Colin Tunstall: Surf in New York City
Fire escapes roam the facades of buildings that line the street, like rose bushes stretching forth at the dawn of spring. Tucked between red bricks and scaffolding, Crosby Street seems, albeit unintentionally, as if it were the emblem of all that is New York City. It’s 11am when we meet Colin Tunstall at his iconic boutique, Saturdays, in SoHo. Founded in 2009 by Colin and his business partners, Morgan Collett and Josh Rosen, Saturdays has succeeded in combining two often-antagonistic domains: the art of urban living and an all-consuming passion for surf. Drawing inspiration from urban language, its fashion, and those who participate in urban movements, Saturdays has broken down the rigid codes of surf culture and established itself in New York’s cultural landscape as the favorite spot of an entire community of artists, surfers, entrepreneurs, musicians, creatives, and celebrities who happen to love coffee. Half-boutique, half-lounge, Saturdays now counts 8 unique spaces around the world, two in New York, four in Japan, and another two in Australia. At once inspired by Tokyo surf shops of the 50s and 60s, Saturdays also finds creative influences in the buzz of Melbourne’s Central Business District, or even Sydney’s highly prized Bondi Beach. Marked by modernism and minimalism, Saturdays’ identity remains true to its core values, while keeping an eye fixed on the unpredictable swells off the American East coast.
Tell us more about your background. How did you transition from a job as an Art Director to the co-founder of Saturdays?
I have a background in publishing. I went to school for graphic design and photography in Savannah, Georgia, where I started working for a magazine. Afterwards, I moved up to New York and started working for a couple of different magazines such as Marie Claire, Esquire, GQ, and even New York Magazine. At that time, I had a small studio on Crosby Street and really liked the vibe of the block and the area. Although my friends were in different fields, we shared a similar lifestyle. Like a lot of friends do, we talked about what was missing in our lives, the kinds of projects we thought would be fun, what the city was missing that we could create. We happened to be at the right place, at the right time. Everything kind of fell into our laps. Since we said “go”, we haven’t stopped. We started with one store, with an empty space, asking ourselves “What are we gonna fill this with?”. Back then, our interest in coffee was growing. We tried different single origins, different blends, and different ways of roasting, pouring, preparing and serving coffee. All these cool places were popping up around the city, so I spent a lot of time cruising around on weekends on my free time trying to find new places. I think our natural curiosity has driven our store and it’s really part of our concept. It brings people together thanks to shared passions. Whether that means being on a surfboard or a skateboard, creative spirits flock here. Natural curiosity is just the starting point.
You founded Saturdays in the summer of 2009, with your business partners Morgan Collette and Josh Rosen. You three then went on to open your first flagship store in Soho. How did you all meet?
Mutual friends. We spent the winter on lots of trips to the mountains, just hanging out, and in the evening, we went to the same restaurants and clubs. We had a lot of similar hobbies and spent a lot of time together, and through that process, the idea just came to us. It happened on a really fun trip to Long Beach. We were on the Expressway and the idea just appeared, it really formed from there. We emailed one another with ideas, had a couple of meet-ups, and one thing lead to another.
Colin, you have a creative background. Morgan and Josh have sales experience. Have your differences been an asset to your business?
The reason we chose to undertake this project is because we knew we could all contribute in different ways. If we all did the same thing, it would be more problematic, it wouldn’t work. The three of us have similar interests but different responsibilities. When you don’t have any money to start a business, you need everyone to be resourceful, everyone has to bring something to the table. Especially when you invest your own money in something. You can’t fail, you have to do whatever it takes to succeed.
When you created Saturdays, what was your goal? Were you trying to meet an unmet need?
You know, Josh, Morgan and I have all chosen to live in NYC. I came from outside the city in Connecticut, where I was born and raised. Morgan is from California. Josh is from the Seattle area. We all met here, and we love our life here. We realized that although there is a long history of people who love surfing, and a community of surfers, here in the city, we didn’t feel that anybody was getting behind the NYC surf scene. The issue was that the surfing we saw marketed by big surf companies in the city depicted exotic surf destinations. It definitely wasn’t local. Those exotic destinations are places I want to see and surf, they are wonderful, but local surfers couldn’t identify with them. For example, there’s a wall on Austin and Broadway, it’s pretty iconic here in New York. It had this big mural of the Statue of Liberty and the letters “NY” on it, but it was painted over by the surf-inspired clothing shop, Hollister, with a scene of Hollister, California. Quicksilver also had a big mural in Times Square, this huge billboard with a video screen playing big barrels from Fiji in a loop. There was nothing about the local surf scene. I thought that was a little frustrating. People stopped and watched, but it was more about marketing a distant location than it was about getting behind NYC surfers. So we wanted to do something for the New York crowd who lived here, surfed here, and liked that experience.
As Saturday’s Creative Director, you’re in charge of giving the brand a visual identity. Tell us more about the brand’s DNA and values.
We need to work on a tagline…(laughs). But I think as we’ve expanded our retail footprint—we have stores in Japan, Australia, and NYC—it’s gotten harder to sum it up in one sentence. No matter what store you visit, whether Tokyo or Bondi or NYC, you run into some of the same people. You get the feeling that there’s a global community that shares the same passion for travel and culture. Obviously, surfing and coffee at the two biggest parts of our DNA. And a lot of our customers are not necessarily surfers, but I think they enjoy the spirit of surf and what it represents. They can identify with that, even though they’re not in the water catching waves themselves.
You mentioned your two shops in NYC. Now, you also have two locations in Australia, and four in Japan. How would you explain the growth of Saturdays?
When we started out, we had a store on Crosby Street. A lot of our growth came from opportunities that we jumped on. An example is Japan. Two friends of friends, who happen to be buyers for a big department store in Tokyo, heard we had opened a shop. I had never heard of the department store before, but they were interested in buying some t-shirts. At that point, we didn’t have anything, any clothes. We just had third party brands, our café, some surfboards, accessories, and stuff like that. So I called my two partners who thought the idea was awesome, and we all said “let’s do this!”. We spent the weekend designing some shirts and put together a little buying kit over them. That was the very beginning. From that point on, we saw a lot of interest coming from Japan. Since none of us had been there before, we thought we should go over there to see what the scene was like. We went to Tokyo first and met a lot of interesting people. Tokyo and New York share proximity to the ocean, but a whole new set of people were commuting to the ocean in the morning before work. The Japanese also share the same interests in art, the same interests in fashion or in food. It made us think Tokyo would be a perfect place to open a store. One thing led to another and with the help of a great team we were able to put that together.
You’ve managed to gather a large community around Saturdays, ranging from surfers and skaters to artists, photographers, filmmakers and celebrities. Today, Saturdays is more than just a shop. It’s at the intersection of art, culture, and music. Speak about that a little.
That’s my favorite part—the diversity of the people. That’s the reason I live in NYC. When I was in art school, the majority of students were international. That’s what I really like about New York. My friends aren’t from the same town, they’re from all over the world. Which brings me back to our store—each and every person that comes through the door is a little different, whether they have a pop rock background, or a finance background, or you name it. That’s the thing I enjoy most. I’m most proud of seeing people of all different walks of life come through the door and find their own way to enjoy their time at Saturdays.
Regarding the community, how would you say that the NYC surf crowd is different that those anywhere else?
It’s very transient. Obviously, there are a lot of locals and people who live here. But there’s also a lot of people that share my affinity for New York, yet for whatever reason, live in Hawaii, Massachusetts, or even in Biarritz. They come through NYC often. When they come through, they’re familiar faces, and we can catch-up: “Hey, how are you doing? Did you see this?”. They’re in the city for business or another reason, then they head back off to wherever they live in the world. So it’s a very nice mix of people. There are so many reasons to come to NYC, so you get all these interesting characters from around the world that are constantly visiting.