mean myself and my Co-Founders, we all live on our little islands - I live on Vancouver, Canada's Hawaii, they're in the real Hawaii – and we continue to just keep that dream going.

I know that's a lot, but I really appreciate chatting with you. I'd love to chat more next time we're down in Cali. I’m inspired by what you guys have created over the years. It's really cool to see brands with similar virtues and have someone to look up to. Someone who may have also made some mistakes but learned from 'em, because going through these same things, it's pretty wild.

Mike: Yeah, I would say a lot of founders and brands have made mistakes, it’s part of growing. It's hard to share it obviously, but it's so healthy. I think we’re in a great time right now. Before it was us against them and it was so competitive. Now we’re all one, not two. It's not about that anymore. It’s about learning from each other and growing. I appreciate the time. Thank you Dario.

Dario: Thanks Mike. Peace.

Reup Elastic Water Short
Regular price $74.95
Regular price $0.00 Sale price $74.95
Reup Elastic Water Short
Regular price $74.95
Regular price $0.00 Sale price $74.95
Reup Elastic Water Short
Regular price $74.95
Regular price $0.00 Sale price $74.95
Reup Elastic Water Short
Regular price $74.95
Regular price $0.00 Sale price $74.95
Reup Elastic Water Short
Regular price $74.95
Regular price $0.00 Sale price $74.95
x Slowtide Performance Quick Dry Towel
Regular price $49.95
Regular price $0.00 Sale price $49.95