“We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.” This Charles Bukowski quote hangs below the 136K followers on Iron and Resin’s Instagram account. Below it are close to 4,000 moody, clean, emotive photos promoting the attitude of the Ventura, California, shop: We have fun doing cool shit and so should you.
Iron and Resin founder Thom Hill felt there was a retail void in the SoCal culture. Mainstream brands didn’t feel real or inclusive. “Either it was the typical Orange County surf brand, shoving surf down our throats or it was super techy outdoor brands that we couldn’t relate to because we weren’t going on expeditions and attempting first ascents,” Hill remembers. “We just wanted something that fit our aesthetic, was super rugged and durable, and functioned well.”
Hill had been working in the surf industry but growing disenfranchised with the systematic, “played out” clothing and accessories of surf and outdoor brands. “I grew up surfing, skating, riding motorcycles and camping, and have always loved the outdoors,” Hill describes. “But there wasn’t a single brand that spoke to me on an emotional level.”
In 2012, Hill and friend Jackson Chandler decided to produce clothing and a year later, on the 4th of July, they opened their first shop, The Garage. “We set out to design and build the brand we wanted to wear and a brand that was a reflection of our version of outdoor lifestyle,” says Hill.
As a clothing brand and small retail chain, Iron and Resin feels like a blend of the harmonies on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds mixed with the head turning rumble of an Indian motorcycle engine. Easy Rider meets Point Break, in the best possible way, with a made in America vintage sensibility. You know that feeling you get when you watch a Steve McQueen film, how comfy, classic cool he looks when he’s jumping motorcycles or racing muscle cars? That’s Iron and Resin. But, just like McQueen’s on-screen presence, there’s an accompanying feeling of inclusion, calm coolness with a “come along with us” head nod.
I&R’s shops (there’s on in Ventura and one in San Francisco) are aiming for a smooth marriage of retail space and community center, with events, workshops, and rides. Hill and Chandler set out to provide the same “come in and hang out” mentality they felt in the local surf shops of their childhood. “I would sit on the couch watching surf videos and reading surf magazines. Maybe I’d buy a bar of wax or maybe I’d pick up a new wetsuit. Or maybe I’d hang out and buy nothing,” Hill recalls. “In my mind, that’s the way retail should be. As retail as evolved, I think many retailers have lost touch with the important things and are focused on measurable metrics that signal success or failure, rather than focusing on the customer experience and building community.”
I&R is getting ready to expand. They have plans to open four to six more shops in the coming years, and they’ll soon break ground on a neighboring café in Ventura that will consist of three shipping containers with indoor/outdoor seating. The idea is to give customers more space to hang after a surf or ride, grab a bottle of wine or craft beer, and maybe pick up a new piece for their collection, like a puffy from their Rogue series—a top seller. Maybe they’ll sip a latte and peruse in-store offerings from brands like Redwing, Stance, Freenote, Yeti, and Pendleton.
“It’s obvious that there is a massive paradigm shift happening in retail right now,” Hill explains. “Traditional retail will never be the same with the advent of online powerhouses. However, there will always be a need for physical brick and mortar retail, especially at the brand level.” Hill and Chandler say the role of the shops is to be more meaningful than just a bottom line. “We like to think we inspire our customers to get out and enjoy life,” says Hill. “The things are customers all have in common is that they’ve matured beyond action sports. They seek experiences over stuff, quality over quantity, and seek freedom through activity.”