Introducing our Behind the Brand series, in-depth interviews with the people on the other side of the cloth that makes Slowtide tick. First up is Dario Phillips, Co-founder and Marketing Director at Slowtide, responsible for our infamous artist collabs and other branding light-bulb-ideas. Head to our blog for the full story of Dario’s story and an interview by Beau Flemister.
Often, it’s the artists that get all the love. As it should be. But it’s not only the designers, the wordsmiths, or photographers that pump the creative blood through a brand…there’s the “ideas guy/gal” that brings a whole lot of love to the table, too. You know, like ways to make the company some dough and progress a brand into new levels of success and rapport. One such ideas guy—and co-founder at Slowtide—Dario Phillips, had an interesting journey to his role as marketing director there. The man responsible for some of their more amazing and eclectic artist collaborations (See: Grateful Dead), and giveback events like the Slowtide Creative Canvas, we caught up with Mr. Phillips to talk shop and what it takes for someone interested in a role like his. (Psst…psst…it’s mostly being a good human;)
So, Dario, what’s your background or path that led you to Slowtide? And, what’s your title over there?
Dario Phillips: Well, we're kind of all wearing multiple hats, but Kyle, Wylie and I are the co-founders of Slowtide. I’m also the marketing director. So, I oversee the marketing and handle a lot of the other bigger partnerships and the financials but that's not necessarily what my background is. Originally, I’m from Vancouver, BC, Canada. I grew up skateboarding and snowboarding and surfing a ton, so I always had action sports in my blood, even though I was kind of the runt in my family. I come from a family of seven and everyone was really into basketball and tennis, where I was a skater-surfer. But, I was always pretty entrepreneurial when I was young, sold baseball cards as a kid, firecrackers, kind of anything I could to hustle a little bit. [laughs] Which was pretty fun and I kind of learned a lot about business through those channels.
As I was going through high school and coming up into university I started DJing and doing night club promotions and ended up moving to Montreal. I went to university there in Montreal and was DJing every second night to pay for my university, and then moved to New York and was doing a bit of DJing and kind of working random jobs, trying to figure out what I wanted to do but still very involved in the skate world and skating a ton. That led me to Barcelona, I spent some time in Europe for a little while, and then made moves back to Vancouver. When I got back to Vancouver in 2010 when the Vancouver Olympics were happening, I started a tourist map company. Kind of like a trendy, well designed, really curated map on where the cool businesses were, where to check out the best restaurants, different skate shops, really meant for, like, a younger person.
Sick, what was that called?
That was called “Stay Local Maps.” At the same time, I started working with “Color Skateboard Magazine,” which is kind of like a Canadian “Monster Children” or “What Youth.” I was helping them with brand partnerships and doing some editorial and doing a bit of producing. I randomly got a call one day from a friend who was working for Quiksilver at the time and he told me I’d be a great fit as the marketing manager for Quiksilver Canada. At that point, I didn't really know what those jobs were. I was like, "What's a marketing manager? What do they do?" They listed what I needed to do and I kinda felt like I’d built my career up to do exactly that. So, I did that for three and a half years and had an amazing time doing that and then they wanted me to move down to California as the marketing director for Quiksilver. I moved down and at the same time, a new CEO came on board, and like 170 athletes and employees got cut. It was a crazy time.
Holy crap, I remember that.
Right. But I talked to the CEO and he's like, "Still come down." So, I did, and when I was down there I met Kyle Spencer. When I first moved down, Kyle was actually my roommate and he was a design director at DC Shoes so we started hanging out and then I met Wylie through Kyle. Kyle was kind of going through the same thing at DC through new CEOs and the corporate world. Kyle, his wife Alana, and Wylie had always talked about doing a towel company, too.
I ended up leaving Quiksilver and went to Huf Footwear and was doing all the global marketing at Huf and doing a lot of skate things, growing the footwear program and working with Austyn Gillette and Craig Anderson. I started talking more with Kyle and Wylie, we really wanted to branch out and we saw what Hershel was doing with backpacks and what Stance was doing with socks and I reached out to them one day and was like, "Hey, that towel idea you guys have—let's do this. Let's stop talking about it and let's actually do it. I want to work with you guys." So we started doing some research and ended up finding a factory and trademarked Slowtide. It was launched in October of 2015 and, yeah, it's been a really interesting last few years.
Unreal! So, tell me about some of the things you do at Slowtide.
Yeah. So, I guess some of the highlights of what I do is running the marketing, and a lot of our brand is based on artist collaborations. Even our tagline, "The art of drying off," we're really creating a new canvas for art and by creating a new canvas it really gives us a great opportunity to reach out to artists that inspire us. So, flying out to New York and doing interviews with Kevin Lines or Todd St. John, or going up to L.A. and working with The Risk, one of the OG LA graffiti artists, or Jason Woodside in New York…there's been a lot of opportunities to work with a lot of really inspiring artists and just really bring their art to a broader audience. Most people can't afford their paintings, but you can afford to purchase their art if it’s on a towel and then kind of inspire your daily life or hang it on your wall, or do whatever you please with it.
Wow, I love that. So, you really do see your product as an actual canvas for art, huh?
Yeah, totally, and I think it's inspiring people to have a form of self-expression. It's like, yeah, you have the clothing that you wear but it's sort of an extension of that. You can kind of express yourself when you're at the beach or at the pool like, "Hey, Grateful Dead represents me; that's who I love.” Or, "I love Surfrider Foundation, I support their cause, let's use their towel." So, it's cool to be able to work with artists like that. We just did one with Takashi Murakami that did really well, for instance.
Amazing. Which leads to another question. Guys like Murakami—how do you lock in collaborations like that?
I think that just everything within our brand comes down to relationships and the fact that Kyle, Wylie and I have worked in the industry for a long time and have treated people with respect and are very design-driven. People respect us in return and then I think once you do something with one artist in a circle of friends, they're going to talk to each other and be like, "How was that experience?" "Oh, those guys are awesome. You should definitely work with them." So, one thing leads to another quite quickly, and that's kind of the first step. Then we'll reach out to them and we're all like-minded individuals. So, we have a beer and hang with them and skate and, yeah, I think they all enjoy the process, and at the end of the day they want their art to be reaching a broader audience as well, so we're kind of helping them with that.
Working on the marketing side of a company like yours, as far as someone younger wanting to follow in your footsteps, what kind of advice would you give them?
I think it's just about really following what your true passions are, and in terms of being authentic, people can see through the bullshit. The reason Slowtide works so well is we have a really good team and a really good group of co-founders. We're really perfectionists and we really want to breathe this brand and make it feel authentic and true to the three of us. So, I guess a piece of advice is that you can't really fake it. I think that's the one thing, and I think that's what a lot of brands do in terms of marketing. People really see through that and I think when we go back to the social giveback thing, that's just a broader thing in terms of life. Like, "Hey, we want to do things that are good for the world and if we can help people along the way, we're going to do as much as we can."
Like, with Good360, supporting disaster relief, it was just something we could help, with all the California wildfires and different homeless shelters. That's something that we can do to offer our support. And with Kyle and Wylie both being from Hawaii, when we go there every December, we like to do events and support the North Shore Lifeguards and Sustainable Coastlines and do towel dying events with the community…Those are all things that are true to us and we want to be able to support. We also did this social media contest called Slowtide Creative Canvas where you upload your art and use that hashtag and we do an art show twice a year. You win some prize money and a bunch of products, but then your art is showcased alongside a bunch of other well-known artists, then we pick a local charity like Surfrider or Sustainable Coastlines and donate all the funds to it. So, that’s a really nice giveback program, plus it's inspiring the next generations of artists and it's incorporating our brand into creating a new canvas.
Awesome. I love that. The “brand collab” is nothing incredibly new but you always seem to be involved in some really interesting ones. Like, the Grateful Dead. How did that come about and why?
I think all of us have always been fans of them and they truly resonate multi-generationally. They also have super amazing artwork and I think part of it is like, when we look at any collaboration we sit as a team and are like, "Okay, they might be an amazing band but what is their album art? What does their fan base look like? What inspires people?" And they just have such an amazing logo from using the Steely and we were just super excited about it. Wiley interpreted some of the designs and we hit them up. No one had ever done it before, and they were super excited and now it's pretty much our number one bestseller online.
Yeah, it’s pretty cool to see and it has led to other things. After that, we got hit up by the NBA, Major League Baseball and some others.
Do you have a favorite collab that you guys did?
Yeah, I would probably say Grateful Dead, but also Mollusk Surf Shop. We collab'd with them and did this really rad blanket with a sun on it, and we're kind of moving more into the home goods side of things, but that's probably one of my favorite collaborations.
Rad. So, the way you guys work, you’re kind of half-based in different places, no?
Yeah, so Slowtide's main headquarters is in Costa Mesa, California. That's where most of our staff is and we have a couple of different staff around the world. But Kyle and Wiley are both from Maui originally. Kyle lives part-time on the North Shore of Oahu, and Wiley spends most of his time in Costa Mesa but is in Maui quite often, as well. I'm originally from Vancouver, BC but I spend probably half the year in Tofino, BC. Tofino, I guess you would say, is like Canada's North Shore. That's where pretty much all of the surfing happens in Canada. It's cold water surfing, but definitely fewer crowds and a pretty magical place to be. I have two young kids and it’s a great place to raise a family. Good fishing and a ton of outdoor activities around.
I assume that Slowtide changing poncho comes in handy up there after a surf then?
Definitely. We're wearing a 5mm wetsuit, hood, gloves, boots, the whole thing. So, yeah, it’s kind of one the main reasons we created the changing poncho. It does really well for us in colder temperatures when you really need that warmth to get in and out of your wetsuit. I put my wetsuit on at home, drive to the beach wearing my wetsuit under my poncho, take my poncho off, put it on the back of my seat, go for a surf, get back in my car and straight into a hot shower. So, you kind of have a different ritual, whereas in Hawaii, obviously, you're running out to the beach in boardshorts.
Would you say you have a favorite towel?
Yeah, our travel towels, in terms of functional use, are amazing. The fact that they're 100% recycled, made from 10 plastic bottles, super highly absorbent, and they just pack really small. But my routine would be using that to dry me off, but then I'll use a Turkish towel to lay on at the beach. My wife loves the bath towels, primarily the Waffle Towels that we do. Super lightweight and just have a really nice design aesthetic to them.
Big thanks to Beau Flemister for the interview.