Sam Coombes is a guy who keeps busier than most. Between raising a family, running The Critical Slide Society and being an owner across a number of other business (Coffee, Cider), he still found time to answer a few questions for us.

Having been a fan of Sam and TCSS for a while now, it was nice to get a quick chin-wag with him about the early beginnings of TCSS, his background in general and a variety of other things including TCSS’ trifecta win in STAB’s boardshort of the year competition.

Take a read 🙂

BACKGROUND

Empire Ave – Grew up where?
Sam Coombes – Grew up in Sydney’s North Shore. From St Ives to Turamurra. Beach days often meant hiking up to Pymble station with a board under the arm and catching the hour-long bus ride to Bungan St, Mona Vale. One of my most vivid memories was a scorching hot Summer afternoon, we’d spent the entire day in the water. We just missed the bus back to Pymble so had to sit in the sun waiting an hour for the next bus. I got so bloody fried.

EA – First surfboard?
SC – First surfboard was a Town & Country board shaped by Tony Cerf. I bought it second hand from Beach without Sand at Avalon. It had about 10 major repairs, weighed a tonne due to it being full of bog.

EA – You worked at Mambo and MTV at times when they were at (arguably) their most popular. What was the most memorable project you worked on at each place?

SC – I’d redraw all the Mambo art on to pencil cases, textbooks, especially Angry Man. That was my specialty. I could draw as a kid, but I wasn’t great. I always had a love for brands, graphics and product. You’ll like this one… I remember working my butt off over a Summer. Saving up $89. Just enough to buy a pair of Oakley Frogskins with purple lenses. A month later I lost the things.. they were gone and I was heartbroken.

SC, cont –

I got an internship with Mambo whilst at Uni. That was the year 2000. Sydney Olympics. Jonas Allen, the Mambo Art Director and still a good friend hired me. I worked across some graphics, menswear, marketing, digital, just wherever they needed some support. It was a great group of people and many of the relationships and friendships I built there still exist today. The place was a bit of a breeding ground for the industry. Founders from Critical Slide, Deus, Sunday Somewhere, Assembly Label, and probably many other brands did a stint at Mambo. That’s also where Jim and I met.

My next gig was at MTV. I headed up Marketing over there and managed the brand for six years. Once again, forged many great friendships and relationships that I value today. We grew the business from about a dozen people to over one hundred. We ran tonnes of events, produced live shows, discovered talent, it was an exciting time to be involved with the business.

The MTV Awards were always good fun. But the highlight was my first major campaign for the brand called Welcome Snoop. Basically, we developed a short series of content based on Snoop applying for citizenship to Australia, this was off the back of Kevin Andrews banning Snoop’s Visa. The campaign followed Snoop as he assimilated to Australian life. How to sing the national anthem, ate meat pies, play cricket and buy a house. I remember sitting next to Snoop on-set in the VIP room of a club. He pulled out a massive splif, lit up and just looked at me and just slow nodded. His uncle always had to be part of his entourage, just to cook him his fried chicken. The campaign went on to clean up global advertising awards that year.

EA – How did both of these jobs help define how you run TCSS today?

SC – Both gigs have had a huge impact on Critical Slide. From the contacts made to the tone of voice. Despite them being much larger brands, they were always super hands-on and we worked magic with small budgets. Something I still do today. I hate spending money and I think it’s a great challenge being able to pull off a campaign for a couple of grand as opposed to a couple of hundred grand. I feel the best ideas come out when you’re working with tight dollars. The Snoop campaign, despite it seeming huge, once again it was working with the tools at hand. We’ve done so pretty great stuff at Critical Slide with very limited dollars.

THE CRITICAL SLIDE SOCIETY

EA – How did TCSS start? What was first..?

SC – Critical Slide started as a blog. It was a Blogspot blog that was kind of like an aggregator of content from an alternative art scene. Key contributors were Simon Perini, Nathan Oldfield, Sage Joske, Ben Waters we did some stuff with Steven Harrington, Tyler Warren. From the blog we made some t-shirts and boardies, we started selling to a few stores and it just grew from there. I was still working at MTV and it really all started as a hobby. I’d finish work on a Friday afternoon, drive up to Jim’s place on the central coast and work all weekend and head back down to Sydney on a Sunday afternoon. This continued for about 2 years!

http://criticalslidesociety.blogspot.com

EA – How many names and brand marks did you go thru before deciding on the current one?

SC – There have been 3 different marks. In terms of brand names for some reason, it was only The Critical Slide Society. The longest brand name in the industry for sure! When you’re building something as a hobby, you’re probably not necessarily thinking about the recall of a brand name, how long it is when you enter an email address etc.

EA – How did the Jim Mitchell connection come to be?

SC – Jim and I used to work with one another at Mambo. Jim was there for about 15 years and was one of the major contributing artists to the brand. Jim was a bit of a yardage and print specialist, and really into the logging scene on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

EA – When was the moment that you guys thought, ‘we’ve got something special here’… ?

SC – When we started getting inbound enquiries from stores to stock the gear. Especially US based stores. And when you start to deliver the gear and they order again the next season.

I still remember seeing the product on someone in the general public, someone that I didn’t know, and that’s always a buzz and still kind of is. I can pick one of our tees or boardshorts out from a mile.

EA – Top three highlights from it all so far?

SC – 

  • Winning Stab’s Boardshort comp was pretty amazing the first year
  • Turning a profit!
  • Opening the bricks and mortar in Bondi
The Critical Slide Society Sam Coombes Interview

ART

EA – Graphically you guys push a witty, fun and illustrative across all your prints. How conscious is this when pulling together seasonal briefs for the design team? Or if there’s a process/thought behind it all.. ?!

SC – We definitely like having a laugh. It’s the heritage of the brand and it’s an important thing for us to maintain. It does give us our personality. Some people like it, some people don’t. We’d prefer to polarise than be whitebread. In terms of briefing, I think we work with artists that suit our tone of voice and aesthetic, so in terms of briefing the fun, it comes intuitively to most that we work with. We may throw them a line to work with, and we always have a theme for the collection. The ‘Promised Land’ (came out in Feb) collection questions the digital world in which we live and it’s so-called promise of making life easier for us all. But it’s obviously come at a cost, and does that cost outweigh the efficiency and productivity of our connectivity! So the artists will run with that as a theme, and interpret as they like.

EA – Supporting artists seem to be a big thing for you guys. What, outside of Greenroom Festival, are you currently supporting or most proud of supporting over the years?

SC – We’re getting involved in an upcoming art-show ‘Wax Off’, we’ve recently produced merchandise band tees for The Babe Rainbow, The Gooch Palms and Bleeding Knees Club. Greenroom is a huge thing for us each year and we’ve been involved since it’s inception.

EA – Can you give us a rundown of what the Greenroom Festival is?

SC – Greenroom is a celebration of Surf, Art and Music. Hosted in Yokohama, Japan and Oahu, Hawaii. The Japan event has been around much longer and kicks off in May. They get around 60,000 people per day to the event. It runs over two days. It’s just damn good vibes! People are stoked to be there, and a Japanese festival is unlike anything you’ve ever been to. For instance, the tickets are $300 per day. There’s no or limited security and no fences keeping people out. All the brands activate, and punters are excited to interact with the brands and meet the people behind them. We love heading over there and we’re massively inspired by the product and the retail experience in Japan.

EA – How did it come to be what it is today?

SC – It started off small and has just built over the last 10 years. There’s nothing else like it in Japan. It’s completely family friendly and is just a great day out with good vibes flowing! It attracts artists from around the world. There’s usually only a couple of adhoc western bands playing. It’s not necessarily the big names that pull the crowd, it’s more so the experience that draws the big crowds.

EA – What’s a typical activation for the Greenroom Festival look for you guys?

SC – We take a shipping container each year and we come up with some form of activation or installation. Last year we took The Babe Rainbow over with us. We turned the shipping container into the tour bus, Angus from The Babe Rainbow played records and we spread good vibes through the festival. Previous years we’ve done art shows, had tattoo parlours, all kinds of stuff!

STAB

EA – You guys won this three times in a row, quite an achievement considering how stacked the field was each year. What was the process of designing the trunks each year?

SC – The brief is to come up with something really different to where the industry is currently. The first year we came up with the Sea, Sex & Sun. A hybrid pool and surf short. We developed the 50|50 waistband which was elasticated at the back and fixed at the front. It had hidden pockets, was A-symmetrical, came in a lil bag. We threw the book at it! That one was a beauty!

They’ve been a good opportunity for us to try different things and to really go hard on marketing for a month or so. Stoked to take it out 3 times. I met Shawn Stussy a year or so back at a cafe in Japan. When we first started chatting the first thing he said was ‘hey you guys are the ones that win that stab comp..’ I was pretty chuffed.

The Critical Slide Society Sam Coombes Interview

For more around the topics we spoke about, hit the below links :
*The Critical Slide Society
*Greenroom Festival
*STAB Content
*More on Empire

The Critical Slide Society Sam Coombes Interview