At 16, Drew Carson decided the surfboard he had just built from scratch wouldn't be complete if it didn't have a logo. So he embellished it with the great white shark graphic from his dad's retired clothing company, Local Style.
Something clicked into place.
Ten years later, the iconic shark graphic has fused itself with Carson's reason for being. It's written across his chest, it inspires him, it pays the bills.
Breathing the life back into the business his father started in the mid 80's, the shark is starting to catch on. Carson went from selling a few shirts at the beach to a steady rotation of online orders and shelf space in ten local clothing stores.
"When people fall asleep I want them to see this burned into the back of their eyelids," said Carson.
It's a cold morning in Carson's garage-turned-workshop on Mount Madonna Road, and he warms his hands under the dryer of a massive six-plate screen printer.
He's talking about building his brand—until it's been sufficiently "burned in," the Local Style merchandise will never be without the shark.
Lining the shelves, some thirty handmade plates hold additional graphics. From coiling octopus tentacles and squids (inspired by the recent wash-up of hundreds of dead squids on Santa Cruz beaches) to gnarly crabs and a "pissed off bass," the artwork Carson favors has a common theme:
"I spend as much time in and around the ocean as possible, whether it's surfing or fishing," said Carson. "Every design that I have involves the ocean one way or another. It is safe to say that I do get a lot of inspiration from the ocean."
Carson scrawls 30-second sketches and sends them to one of his artist friends whenever he has an idea. Nick Bobeda, Chuy Cordova, Dietrich Kleffel, and Sam Snowden are all talented artists contributing graphics to Local Style's collection.
"I'll finish a drawing if I have to but otherwise I'll draw it and throw it out because I see the imperfections in it," said Carson.
But his most recent drawing of the S.S. Palo Alto, the sunken ship in Seacliff, graces the bust of a womens off-the-shoulder top, and there are no imperfections about it.
"I'm working on the women's line right now and it is so difficult. The hardest thing is figuring out where to put a rectangle on a woman's body, how do you put a square on a bunch of curves?" asks Carson.
But he's pretty much nailing it. The off-the-shoulder tops, for instance, sold out almost immediately, and women are clamoring for more. He's also honed in on the female appreciation for yoga pants and Sherpa-lined hoodies, and the incredibly sexy phenomenon of booty shorts.
(*See bottom of article for information on the "Anonymous Butt of the Month" contest, which involves a free pair!)
Make no mistake about it: it took a lot of work to get to the booty shorts.
"I jumped at the opportunity to be an intern and clean squeegees and screens so I could print my own shirts after work," said Carson of his apprenticeship with Chris Peterson of Cadillac Designs in the early days.
"After learning the basics of manual screen printing I saved up my money and eventually pieced together the setup I have today," said Carson.
He gets the cotton clothing from various suppliers, including the coveted American Apparel line, and he listens to his friends when they tell him "Check out RVCA, they make clothing for the working man, you need to come out with a jacket."
It's a classic story of enviable courage: when doing something you love turns into a substantial way to make a living. He makes it look easy, but he says it's not.
"This is a one man operation," said Carson. "So I am production, sales, marketing, accounting, website maintenance. One of the biggest difficulties has been transitioning from selling out of the back of my car at the beach, to selling to the stores. The hardest part of selling to the stores is the first sale, I would much rather get turned down by a girl than a store's buyer."
Since he wouldn't pay $25 for a T-shirt himself, Carson keeps his prices around $18 out of respect for the buyer, and Local Style is being "turned down" less and less.
"I may be a business owner but I'm not much of a businessman," said Carson. "This business exists mostly because the people want it to."
Clothing lines that "represent" where we live seem to be a fundamental part of living on the Central Coast. We're proud. Surfers, skaters, and everyone else. The 12 to 35-year-old demographic is particularly ravenous for Local Style garb, though, and in a few more years, Local Style may just be as ubiquitous as the Santa Cruz Skateboards logo.
See more Local Style Gear on the Local Style Website, or at the following retail locations:
-Santa Cruz Apparel in the Capitola Mall
-The Santa Cruz Boardroom on 41st avenue
-Capitola Boat and Bait on the Capitola Wharf
-Santa Cruz Boat Rentals on the Santa Cruz Wharf
-El Patio Grocery in La Selva Beach
-Bob's Grocery in Seacliff
-Irie Motivation on Portola Drive
-Point Market on East Cliff
-Bill's Wheels on Soquel Drive
-Star Zone on Seabright Avenue
More about the booty shorts: to participate in the "Anonymous Butt of the Month Contest," you must be over the age of 18 (Carson requires a copy of ID).
Entries get a free pair of booty shorts in exchange for a photo that he posts to Facebook and Instagram.
"The winner being the one with the most likes gets an off the shoulder Local Style sweatshirt and the satisfaction of knowing their exercise routine is paying off!" said Carson.
Send Drew Carson a Facebook message or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to enter!