Making It: Mason Dyer

Mason Dyer has been working in the industry since he was 14. After converting his house’s garage into a surfboard factory in college and taking the time to learn from pros, he honed his focus into making a business out of making custom boards. Here he shares stories about his mentors, the trajectory of his Dyer Brand thus far, a few insider tips about producing an American-made clothing line, and a not-so-secret obsession with nostalgia that has roots in hot rods and World War II.

Tell us a little bit about your background in the surf industry.

Well I started working at surf shop when I was old enough to legally work because my parents made my brothers and me pick up cigarette butts at their business in the summer before we could work anywhere else. I hate cigarette butts with a passion to this day. I worked that shop from the time I was 14 years old to about 20 years old. I was a buyer for 3 years and really learned a lot about sales, merchandising, etc… even though I was really young. It was such a great experience and that really made me know I wanted to work in the clothing industry.

When I was in college I really wanted to learn to make surfboards because I got sick of ordering boards, paying a bunch of money for them and not getting anything close to what I asked for. I finally moved off campus and got a house with five friends and quickly converted the garage into a surfboard factory. I would lock myself down there and go crazy making boards. They were super super rough but I was figuring out each step and getting better as I made more and more boards. I never had anyone teach me so the learning curve was tough but I just kept at it.

When I was a senior in college my friend Mitch Abshere told me about a fin company he was getting ready to launch and asked me if I wanted to be involved. I said yes and began working for him. I was still making boards for fun and that’s when my boards started to get a lot better. I was really nerding out on different fin design and board design and how they worked together. I also got a lot of great feedback from Mitch and other guys at Captain Fin Co. and my boards were getting a lot better thanks to those guys. After about three or four years running Captain, I was starting to get more and more shaping orders and couldn’t keep up with working full days at Captain then shaping all night after work so I struck out on my own and here I am.

So you shape and design clothing full time now?

I am currently doing clothing design and making surfboards full time and have been since May of 2012.

How do you manage to split the time between both? Does one draw precedence of the other? 

Well for an average week I normally work on boards 4-5 days a week and clothing 1-2 days a week and take one day off. 

Surfboards do take up a lot more of my time because I make the majority of my boards start to finish. Hand shape, laminate, fin, sand, etc…

With clothing the design process is much more labor intensive but production is handled by people that are a lot better at sewing than I am so it doesn’t take up as much of my time.

How is making surfboards different from clothing? And how are they similar?

Well the creative process is pretty similar. It usually begins on a McDonalds napkin or something like that, just as an idea.

For clothing it is followed up by a sample that I make then give to a professional sample/pattern maker.  I then fine tune until everything is prefect with the fit. Then I work on making sure the fabric, color, trim all works well together too. You can have the fit perfect but if your fabric is too stiff or thick you sometimes have to make adjustments based off that. Sourcing fabric is the worst part. Its normally easy to find a few yards for a sample but when it comes to finding 150 yards for production that’s where things get interesting. If I made things in China it wouldn’t be a huge deal but since I try to use all American-made fabric too, it can be a pain. If theres one thing I have figured out doing clothing it’s that you have to be flexible. You can never find exactly what you need, you can never have your products done when you need them, so you just have to roll with the punches.

For surfboards I normally begin by making myself a sample of whatever model I have in my head. I end up making another one or two that I only ride until I am pleased with what I have. Then I let some friends, team riders and whoever else ride the “sample” models then give feed back. I don’t normally release a new model until I have worked on getting it wired for at least six months. My board models are always changing though. I am always making slight changes based on feedback. Being able to make all boards myself and not have to wait for glass shops is a huge help because I can surf a board on Monday, shape and glass a new one with improvements Tuesday, and be surfing it on Wednesday.

How long did it take for your customer base to spread beyond your immediate group of friends? How has word spread about your work? 

It really started to spread beyond just friends when I was working at Captain. I started to put some boards in the store and they sold pretty well. Then the distributor for Captain, in Japan, started to get a few for his store there. They sold well so other shops in Japan and the U.S. and Europe started getting some. Then it just kind of kept on spreading. It was all pretty much word of mouth.

Are you making lots of sales online? In your experience, has the online marketplace changed the surfboard industry?

Oh yeah, it has changed it immensely. Before, most shapers were really regional. Word traveled within a smaller area of surfers and guys bought your boards in whatever region you shaped in. In order to really sell on a more national or international scale you had to either spend a bunch of money on print advertising or have some solid pros that really pushed your stuff while they were traveling. 

Now, with the internet you don’t have to spend 2 cents on advertising you can just have a blog and an instagram or something like that and you can pretty much reach every surfer out there. I receive the majority of my orders through people that see my boards on my blog or instagram. That goes for customs and shops too.

What has been the biggest surprise for you as a small business owner? Have you had that “big break” moment?

The biggest surprise for me is just that anyone wants me to make them a board or buy clothes that I designed. I just make what I like to wear and ride so when other people want that stuff, it in all honestly surprises me. I would have to say my big break was working with Mitch first then Kiyomo after that. Kiyomo is my Japanese distributor and they really really helped me get to the next level and make my dream a full-time reality and not just a hobby. I was always designing/making clothing and making surf boards for fun as hobbies before, but they for sure made it happen. They are the nicest, coolest guys to work with too.  Mitch really taught me a lot about branding, business, and the importance of networking and all that fun stuff.

The 1950s seem to be a huge source of inspiration for you. Is it more about the visuals, or the lifestyle, or was everything just cooler back then? Would you call yourself nostalgic?

I am for sure a junkie for anything nostalgic. Hot Rodding, especially pre 1960 hot rods, are really my biggest passion. That’s also what really started it all for me.

I also have a huge interest in World War II memorabilia. For me that stuff is as good as it gets no matter what country it was from. You look at a lot of timeless fashion such as the pea coat, chinos, the bomber jacket, the watch cap, the list goes on and on. All of that stuff was designed to be 100% functional for military use but fast forward to now and it is all timeless fashion. I think that is so cool. I try to incorporate that into every product that I make whether it is clothing or a surfboard. All my products are made to be functional but they are all also designed to be good looking as well.

My grandfathers really got me into nostalgia. I think that’s why I have naturally always gravitated towards the American stuff because my grandfather always told me stories from when he was a GI. That’s what really got me started in the WWII side of it.

Next for me was old cars because both of my grandfathers and my dad used to tell me stories about their old cars, how they would always be working on them and drag racing them and cruising around in them. That always fascinated me because I notice that the sense of pride in possessions, especially cars, had really been lost. Everything has become pretty much buy it, beat the crap out of it, throw it away and get another one

When I made the 50’s and 60’s surf connection, that was the end for me, I was really hooked then. The craftsmanship that went into all the boards, the rate which design progressed, the stories of old surfers, how old cars and surfing went so well together, the culture that surrounded it. I loved it and it’s because I didn’t see it around me that made me appreciate it even more and get that much more into it.

I am sure that it is all fabricated in my head, but I really think that’s a time when men were men and people took pride in what they did and what they made, products were made to last, people had better morals and more integrity, if something broke you fixed it yourself. Whether that’s true or not that’s, the way I try to live my life.

Do you see your clothing line as a completely separate venture for you, or is it all part of a larger Mason Dyer brand?

For me it’s for sure all one in the same. Naturally there are stores that only one side of the line fits in, just based on what products they sell. For example, I sell to a shop in Boston the specializes in American-made menswear. They don’t carry anything surf related but the clothing is a prefect fit for them. The same happens with boards. Certain shops are a great fit for the boards but the clothing is not.

What’s the big picture of your business plan? Where is Mason Dyer in five years? 

For me, I just plan to continue having steady growth.  The most important thing for me is to continue to make high quality products domestically, and to have fun doing it. I never want to sacrifice quality just to sell my product to a broader range of customers. I run a really tight, efficient business so I don’t have a ton of crazy overhead to cover, which allows me to focus on quality and not have to meet crazy sales goals.

For me, in 5 years my goal is to still be doing what I am doing now only selling, obviously, more. Hopefully the market and audience  for quality surfboards and clothing will grow as Dyer Brand grows. I can tell just since I started that there are many more people looking for that than there were when I started.

If I can have fun and do what I love to do and pass that onto others and create some jobs along the way, that sounds good to me.

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www.masondyer.com