Warren Smith on New Welcome Rivers Range and Buying Jaguars on Facebook Marketplace
Now available in the Antipodes…
Warren Smith has just bought a 1987 Jaguar, sight unseen, from a “dude in Georgia” on Facebook Marketplace.
“Just send that baby to me…” Warren exclaims over FaceTime in his familiar Floridian vernacular. Before adding, “She’s a beauty, she’s purring like a kitten right now.’
He holds the phone up to the engine but I can’t hear anything distinguishable.
Warren’s cruising along the coast in his new wagon checking for surf that he knows isn’t there, in his home town – Panama City Beach, on the Gulf Coast of Florida.
The reason for our call is two fold. Firstly, an official assignment from Stab Hq to find out about the latest Welcome Rivers range (Warren and best pal Grady Archbald’s fashion-forward surf brand) which is soon launching in Australia. And secondly, because it’s always a pleasure to check in with one of professional surfing’s original fringe-dwellers.
“The new collection we’re really psyched on,” Warren says. “Me and Grady busted our ass on that to finish it up a couple of months ago. And then we’re going to be finishing up all the marketing and all the stuff that we’re good at, you know: all the photography and make it all look buttoned-up and nice.”
The stuff that Warren and Grady are “good at”, and the opposite side of that equation, are the butt of much of Warren’s self-deprecation. But it’s also common conundrum that faces anyone trying to make a crust plying their creative wares: the people that are naturally talented at designing the stuff, generally, aren’t naturally pre-ordained to the backend of production.
And long may that continue. For art’s sake, and also for all the hilarious business cock-ups that come with it. Cock-ups that have certainly been common amongst every brand, entrepreneur and surfing magazine that I’ve ever come into contact with.
Talk eventually leads to the inspiration behind the latest Welcome Rivers release. Its name – ‘Silver’ – comes from the light reflecting the sun on the Floridian shore, and Warren explains that rather than hindering the ongoing creative love affair with his best mate/business partner Grady Archbald, being on opposite coasts kind of suits them too.
“He likes to work in secret anyway,” Warren says of his best mate/business partner. “I guess I’m the closest one to it and I still feel in the dark sometimes on what Grady does. He’ll show me the most amazing stuff that I don’t even know where it came from.”
One of the eye catching graphics in Silver that Warren does know about, nicely sums up what he and Grady are building with this pet-project-turned-business venture. It’s a darkroom, long exposure that Warren took of the moon over east, which he sent west and Grady turned into a yardage which have ended up on a shirt and a pair of shorts.
It’s reflective of how Welcome Rivers has functioned up until this point – as a broad spectrum creative tinkering outlet that’s as much for Warren and Grady’s enjoyment as anyone else’s. And it’s a business model which has suited Waz and Grady fine up until now, if only as it’s provided then customary funny tales and valuable business lessons.
“Me and Grady don’t know what we’re doing with business,” Warren reiterates without a hint of self-deprecation, mid-way through telling me about their first foray into the footwear realm, which featured a pair of what can only be described as extravagant pink loafers.
“I put them on my instagram stories before we’d even launched the first collection, and I got like 200 DMs about them,” Warren says. “I was like, ‘Ohh shit, whoa.’ So I called the factory and just said, ‘Start making pink shoes, I don’t know what size, just start making ‘em!’”
Welcome Rivers is definitely at the more fashion-forward end of surfing ‘attire’, if that’s even a thing, but Warren and Grady have always been conscious that the ocean dwelling is very much part of the DNA. Which makes sense as one owner looks out west from their Laguna Beach home across the Pacific and then other East across the Atlantic.
I tell Warren (truthfully) that I’ve seen a fair bit of Welcome Rivers clobber scattered up and down the east coast of Australia, and he explains that that’s the reason that they’re officially launching Silver in Australia through distribution and stockists. As while boom time down under was nice from a visibility viewpoint, it didn’t exactly swell the WR coffers accordingly.
“Australia ended up being half of our business,” Warren explains. “And that’s a problem. I mean, your business is in one country and all the actual biz taking place in a whole ‘other country, how the hell do you make that make money?”
In a nice instance of career symmetry, it’s an old friend and former Insight 51 glory days stablemate, Nick Riley (among a network of other), who’s charged with flooding the antipodes with (less expensive to ship) WR gear.
“It’s taken a lot of the pressure off me and Grady having to be businessmen, because we are not.” Warren re-iterates. “Those guys helping has freed me and Grady up to do the creative stuff we want to be doing. Things like digital marketing that we’ve been trying to learn how to do, we have a meeting with them and they’re like, ‘Oh yeah we’ve got teams of guys who just do that stuff.’ And we’re like, “Whoa, no way!’”
Warren’s blessed with a natural proclivity for self-deprecation, but let’s not let it obscure the influence he’s had on the sartorial surfing public – nail polish, leather boots with shorts, home-job haircuts, military surplus, boards adorned with black and communist imagery – Warren’s the reluctant granddaddy of all of it, and so when, in his more refined years, he starts to put out garments that you can purchase, then it’s time to pay attention.
“It was more or less just making stuff for our friends, and that thing just took off. We had no clue. So each collection we add a new shoe or we get a boot or add a mule – we’re adding a mule in this next collection. The shoes, I don’t know how, but it’s just one of those things that you don’t see coming that we got lucky as hell.”
Speaking of luck and things you “don’t see coming”, a couple of days after Warren and I originally talked, his Jaguar caught fire on the highway and is no more.
“I was driving down the road with the windows down, blaring Jimmy Buffett with a beer in hand, living the dream, and the car was on fire. I had no idea. A car pulled up to me screaming, ‘Your car is on fire!’
‘I pulled over, car in flames, firemen showed up and one of them recognised me and said out loud, ‘I used to have your poster own my wall…’
‘Car’s sizzled, previous owners after market speakers were re-wired to the battery and caught fire. To J Buffet.”
Warren messaged shortly after letting me know that he’d doubled down and bought another Jaguar off Marketplace. Signing off:
“Gonna buy a fire extinguisher for the trunk in this one.”
Whether you’re up top or down under, grab yourself some fresh WR gear.
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