In a throw-away culture, where the focus is on making things cheaper and replaceable there’s a subtle undercurrent that ebbs in the opposite direction. The recent emergence of homesteading, woodworking and farm-to-table are just some of the waves that are flowing backwards instead of forwards, a desire for simplicity and sustainability. Articles like Millennials, Nostalgia, and Urban Preservation seemed to suggest that this nostalgia is only rooted in a form of escapism, a way to endure the anxiety of the present and the unpredictability of the future. But not all nostalgia is narcissistic - a projection of a false past on others - or an attempt to escape one’s reality.
Rather nostalgia can lead to a creative and generous life. Put bluntly, nostalgia is simply human - human to remember the past and to reflect on the people and the experiences that have positively influenced one’s life. These memories are a source of encouragement and can be a swell of vision for the present and future. Though it centers on the idyllic dimensions of one’s history, nostalgia can be practical. Nostalgia draws attention to beauty, which inspires new forms of beauty. It is a treasure chest of lessons from the past, a tide of poetry that has potential to influence present-day form and function.
Mason Dyer, a 28-year-old Millennial entrepreneur, embodies this vision in his southern California company, Dyer Brand. Nestled in the beach culture of San Diego, Dyer Brand draws from the rich heritage of the hotrod and surf culture of the post-WWII eras of the 1950’s and ‘60s designing, manufacturing and selling men’s clothing and surfboards. Following the growing trend of American-made goods, Dyer Brand is committed to a meticulous craftsmanship that emphasizes durability, aesthetic and performance. His attention to the former ways of life is charting new courses in the surf industry, reminding an instant gratification culture of the values of hard work, growth through failure, joy and the Aloha-spirit.
I first met Mason in 2008. He was a college senior shaping surfboards for friends in a dinky garage in San Diego. Seven years later, I visited Mason in his Oceanside shop - a decorative combination of Hogan’s Heroes, Happy Days, and The Endless Summer. This time in addition to my camera I brought my pen and notepad, and I listened as he shared his views on life and the lessons to be learned from nostalgia.
MC What’s so important about nostalgia?
MD Nostalgia is linked to the way I was raised. I grew up in a really small town in southern Delaware listening to the stories of my Dad and my grandfathers as they talked about the good ‘ole days. As I got older, I became interested in history and began reading about other families and their stories, and all of that had a big impact on me. I think you tend to see the past through rose-colored glasses, but that’s not all bad – it’s actually cool. With nostalgia, you take the best of the past -- whether that is culture or style -- and you make your own.
MC Are there certain stories from the past that influence you more than others?
MD Yeah, stories of America during and after WWII: guys that were coming back from the war saying, “What I experienced, I never what to encounter again.” Being back, they began building a new life; and that’s when a lot of culture boomed specifically the hotrod and surf culture. Not wanting to conform to desk jobs, they applied the ingenuity and resources from the war and built faster cars and made balsa wood surfboards from recycled US Navy surplus life rafts. Even fashion was influenced by this era: flight jackets, chinos, and T-shirts emerged as mainstay articles of clothing.
MC Did you hear these stories first hand, or read about them?
MD Both. My grandfather on my dad’s side was a WWII vet. As a kid, I heard his stories and, wanting to know more about his life, I became a history nerd. I studied the era to know my family heritage, and through that I got into learning about the design and function of uniforms and materials used during the war. What’s so interesting to me is that items designed as pure function became pure form -- which has been huge impact on Dyer Brand and what I make.
As for my mom’s side, her dad grew up as the son of Italian immigrants living in the Bronx during the 1950’s. He was into cars and rebuilding engines. I would listen to him and ask questions about the cars he had, and the cars he worked on. Finally, my dad has surfed his whole life, and taught me to surf when I was 5 years old. He appreciated surf history, and was a vintage surfboard collector; so growing up, I was surrounded by amazing vintage shapes and styles. When I moved to San Diego, I remembered this history and began making connections to places like Windansea, Swami’s, and San Onofre. Because of my dad, I understood the significance of places like these and it helped me become a better surfer and, ultimately, a surfboard shaper. By listening to their stories, watching their lives, and living life with them I was encouraged to dig deep and make their values my own.
MC Is Dyer Brand the natural expression of those values?
MD When I started Dyer Brand, I wanted it to be a reflection of that heritage of Hot Rod, military, and surf culture. The stories that I heard as a kid and the values that are rooted in them have really shaped me as a person. I didn’t know what I wanted to do growing up because I had so many interests. It wasn’t until I got a call from Mitch Abshere, a friend who was starting a new surf company called Captain Fin, that I realized my desire to own my own business. Being a part of the surf and clothing industries got me excited to think about what I could make and offer that would be different.
MC So how is Dyer Brand different than other surf companies?
MD What makes me different than other surf brands is that they all offer a similar thing: a modern aesthetic with minimal production cost. Dyer Brand takes the 1950’s & ‘60s and packages it crafting goods that are true to form and made with the finest textiles. If I was going to make it, whether it was a surfboard or a pair of boardshorts, I wanted it to be the highest quality. As I looked around at the other companies, everything I saw was being made outside of the USA, and I started to ask, “At what cost?” Thinking about my products, I wanted them to have a story behind them, and the story of Dyer Brand comes from American ingenuity and pride.
MC It seems like the industry is taking note of your difference. In the last year, you’ve partnered with big companies like BMW and Brixton. What was that like?
MD Yeah, last summer Dyer Brand teamed up with the fine folks at Brixton Apparel along with artist Mike Upton for a limited edition USA made board short called the Beach Bomber, a cotton vintage military style trunk. I also shaped and glassed a one-of-a-kind 7’ Sea Bee single fin surfboard that was sold on Ebay as a fundraiser for the humanitarian organization SurfAid. Overall, the project was a success.
MC And BMW?
MD Ha! (Laughter) Well, a year ago June, I worked with BMW on the Path 22 Concept, an initiative to design and build a tracker-style motorcycle, which is a remake of an off-road/street bike. At that time, BMW was partnering with Vincent Prat, who organizes and runs the Wheels and Waves Festival in France, and they wanted to add to the bike a surf rack. Vincent told them that there was only one guy who could do the job, and gave them my name. Then out of the blue one day, I receive a phone call from Ola Stenegard, Head of Vehicle Design at BMW Motorrad asking if I’d be willing to sit down and talk about the project. Long story short, he flew out California and we spent the day in the shop discussing the concept and what Dyer Brand could offer. In the end, I shaped two surfboards for the display bikes. We worked close on the color tint to blend the traditional style with modern technology. It was a good challenge, but the end result was fun and cool. I mean, how many people can say that they’ve made surfboards for BMW? Really rad. Plus, I became friends with a lot of the guys on the project, which is even cooler because, being a Gear Head, I now see them at auto shows and conventions.
MC Looking back over the last six years, what have you learned? And what’s next for you?
MD I’ve learned not to be afraid of failure. It does suck when it happens – I’m going through stuff right now - but it’s not all negative. It’s how you learn. If everything you do succeeds, then someone is lying to you. Failure is like callouses on your hands. There are just certain things that you can’t do until you have those callouses. Owning your business forces you to know everything, and to do everything. From sweeping the floors, to packing orders, to accounting, to product forecasting - as the owner you know it all, which, I think, makes you a successful entrepreneur.
As for what’s next, a lot of innovation especially on the clothing side of things. We’re doing some exciting projects in Japan as well as the US market. I’ve been working really hard to ensure that everything in a Dyer Brand garment is made by Dyer Brand: patches, buttons, trims, and fabrics all designed by us. With boards, I’m shaping and selling more that reflect my personal interests. Overall, I don’t want to be that guy in his 50’s that says, “Man, I wish I had tried that.” I’d rather try something and fail than not try at all. I don’t think I could live with that kind regret.