Former Supreme Head Brendon Babenzien Leans Into Surf
Click to see ‘Noah’s’ line + their latest Vans Vault collab.
Brendon Babenzien’s hallmark career is just getting started.
While many who read Brendon’s CV would stop dead at ‘Former Creative Director at Supreme’, his latest venture may be his best yet. The shop rat turned streetwear purveyor’s brand ‘Noah’ has used Spring ’21 to jump headfirst into surf. While other brands co-opt the lifestyle imagery that has cyclically sold surfing to the masses via small capsule collections or loosely derived graphic tees, Noah went above and beyond to create surf product whose primary goal is utilitarianism. The fact everything looks good? Well of course it does. After all, what would you expect from the former Creative Director of Supreme?
In all seriousness, Noah executed an amazing line of sweats, trunks and (of course) tees, but they didn’t just stop there. Noah tapped WRV shaper Jordan Brazie to produce a line of boards, Stab’s 2020 Best Wetsuits Champion 7till8 to create some suits, and even went so far as to produce their own wax. This is all before mentioning their latest Vans collab, which brings you two styles of their OG Style 24 LX (white/green + pink/black).
Rather than create potentially questionable product on their own, we applaud Noah’s asking for help from industry leaders in areas new to them. We welcome any brand who takes such an approach to creating a line of products. To mark the occasion, we chatted with Brendan on his inspiration behind the line and how he found himself here today.
Stab: Hey Brendan. You grew up surfing and had some sort of formative experiences working at surf shops. Give us your background.
Brendon Babenzien: I grew up on the South Shore of Long Island. I was lucky enough to get into skating in the ’70s when I was around five years old. Thankfully there were a few skate parks around. We also used to travel down to Florida which had loads of parks. My grandmother would take my brother and I to the local park and hang while we skated. It was a really fun time. By the time I was 13, we were all around boardsports kids. Skating, surfing, and even snowboarding our local hills. At 13, I got a job at Ricks Surf Shop and that started the chain of events that led me to go into design. I was given the opportunity to manage buys for the store. I started with skate stuff but eventually was brought into buying all of the clothing for the shop. I had an interest and was able to buy the right stuff for the store. It was an incredible time to be a teenager in the surf business. We went to trade shows and basically got to live out every kid’s fantasy. I had the best job anyone could ever have at that age. I worked there for 8 years. The shop was the social center of the universe.
What made streetwear more pervasive a subcultural style internationally than surfing? Skateboarding was always was mixed in with it, hardcore, punk, and hip hop, but surfing/surfwear were always kind of outside that scene, with few exceptions. Where do you see the opportunity for a company with an approach like Noah to build products for surfers?
After I left the shop, I went to work with a friend who had a brand called Pervert. At the time, Pervert was one of the more forward brands in what is now called streetwear (although we never called it that). I think it’s important to clarify that the clothing we were all into ranged from surf stuff, to skate stuff, to fashion and on and on. The clothes were just an extension of us as people. Surfing, skating, and DJing were the important parts of our life. I think ‘surf’ in the 80s was actually the stronger subculture, but those companies became mainstream, opening a door for people to see creativity elsewhere. We never separated any of it really. Good was good, and bad was bad. I think we really learned good style was just good style and you didn’t need to live within any boundaries stylistically. Just do what feels good to you.
That idea that you should just be yourself was basically drowned out by massive marketing budgets. Companies really spend a lot of money to try and convince you what to wear and how to be. For Noah, we’re not necessarily building clothing for surfers, or any other particular group. We love to surf and have a vehicle to make some good products so we do. It’s that simple. I don’t know if it will be a financial success for us or not, but that isn’t the goal. The goal is to make great products for whoever is interested in the way we do things. So it’s not so much the opportunity from a business perspective. It’s an opportunity to have fun doing things we love.
Where does surfing sit within the range of cultural spaces Noah wants to serve or think of as a consumer base?
Surfing sits right in the middle. Everything we talk about is incredibly important for us. In a way, we don’t separate one culture from the next. We think of running, skating, surfing, responsible business practices, social responsibility and so on as all one thing. One is no more or less important than the others.
What are some of your favorite pieces from the first range of goods? Can you give us some info around who is behind the boards and hardgoods, etc?
I’m super proud of everything we have made so far. Obviously I get excited about the boards, and a board I bought for myself last year led to us working with Jordan Brazie (of WRV) to shape this batch. I got one of his SeaSpeeders and loved it.
That led to us talking to him about shaping a batch for us. The suits are in partnership with 7till8. We liked the suits and thought the owners were very sweet and welcoming to the idea of helping us get some great suits made. Turns out, the suits are better than I anticipated. We wanted to basically make everything you needed to get in the water so we decided to make wax and leashes too. The leashes are a partnership with XM and are all made in the USA. The wax is non-toxic and without petroleum and is also made in the USA. It was important for us to make as much as we could domestically to keep the industry going here.
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