Photo by T Christian Gapen
“The best brand I could ever create would be no brand at all!” laughs Neil Harrison, the mischievous designer and reluctant creator of Stormy Monday, a denim and goods brand based in Ventura and Santa Barbara.
Harrison is a big believer in the world having less “stuff” in it. Albeit a serious dilemma for a designer to have, this same ethos, coupled with his passion for design, spurred him to create something of real value.“Finally,” Harrison shares, “I broke when I realized there was a way to create a product that was timeless and durable. I wanted to do my own version of menswear, and woodwork, with good energy behind it. Don’t get me wrong! I love stuff that people are creating,” he added. “I love trading, and the circle of influence that happens in a creative community.”
The logo and brand idea came to Harrison on a stereotypical visit to rainy Portland, where he was learning how to reshape old skateboards and repurpose them into cruisers (a shape that has become very popular).
“I started very simply, by selling to friends,” Harrison said. “At first, Stormy Monday was just a fun hobby. I had, for all intents and purposes, dropped out of the workforce, taking a much-needed break from designing for large, corporate clothing companies.”
“Stormy Monday complements the California lifestyle,” Harrison continued. “You can do everything in this uniform. Work in the shop all day, hike a trail, and then go out to dinner! That is, if you keep yourself clean or clean enough, you can pull it off.” He laughs.
Since Stormy Monday’s humble beginning, Harrison has expanded his brand to include cutting boards, T-shirts, beanies, a chambray work shirt and jeans. “I think my aesthetic, that all-American, vintage workwear, came from the clothes my seamstress mother dressed me in as a boy. I was a wild kid, and I used to tear through clothes, so my mom made sure I was in clothes that were built to last: thick leather work boots and Levi’s — shrink-to fit 501s — a uniform that has stayed with me, one way or another.”
Harrison takes pride in that everything he produces is made in the USA. Stormy Monday jeans are made in Los Angeles. The shirts are sewn from organic cotton and the denim is sourced from the 112-year-old Cone Mills White Oak plant in Greensboro, North Carolina. “I was so inspired by the way they still use the original shuttle machines that they used to make the denim for Lee and Wrangler, all those years ago.”
Harrison created a special pocket lining for his jeans, using old military sleeping-bag liners that he found in a surplus warehouse. “Of course it makes for so many more steps and is totally inefficient,” Harrison smiles. “But that’s not my point. I have to make something special and unique.”
Native Californian Harrison grew up as the quintessential surf/skater rat with a lucky streak. In between riding BMX, snowboarding, surfing and skating, Harrison was always with a pen and paper, creating art.
Straight out of high school Harrison landed a packing job in a warehouse belonging to surf company Quicksilver. “I had some graphic ideas for T-shirts and I took a chance and turned in my drawings. I got paid $1,000 for four drawings, which was more money than I had ever seen!”
Quicksilver asked for more drawings; they turned out to be best-sellers. One thing led to another, and the kid from the warehouse became a designer. Harrison says, “I remember leaving those design meetings not knowing what on earth I was doing. I had no formal training. It was a fluke, a lucky break that they took a chance on me.” After Quicksilver, Harrison went on to design for Volcum, another well-known streetwear brand.
Today, Harrison lives in his beloved hills of Santa Barbara, where he finds the close proximity to the ocean and the mountains especially inspiring. He shares his Ventura wood shop with two other locals, Darrick and Lana Rasmussen of Killscrow (killscrow.com), who make wood furniture, while Harrison shapes his skateboards and makes his cutting boards.
Harrison is still a surf rat at heart. En route to his shop, he always makes sure he fits in his surfing at C Street and Emma Wood Beach. But it’s hard to miss the joy he takes in his work. “I still get excited every time I fill an order,” he said. “For me it is an honor that my vision speaks to people.”
Stormy Monday Goods are available direct to consumer at www.stormymondaygoods.com and at In The Field lifestyle store in Ojai.