Last September, just as the last of the summer warmth was preparing to give way to autumn, James managed to sneak in one final surf in boardshorts at our local beach for the year. The boardshorts that he wore are produced by our good friends at Riz; a British brand dedicated to creating classically styled surf shorts with minimal impact upon our environment. To that end, they currently have a crowdfunding campaign entering it’s final stages to help them become the world’s first 100% recycled and recyclable boardshort brand. Not only do they want to reduce the amount of plastic products ending up in landfill or our oceans (most surf shorts are made from synthetic fibres, before you even start to look at components such as zippers and velcro), but they also want to start producing their boardshorts using recycled marine plastics: a wholly worthy cause. We recently caught up with the brand’s founder Riz Smith to find out a little more.
What was it about the surf industry and the garments that they were offering that led you to start a company specialising in boardshorts back in 2009?
I think that the surf industry got too big, too commercial, and on the clothing side of things just lost its soul. I had been designing a lot of swim and beachwear for various global brands myself but became acutely aware of the need for something better. To me there was a glaring gap in the market for boardshorts (and clothes) aimed at a more grown up, stylish and sophisticated guy. And so that’s where the idea came from to mix surf functionality with menswear style. The idea to focus in just boardshorts felt completely natural, it was my area of specialism anyway and what an iconic garment to evolve, refine and have fun with!
What is it about London that makes it great for building a surf brand, rather than more seemingly obvious coastal locations?
London is a fantastic city for building a surf brand as it is the gateway to Europe, if not the world. Our product is designed to be worn in warm waters and so the city surfer has to travel; London is a great portal for this. It’s also an amazing hub for creativity and source of inspiration. Blending London’s rich Saville Row heritage of bespoke suiting and gentleman ideals with our own summery product has open up a wonderful world of opportunity and paradox.
What’s the ultimate goal of your “Bottles-to-Boardshorts” project?
We are currently crowdfunding to help expand our business and to invest in producing a collection of boardshorts made from ocean plastics. As designers and makers we are very aware of our responsibility to the environment. With the ever increasing number of ocean plastics and the fact that our shorts are made from polyester (a plastic) we thought if we could combine the two, that would be an amazing thing. Our ultimate goal is to help create a system where ocean and beach plastics once collected can be dropped off, recycled, ground down and then sent to the fabric mill for weaving. We are in the process of joining the dots. It’s a massive challenge hence why we have turned to crowdfunding and the support from a wider community, but what a wonderful way to turn pollution into something rad.
Sustainability is one of the three key principles that underpin your brand. Do you see consumers placing more importance on sustainability, lifecycle design and environmental consideration when making their purchasing decisions these days?
Well, we are definitely hearing people say they are placing more importance on all these things. There is more awareness in society today and also more pressure to make the right choice. ‘Eco’ness is quite trendy at the moment and so sometimes it’s hard to know whether there is a genuine shift in consumers minds or how much is a result of marketing? We believe that design should be sustainable and environmentally conscious always, it’s just part of ‘good design’. It should be something that is intrinsic to a brand or a product.
Can you talk us through the design and production of a pair of your boardshorts?
I always start with the shape of the short first. This is a constant evolution of tweaking the fit year on year. The luxury of focusing on a very small range and one product area is you can refine and perfect. At the moment we have 3 different shapes of board short, all with slightly different needs, their form stemming from their function. I see these shapes as blank canvasses. Once you have got these right you can add the trims, the colours, the prints or whatever. Even though the patterns change a lot, the shorts themselves are actually really classic and It’s something I’m trying to distill all the time. We get the recycled polyester from a manufacturer in Taiwan and hold stock of the plain base here in London. As and when we need we then digitally print the fabric up near Manchester then send this to our factory in Portugal to make the shorts.
How does it feel when you see a photo or footage of somebody surfing a great wave in a pair of your boardshorts that you’ve designed and produced?
It’s amazing of course! It makes it all seem real and validates what you do. Sometimes as a brand it can feel like you are just pushing your product out into the ether. A customer photo with a stoked smile doesn’t get any better! Being an obsessive designer though I always want to get feedback…
Being that the window for wearing boardshorts in British waters is limited to the warm months of the summer, what destinations have you got your eye on for R&D trips this year?
I know it is rather ironic designing boardshorts in Britain. Still, as we say ‘it’s always summer somewhere’ and I am very keen to spend more time in warm waters in 2015. I’m actually thinking a trip to Japan and Hawaii would make a great adventure, because both are really inspirational for different reasons. I fell in love with Japan on my last visit but never managed to make it to the coast. Hawaii is doing great things with coastal sustainability and what a backdrop to test some shorts. I would also like to spend more water time down near Biarritz, with their warm summer waves it’s the closest place you can surf in shorts!
To support Riz’s mission to become the world’s first 100% recycled and recyclable boardshort brand, head over to their crowdfunding page and pledge in return for some fantastic rewards (including the opportunity to design your own pair of surf shorts and various surf trips) and the chance to win a session at The Wave in Bristol for you and two friends before it opens to the public.