Birdwell on Highland: New owners protect Birdwell’s half century legacy
In 2014, Manhattan Beach residents Geoff Clawson and Matt Jacobson and Santa Monica artist and Skateboard Hall of Famer Natas Kaupas bought Birdwell Beach Britches. Clawson previously worked in marketing at Instagram and Facebook. Jacobson previously worked in marketing at Quiksilver and now is head of market development at Facebook.
Carrie Birdwell Mann began making the two-ply nylon Birdwell boardshorts in her Santa Ana garage in 1961. Over the ensuing decades, while more prominent surf apparel companies moved manufacturing overseas and collapsed under their own weight, Birdwell stuck to its motto — “Quality is our Gimmick.” Birdwell kept its manufacturing in Santa Ana, its finances in order and its focus on surfer boardshorts.
The loose fitting, nylon construction was durable and dried quickly. Newport lifeguards were among Birdwell’s first customers.
“Birdie,” the goofy, duck-footed, trunk wearing surfboard patch sewn on the back of the waistband became an iconic symbol among core surfers.
Birdwell’s new South Bay owners hope to build sales, expanding its line while respecting its legacy.
“At our factory in Santa Ana, we still have many of the seamstresses hired in the ‘60s. Rather than outsourcing, we still cut and sew every pair of boardshorts by hand,” said Clawson, Birdwell’s new president.
“Our boardshorts, competition jackets and tote and gear bags are made out of our the same fast-drying and durable fabric used to make the iconic 310 boardshorts since the 1960s,” he said.
“Birdwell was one of the first boardshort makers to advertise in John Severson’s Surfer Magazine and used the same mail-order ad for decades. We are the longest ongoing advertiser in the magazine’s history,” he said.
Photos of the early Birdwell surfers are framed on the walls of Birdwell’s Beach Britches first and only retail location, in Manhattan Beach.
Birdwell opened the store last year, on Highland Avenue, two blocks up from the beach and across the street from Uncle Bill’s Pancake House. Its front door has an unobstructed view of the surf at 13th Street.
“Surfers come by just to show us their ‘70s Birdwells. They visit the store right after landing at LAX. Buying Birdwells is literally the first thing they want to do upon arriving in LA,” Clawson said.
“We chose Manhattan Beach not just because we live and surf here. The store’s location pays homage to Manhattan Beach’s importance in Southern California surf history. Dale Velzy opened the world’s first surf shop up the street from the Manhattan Beach Pier in 1950.”
The local store has resurrected interest in its shorts among prominent local watermen and women, including Tyler Hatzikian of Tyler Surfboards in El Segundo, Hermosa Beach Surfer Walk of Fame member Derek Levy, competitive paddleboarders Jay Russell and Scott Rusher and a crew of young rippers, including Mira Costa’s Kyra Williams, winner of the South Bay Scholastic Surfing Association Allstars Rookie of the Year.
Clawson re-introduced the company’s 1960’s competition jackets locally, with a one-off green and gold model for the Mira Costa Surf team.
He’s also expanded the Birdwell line with CPO (Chief Petty Officer) shirts in wool and cotton, cotton beach towels, a wool sportsman jacket, and canvas walking shorts with a nylon reinforced seat.
The new product line continues the tradition of domestic sourcing and manufacturing. The wool flannel is supplied by Black & Sons, a fourth generation family-owned business that has operated out of the same LA Garment District building for 94 years.
To manufacturer the sportsman jacket, Clawson said, “We went to Woolrich Woolen Mills, the oldest continuously operating vertical woolen mill in America. It got its start in 1830, outfitting lumberjacks.”
“We believe that inspiring people to buy less stuff, by buying better stuff is a noble pursuit,” Clawson said.” B