Interview by Nathan Myers
Luke Stedman is starting his own clothing label. He is a former WT competitor. A talented freesurfer. And a man of style. Stedman stands apart in a culture where most dudes wear uniform attire. Baggy shorts. Clever t-shirts. Flip-flops. We look like surfers. Stedman looks like a rock star.
When I sit down with Luke to discuss his new venture, I am wearing baggy shorts and a clever shirt. I am wearing flip-flops. I don't care. I think Ugg Boots are super-comfortable. Sometimes I tuck sweat pants into them. I don't think people are required to care about fashion. But I do think some people look stylish and other people blend into the scenery. And I think it's a relevant and interesting conversation.
I once met a movie theater owner who told me he was in the popcorn business. Ask any surf shop owner what percentage of their profit comes from surfboards. We are a fashion industry. Born of a long history of influencing fashion and culture. Yet lately (meaning, last two decades or so)… well, let's just ask someone with actual style:
SURFING: Is surfing a fashionable culture?
STEDMAN: [laughs] I'd say it's highly unfashionable. There's only a small niche of surfers who have any idea of creative fashion. Everyone else seems to like the exact same things. The people I like to hang out with are on a bit of a different level. They like to surf, but they take inspiration from other places. That's where I'm going with my own creations.
SURFING: That's why you're starting Insted We Smile?
STEDMAN: I just reached a point in my life where I couldn't really continue being 100-percent professional surfer guy. I wanted to try something else while I still had some credibility to leverage. I've always been super interested in the fashion side of things, so it was time to put my money where my mouth was.
SURFING: Are you done being a pro surfer?
STEDMAN: Well, I'm not going to be doing the WQS, but I'm still surfing as much as possible. But I've got a different angle to push now. Insted We Smile still draws inspiration from the ocean, but it's so far from being a surf label. I'm just trying to do a fun, positive line that takes inspiration from the ocean and inspiration from the streets.
SURFING: Who in our sport has good fashion style?
STEDMAN: Ozzie Wright is the coolest cat in the world. He's untouchable. He's next level. I look up to him for inspiration. He's got a unique style that can't be imitated.
SURFING: Are people just born with good style, you think?
STEDMAN: Yep. You're born with that. You either have it or you don't. It can be directed and learned, but to be really creative and forward, to look good continuously and before its time…you're born like that.
SURFING: Who else, in surfing, was born that way?
STEDMAN: Alex Knost is fantastic. He's got a really unique, California style. And I love what Dion Agius is doing, coming up with his own sunglass line. You've got to have a good eye, but also be able to put it to use and bring it to life. To have the full package is rare. Those guys have it.
SURFING: Do you think these guys stand in front of the mirror a lot?
STEDMAN: No, it happens naturally. They just do it. You'd be surprised. You wouldn't think of those guys as competitive, but they're very driven to bring creative things to life. And if we didn't have those guys…surfing would be very dull. And they surf really well, too. That's the thing. Dane's another one — he's just cool. He's so f–king cool, and it's completely natural to him.
SURFING: Is there any style on tour right now? Who would take the Stedman-Style title for 2012?
STEDMAN: Dane would have won, but now I don't even know who's on tour. Kolohe's cool. He's young and hangs out with a good group of people, so he'll probably bring some good style to the tour. He's got a good group of people to draw inspiration from. But then again, it's difficult to have a sense of style when you're made to wear a certain company's products.
SURFING: Are there fashion do's and don'ts you could share with those of us born to mediocrity?
STEDMAN: No rules. Do whatever makes you feel good. If you look in a mirror and say, "Damn, I'm feeling pretty good right now," then who cares what anyone else thinks. It's how you feel. You can pull anything off if you're feeling good.
Check out Luke's new project at http://Instedwesmile.com