Coming off the heels of launching start up brand WAAR last March, Michael Quinones and Matt Davis have not been content to sit back and take a break. In fact, the contrary is true for the two entrepreneurs, who last week unveiled new apparel brand, ourCaste, which has backing from surf industry veteran and legend Michael Tomson of Gotcha fame.
The name ourCaste—which was based on the concept behind the traditional Caste system, or a way of classifying a population by social status—is meant to reflect a similar meaning in how Quinones and crew think about the lifestyle they lead on a daily basis.
“You have no control over where you fall in it; it’s just what you are born into,” says Quinones about the concept behind the name. “I think we’ve all felt that same way at one time or another—almost like it was a part of who you are. ourCaste is obviously a loose interpretation, but the idea of being uncontrollably part of ’it’ is true. We couldn’t have controlled being a part of it, and others, I think, share that same passionate feeling of belonging.”
We had an opportunity to talk with Quinones about how he hopes to draw upon Tomson’s wisdom and experience to leverage the brand, what drives their creativity, and how they plan to grow the company.
How did ourCaste come about?
The five of us, Matt Davis, Sean Ciminesi, Michael Tomson, L J O’Leary and myself, have been working for separate brands on separate projects at about the same time in our young careers, say these past ten years. Matt, Sean and I owning more of a share in contemporary cross over while L J and MT have made their homes in surf and action sports. We all shared similar tastes and interests on the things we each have lived and dedicated ourselves to. We have been mutual friends and admired each other’s work over this last decade or so and have been daydreaming of a way to get us all to play for the same team. My business partner Matt Davis and I had long talked about putting a new alt- surf project together, more focused on the experiences that you have through surf / skate / moto, rather than the competition side that naturally exists within them. Something that could encompass the ideal of five friends using tie downs to strap more boards on a car than it should be able to carry, driving to the beach realizing that it is an absolute crap day, but having the best time in the water regardless. The side of surfing that is just, fun, I guess. We got linked up with MT (Michael Tomson) through some mutual friends, and he was on that same wave length, wanting to see something new in surf that was focused on what we felt was missing. We knew we had the perfect team to execute this, and that’s where we are at today.
You recently helped launch WAAR and Broken Homme – what’s happening with those projects, and are you still involved?
Matt and I launched WAAR, and our close friends Josh Johnson and Jim Leatherman launched Broken Homme, we were just there to morally support each other! Matt and I are still doing WAAR, and are really stoked to keep it as our labor of love! All in all, we are a tight knit group and are always going to support each other.
Tell us a little about the rest of the crew
I feel extremely fortunate whenever I look around our showroom or office and see the guys we’ve been lucky enough to surround ourselves with. We have Sean Ciminesi who handles our sales and is an absolute gem of a guy. LJ O’Leary has our marketing department under control and is a great human being and all around shredder. We have a design assistant, Sterling Foxcroft, who blows me away everyday with something new. We are a small, tight ship, which is how we like it. We all wear many hats, work more hours than are in the day, but couldn’t be more stoked while doing it, simply because we are doing it together. We already felt a lot of respect just all being close friends, and now that has been amplified with the privilege of working with them. You’re only as good as your weakest link, and our chain is as sturdy as can be.
The concept is a cool one, like seen through the filter of your crew’s eyes and what you’ve seen over the years. How does that translate to the product? What specific details about the product do you hope will set it apart from the rest?
I think that is a great way of describing it. This is an industry that is been around for a long time, and through those years has had an insane amount of innovation and progression from guys like Wooly, Pat Tenore, Bob Hurley, etc. As a young brand we are really able to push the bar, try new things, be weird, do what we like, so to say. We are really into shining a light on these loves that we grew up with and express them creatively through product. The functionality in all elements while keeping aesthetically pleasing lines with comfortable fabrications is what I think will set us apart. We are taking elements from proven, rugged, all weather outdoor construction, combining them with wearable yet forward silhouettes, in soft and functional fabrications to create a sort of new hybrid range.
How did you get MT on board, and why are you stoked to have him backing the brand?
MT has taken a special interest in our group. We are doing something unique and MT naturally gravitated towards our group, it just instantly clicked. It was one of those connections that made you think, had we grown up in the same decade we’d been bust buds! He is a mountain of knowledge larger then Everest. He has a product archive far more in-depth then I’ve ever seen. Essentially, he is a resource manual to all things progressive over the last few decades. We are able to work together and take what he’s influenced from the past and adapt it to the future. We’re lucky to have is attention in any capacity and thankful for his involvement.
In what capacity will MT be working with the brand?
MT is a great sounding board to us. He wants to be involved as much or as little as you want him to be and is the most enthused when discussing product. Youth needs curating from time to time to say the least. Sometimes we’ll have some absolutely bonkers idea that makes made perfect good sense to us, however may have missed the mark. It is great to have an experienced 3rd party take a closer look and shed the light of rationale on to whatever it is that has gotten you all jazzed up. At the same time, the brand is left to be managed, ran, and directed by Matt and myself and how we see it to be. Again, it’s the perfect balance.
What is the concept or design inspiration behind this inaugural line? I checked out some of the product and the website and really like the design theme and overall aesthetic – where was this derived from and who created it?
I developed the aesthetic through a series of photos I shot with both Dave Boehne at Infinity Surf and L J at Dan Taylor Surfboards and the resin stained floors in their shaping bays, then mixed them with my undying love for typography. The aesthetic flow that is created when both numerical and alphabetical characters are placed in different proximities to each other always finds it’s way into what ever I work on. I knew that we would not be able to rely on photographing the resin stained floors of shaping bays all the time, so I adapted that inspiration into a series of watercolor washes that flow through all print work and branding. Both those washes and our typography are really important elements to the brand, allowing us to hopefully be recognized by these elements in addition to our word mark and icon. As far as the cut and sew direction, like I was saying above, we are taking an approach of combining rugged outdoor elements and details, wearable yet progressive silhouettes, and great fabrications.
When will your first collection be available at retail?
We hit the ground running! We will be shipping our first range in August to some great accounts like Oakland Surf Club, Aloha Sunday, Hansen, American Rag, and Nordstrom, to name a few.
Will you place a focus on international distribution as well as domestic? What’s the strategy behind early distribution and how do you plan to evolve that strategy moving forward?
We are definitely going to be expanding internationally, especially into the southern hemisphere. We are being calculated with it, making sure we set the proper foundation for long-term partners.
Can you boil down the overall concept behind the brand into three words?
You belong here.
What sources do you draw your inspiration from – blogs, magazines, films, other designers, artists, etc.?
We have a pretty epic group of friends. On the art side, guys like Mike Zepeda are always blowing minds. It’s ridiculous how talented that guy is. Design side, anything on the Internet! Blogs like vvork.com keep you sharp. Cut and Sew, just looking around at the people constantly surrounding us is inspiration enough. Innovation comes from experiences I think. It’s when you want or need to improve the design of something that real inspiration and innovation can happen.
What motivates and drives you to create compelling apparel, or apparel that speaks to a certain demographic or certain group of people?
I think it is just about designing in a way that expresses a feeling or emotion. All sub-cultures are created off raw emotion, the desire or drive to do whatever it is you are doing. That energy is great motivation for creating a range that can compliment the life style of those that wish to live it.
Where do you see the overall state of the market, especially for start up brands at this very moment?
Well, there is no shortage of start-ups— that is for sure! I think everyone will always say “man, the industry is really tough right now” and look back saying how great it was years ago, that’s just kind of the way it goes. For start-ups, it is tough because there are a lot of great brands out there doing great stuff, but that isn’t always enough. However, I’m really confident in the group that we have. We have the drive, the energy, the vision, the work ethic, and the purpose for doing this all. I’m optimistic and stoked.
Where is ourCaste’s headquarters? Why did you choose to set up shop there?
Oh man, did we score a gem, ha! We nabbed a great, almost too good to be true, spot in Newport on PCH, right next to Big Belli Deli. We’ve already eaten there more times than we can count. We’ll be running our West Coast Showroom / Summer Retail Concept and Design / Sales / Marketing out of here. Can’t wait for the summer, yew!!
What’s the best part about getting to create clothing for a living? What do you think is the biggest challenge around starting your own brand?
As terribly cheesy as it is to say, it’s a labor of love. Sometimes, you get frustrated, overwhelmed, and stressed to the point that you want to say fuck it and move to something else…turn a new leaf in life. But, just as quickly as you have that feeling you can find a solution creatively to whatever is stressing you out and it makes you more stoked than you can remember. That feeling when something is laid out just right and everything is in it’s place aesthetically is a great, same as seeing something you’ve been working on for months finally hit retail. I would have to say the most fun of any job should always be your environment, and I think I can safely say we’ve never had a better one to work in with a more amazing group. We are all really lucky and very thankful to be where we are, regardless of the exciting, occasional freak out! Ha ha!