If by chance you have flown to Orange County recently you may have noticed an American surf icon staring at you as you float down towards John Wayne Airport. Seeing “Birdie” Birdwell on a factory roof should come as a surprise if you know anything about this sleepy SoCal surf brand.
Just as surprising as it must have been to scroll through Instagram and discover Birdie adorned to a mobile surf shop in Southern California this summer. Also, wait, Birdwell is on Instagram? The question you should be asking yourself is: What is happening at Birdwell? For any other brand this wouldn’t really mean much at all, but for Birdwell this is tantamount to a revolution.
Birdwell Beach Britches is one of the most storied and iconic California surf brands that has ever been. It’s authentic, still entirely manufactured in the U.S. (largely to the original specs) and it possesses a certain charm that can’t seem be replicated in modern brands. It took decades of being family owned and utterly resistant to change for the Birdwell quirkiness to resonate, ultimately giving the brand a cult following. Over the years surfers, lifeguards, beachgoers and the like fell in love with Birdwell and came to swear by the product for the quality and durability. Others, like me connected with Birdwell because it is so distinctly American and a time capsule of a brand.
The company was founded in Santa Ana and it has been making basically the same storied boardshorts and competition jackets there since 1961. Many of the loyal employees in the factory have been making Birdwell clothing literally for decades. The brand has worked hard to maintain the quality and integrity of its product almost as much as it has fought to resist change in general. A big part of the charm of Birdwell is the fact that it really hasn’t changed in the past 50 years. As far as crusty old curmudgeon-y brands go, Birdwell takes the cake. They make J.Press seem like Apple Computer. Birdwell’s website was famously excruciating to use. It had all of the personality of a government database from the early 1990s. You had more luck just calling the factory direct and hoping someone would actually answer. At a certain point the old website and lack of access became more of an annoyance than fun and quirky.
Many began to worry about what would come of their beloved brand as the family owners grew older. People were wondering who would take it over and what would that mean for the boardshorts and more importantly the factory and the people who work there? Then this summer Birdwell starts acting strangely with its new-found interest in social media, the mobile shop “The Bird” and then a new website. It turns out that earlier this year a group of local Southern California surfers including skate legend Natas Kaupas bought the company and everything along with it including the factory. The new owners loved Birdwell and wanted more than anything to simply continue what the Birdwell family had created in 1961 at the dawn of the California surf era.
There have been some small changes (as noted above) all seemingly done in the name of allowing people more access to the brand. But the iconic product has not changed and everything continues to be made in Santa Ana. It’s a feel good brand with a new lease on life. That must be why Birdie looks so happy from high above. [BIRDWELL]