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Kyle Spencer of Slowtide

Sep 24, 2018

The Rising Slow Tide

Not long ago, Kyle Spencer gently placed down two well-worn, aqua green-and-white- striped towels upon the sand.

His wife, Alana, settled in for another beautiful day at the beach when their good friend, Wylie, walked up and threw his own towel down next to theirs and checked the surf. "Wylie had this cool vintage towel he bought at a garage sale," Kyle says. "We were admiring it—talking about it all afternoon. When my wife and I came back home we tried to find some vintage towels online, but we couldn't find anything cool." That was their "Aha!" moment. They realized no one was making well-designed, artfully inspired beach towels. The more they dove in, the more it made sense. "Everyone uses a towel every day, whether you surf or not." Kyle grasped the idea with both hands and today is the co-owner of Slowtide, a trend-setting apparel and accessory brand specializing in towels, blankets and ponchos. Based on the North Shore of O'ahu and in Southern California, we caught up with Kyle to talk elevating daily essential into functional pieces of art and the burgeoning entrepreneurial scene in Honolulu that's providing Hawai'i creatives with homegrown opportunities.

Where do you find your inspiration for your designs?

The art that we're into totally influences it. Going back to the beginning, we wanted to make towels that we like. The first few collections featured art that we were all into. As the business grew, the brand began growing beyond our personal tastes. We have four employees now. They have different tastes than us and we're making sure we have products that speak to different demographics.

We also have artists that we appreciate and have been fans of for a long time, and we've been fortunate to work with them. There's Jeff Canham, the art director at Surfer magazine a while back—I've been a huge fan of his for a long time. Takashi Murakami is a big-scale artist we've been able to make a connection with. There are also a lot of artists that have been friends of ours for a while that we work with, like Tara Michie from Ladyslider, and Clark Little. It's a balance of bringing our friends into the fold, as well as the art that inspires us and having a platform to reach out and work with bigger artists. And they're excited because these towels are a new medium for them.

The towel is a canvas where can feature an array of art. It's expression.


Kyle Spencer

How do you go about curating the artwork that makes its way onto a towel?

The way we see it, our towels are a canvas, and that allows us to put various types and styles of artwork on them. Our towels are a canvas for modern art, classical art, a photo print, or mainstream surf-world images. We've also collaborated with Acacia swimsuits, a Hawai'i bikini brand. We've taken their prints and put florals on the towels. We also collaborated with Stussy the first year, and those are very different. To boil it down, there isn't one particular style to our towels. Our tastes are pretty eclectic and we can do a lot of different things. Our styles have evolved too, and that makes it fun. We're not pigeonholed into one style forever.

Slowtide began with towels and expanded to bath towels, blankets, and ponchos? Was it always part of the plan to expand your market, or did it happen organically?

I wish I could say it was part of our master plan, but it was not. The first season we all had other jobs. We each put our savings into a joint bank account and ordered 1,000 towels. It started off as that and became bath towels, too. The next season it was a poncho. A friend had a crappy poncho, so we made him a new one. It's a towel fabric, so it makes sense. A lot of our friends bring Mexican blankets to the beach, so we made our own version. Basically, it's elevating a daily essential into a functional piece of art with anything that encompasses an outdoor lifestyle. We're not just stuck at the beach. It's anything we can transform, whether it's a blanket on the couch or a fitness gym towel. We take it season to season and see what we need. The reason we started the company was to fill a void in the marketplace, so we don't just want to make anything.

Can you talk about the brand's roots?

My wife and I are born and raised in Hawai'i, and one of my business partners, Wylie Von Temsky, was born and raised on Maui. With us being from here, having that as part of our core DNA, what we like is naturally part of brand. Every season we collaborate with an artist from Hawai'i. When we started the brand, we had a lot of experience in the industry, but we were really naïve as to what it takes to run your own business. We made product and had to sell somewhere. So, we thought, who do we know that has a store? It started Aloha Beach Club, Almond Surfboards in Costa Mesa, Aloha Exchange and Hi-Tech on Maui. And then, of course, Town & Country was one of those, too. I knew the Sugiharas and hit them up. From the beginning they supported it and they've grown with the brand.

How does the brand's aesthetic blend with this new, design-driven and artistic revolution that's presently reshaping Honolulu?

As far as what's going on in Honolulu, it's amazing for my wife and I see it come together like it is. When we were younger, it felt like you had to leave to pursue a creative job, but the longer we were away we saw more stuff happening back home and that led us to quit our jobs in California and move back home and start something here. I've seen more friends with the ability to do that. Pow! Wow!, In4mation, and Contrast magazine have done so much to create this culture and I looked to these people as inspiration. There are so many others, but they've been trudging it out for a bit and it all feels like it's coming together now.

Brands are infusing art and design to elevate their products more than ever. And as a brand, Slowtide is really connecting these worlds by creating something that blends function with aesthetic. It seems like that's where the magic happens.

I think that art in general is a complement to our lifestyle. When you have that on something you can take and share, people pick the ones that represent them the best. The towel is a canvas where can feature an array of art. It's expression. It also gives someone confidence—same with fashion. If you buy a new pair of Nike shoes, it inspires you to go work out or run. For our towels, we inspire people to go outside, go to beach, go to the gym, take a cool photo for Instagram at the pool. Hopefully, anytime you're using one of our towels you're in a cool place, whether you're in the Jacuzzi, at the beach, or at a concert with the picnic blanket out. We encourage people to take a photo of their towel, wherever their paradise is—you can share that and bring our towels and blankets on your journey.

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