Former: The Story Behind Dane Reynolds And Craig Anderson's New Brand
The wait is (almost) over.
There’s been rumblings about the new brand from Dane Reynolds, Craig Anderson and Austyn Gillette for over a year now, and the reason that the rumblings are still little more than that (and a deliberately cryptic Instagram account), is because the guys aren’t in a hurry. Multi-national corporations, such as the ones that the trio used to endorse, are all KPIs, target demographics and release schedules, and the reason that the trio set up their own shop is so they don’t have to be slaves to these restrictions. After much internal debate about names, release dates, logos, samples and the like, they’ve decided on Former as the name, and they’ll be releasing their first range, well, soon enough.
Talking to the three stakeholders (a term they’d undoubtedly hate) and former pro surfer/go-to LA guy Warren Smith – who along with his best pal and designer Grady Archbold, and Creative Director/Fearless Leader of Monster Children, Campbell Milligan, make up the rest of the tight-lipped outfit – on Skype, one thing that becomes abundantly clear about this operation is that it isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. To do so, as has already happened (in the ever-speculative surf media, in particular), would be very much against Former’s mantra.
While our odd little chatroom is waiting for Craig Anderson to appear, Austyn Gillette, widely regarded as one of the most stylish skaters of his generation, decides to quell the awkward silence by giving us a virtual tour of his garage. He walks over to one of the brownest, shittiest-looking old surfboards I’ve seen in some time, shaped by Gold Coast shaper JS, gives it a spin and whistles. “Would y’look at this chestnut? You don’t find that in the stores.” He points to the peeling-off deck grip, proclaiming “cool stomp-pad,” and picks up a green, yellow and red Rastafarian leash, before announcing: “Look at this ‘leggie’, as you call it down there.” Everyone laughs, and Craig’s head pops up with a “Sup fuqbois?” Then, we begin.
Former was originally a quartet, before the tragic, much-publicised passing of Dylan Rieder at the end of last year. The crew was first brought together on a Monster Children Team Average trip back in 2012, during which they camped, surfed, skated, and drank their way up the east coast of Australia. “Campbell brought us together originally on that trip in 2012,” remembers Dane, “and shit, I guess we kept in touch since then. I actually remember talking to Dylan about doing brand stuff at that point but it wasn’t really so simple with being sponsored and whatever. But we kept in touch.” Austyn cracks a beer, holds it up to the screen, and announces, “We met over a couple of these.”
The Former mantra’s relatively simple. After years of being at the disposal of large, disconnected companies, Dane, Craig and Austyn are out to create the brand they want to ride for, and the clothes they want to wear. “I’m really curious as to who’s going to buy Former, because I think that surfers are too cool to buy surf brand shit, and I don’t know where we’ll land,” says Dane. “But I’ve been presented with all these brands over the years who’ve done market research and they’ve known their target demographic and how they’re going to coax them into getting traction, and we’ve gone completely backwards and basically just thrown everybody’s likes and dislikes out there and tried to meet in the middle.”
It's positioning like this (and the corresponding limb placement) that've gifted Craig such an immense cultural following. And yeah, that'll probably translate into Former sales.
Trying to create a product that’s going to land on the backs of hip kids in the surf and skate worlds will be no easy task. But if there’s anyone who can do it, it’s these three. Dane Reynolds took an axe to the surf world in the 2000s with his raw and honest approach, and in turn inspired a whole generation, including Craig. Likewise, Dylan and Austyn brought an emphasis on style, both in skating and fashion, and the fact that they all became friends and started hanging out helped bridge the gap between surf and skate. “My take on it is that surfers want to be skateboarders and skaters want to surf, but think surfers are kooky,” says Dane. “Signings, the brands, it’s just fake and it’s silly. All the surf companies are just ripping each other off and trying to make their shit stretchier and brighter, and it’s just eggy.”
“It’s fabricated fun,” chimes Austyn with his usual deadpan delivery. “We have real fun.”
One thing that the group’s keen to make known is that although they’re not the most experienced retail outfit, they’ve got complete autonomy over Former. There’s no outside backers (despite much interest), and every piece in every range has been painstakingly designed within the group. They’re not sticking to the shackles of seasonal releases, rather each range will be available to buy when it’s good and ready. The first collection, Luxury 29.99, is a refreshingly stark departure from the usual huge, cater-to-everyone releases in every colour imaginable. It’s black and white, a little coral, and the message is clear: ‘The colourless system of control and easy listening brought to you by…’ It’s tongue in cheek, sarcastic, and it certainly pays homage to the guys’ late pal, Dylan. “He was involved as much as physically possible over the last year,” says Craig. “And he played a big part in the clothing and the whole ‘fuck you’ aesthetic. He was a super smart dude with great taste who could set trends and do whatever he wanted.”
Mr Reynolds, burning down a mutant sandspit igloo.
The guys are realistic when it comes to pricing–the range doesn’t come with a heavy swing tag–and the only place you can get it is online at the Former store, for now.
As the release date for the first drop of Former approaches, gets pushed back, and approaches again, the rumours continue to circulate: Pop up shops in Sydney and LA manned by the guys, film parts to go with each drop, and the signing of another skater who may or may not have the same last name as one of the current owners are among them. Not even the brand owners themselves could confirm or deny them. And, the unpredictability is one of the best things about the product. Surfing and skating are well due for a shake up, and Former may well be the brand to do it. Dane sums it up well: “For me personally, if kids respond well and are stoked on it, if they get into it and we can build a culture around it, then it’ll be a success.” You’d be brave man to doubt Craig, Dane and Austyn’s ability to create a culture.