Pro-Surfer to Fashion Designer, Luke Stedman is Smiling

Luke Stedman, 36, is a former pro-surfer and founder of the surf label Insted We Smile, which will hit the US in 2013. Billabout’s Pete Maiden caught up with the new fashion designer to talk about his nomadic life, pepperoni pizza and the challenges of making a humble t-shirt.

Where’s home for you?
I don’t have one! Honestly, since I was 21 I haven’t spent more than two and a half months in the same spot, so I’m the full nomad. I was born and raised in Sydney and that’s where my house is, but I’m just never there.

What are you doing in NY?
I just started my own clothing line and I’ve got a bunch of accounts in Australia and Japan. I wanted to come and see what was happening over here and to sort out distribution in the US. I’ve been here on short trips before, but this around I wanted to clamp my feet a little bit and get a more of a ‘living’ sensation out of New York. This is where I want to end up.

How did surfing become your fulltime job?
My dad made surfboards and our house was on the beach, so it was inevitable that I sort of lived in the ocean. I ended up competing and doing the tour for eight years – living in the surf and sun. Unfortunately, I look older, wrinkly…so it has its ups and downs.

Why did you start your own label?
Touring was always great fun, travelling around the world, but towards the end it got a tiny little bit monotonous because I kept going to the same spots and doing the same thing. So that’s why I kind of steered into starting my own label.

How did the name and label come about?
Everyone calls me Steds, so ‘Insted’ We Smile means that hopefully the stuff will make you smile; also, sometimes you’ve just got to smile. Don’t get upset and frustrated. I guess what I’m trying to do is create a really positive, fun, and flamboyant label that sort of synergizes with me.

Were you always into clothes?
Always. I’ve wanted to do it for so many years, but it wasn’t the right time until now. I always used to ride for unusual surf companies like Mambo and Insight because they had something else to offer in terms of what sort of fashion they were putting out on the streets. I could never really ride for a core surf label because that’s not my style. Today you’ve got people like Saturdays creating something unique. I’m trying to do something similar.

Check out the ‘Insted We Smile’ gallery here!

Fashion is notoriously competitive. How are you finding it?
The rag trade! I think I picked the hardest trade to hop into- my God! But I’ve had an absolute ball so far, doing everything on a shoestring budget. I’m making small footsteps, I’m moving forward and I’m enjoying myself.

My textile experience is zero, but I have had years of travelling around the world and one of my favourite things to do is to shop. I’ve had samples buried away for such a long time, so it was just about finding the right production house that could accommodate what I wanted to do.

What did you make first?
I started just doing t-shirts and I thought that they would be super simple, you know? Get a bit of cotton and whack a print on it. What’s so hard about that? Sew it up! But there are different cotton grades, washings, and getting the right fit. It was very complicated and frustrating, but now I’m used to it and I’m getting a little bit more familiar with how things are done.

Where are your clothes made?
In Bondle, which is in Java, Indonesia. They’re good to work with and it’s good for me too because I get to surf, which is awesome. Business with pleasure!

Where is your label available in Australia?
We’ve got about 20 outlets and it crosses over stores from like Fine Surf Emporium and Sugar Mill to some more boutique stores, like in Cooper’s, Jack’s, and Fusion. It’s only been going for 6 months, so we’re still so new.

What are your plans in Japan?
I’ll be in Japan towards the end of the year, and I recently had a show there in September. I’ve had a lot of response over there and everyone in Japan really likes the smiling anchor logo, which is really good. I also have an online store and of course in Indonesia as well, we have a few stores in Bali and in Jakarta.

Yeah, we love the logo too! That video of you jumping the wave in front of it hanging off a beached tanker…insane!

Finally, what have you been eating in NY?
My favourite food is fuckin straight up pepperoni pizza and you can get that at any corner. It’s so easy and it’s so delicious.

As told to Pete Maiden

Check out the ‘Insted We Smile’ gallery here!

Luke Stedman having a bit of fun with the Yayoi Kusama exhibit on Husdon River, NYC. (Photo: Pete Maiden)

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