Welcome to Brand To Watch , a new bi-weekly style column from COMPLEX UK. Here, we’ll be spotlighting the best emerging brands out of the UK, asking them what makes them stand out from the crowd, how they’ve navigated through unprecedented times and determining their vision of fashion and the future.
If you’ve gone for a walk or taken public transport around a dystopian-looking London in the last 12 months—in and out of lockdowns—you may well have seen an ‘always do what you should do’ or ‘tell your friends you love them’ sticker posted up on a road sign, train window, or bus seat.
Those uplifting messages, and their lo-fi yet lively graphics, belong to Nick Mason, founder of London-based brand Always Do What You Should Do. Having grown up in New Zealand with a deeply-rooted connection to surfing and skating, Nick took his penchant for the beach to the streets of London and began running Always from a shared bedroom in East London, all while working in surf/skate/concept stores in Soho.
With cult surf labels such as Rip Curl, Billabong and Quicksilver’s hype peaking in the early-00s that Nick was growing up in, Always really leans into the post-Y2K, vibrant ethos those brands were channeling at the time. While Always has an easy-going vibe, the brand keeps feel-good messaging at the forefront of everything it does. Always has gone from strength to strength in recent years, and while their home is in London, their reach is now felt globally. The brand has gone from a run of screen-printed tees to collaborating with Patagonia and Carhartt and helping raise money to help a Brazilian surf club stay afloat during the pandemic, with a distinct aim of turning the hype into help for others along the way.
Getting to know more about the brand and why they should be on your radar, we caught up with Nick Mason to find out how he got started, his main influences, challenges, and future goals for the company moving forward.
COMPLEX: Hey, Nick. Let’s take it right back to the start for you—what were your main inspirations for setting up the brand originally?
Nick Mason: My biggest inspirations growing up were people who operated both local and worldwide surf/skate brands. It was a coming of age realising that these brands I admired were all started by ordinary people that were into the same stuff I was into. I was thankful to be in and around surf/skate/concept stores and brands since I was 13. Years of working with and for other people made me learn what to do and, more importantly, what not to do. Moving to London from New Zealand, I didn’t necessarily know how to start something in a city compared to a beach, but after six months of living here and working at a shop in Soho, I realised that I could enter the market at a different angle than everyone else because of my background from the beach.
Do you come from an art/design background?
Not at all! I never did any art or design classes in school, nor was it something that was encouraged growing up. But I was super observant and admired these surf/skate brands so much that I got a great feel of what I liked and what I didn’t like. I have been an avid student of the game since I started paying attention but I didn’t have photoshop or illustrator until I finished university with a business degree, and for some silly reason I always thought these were restricting barriers to start designing. It wasn’t until I learnt that it’s all subjective and those who I admired had no more of an advantage than myself.
What’s been the brand mission from the jump?
To evolve and change with the increase of resources and awareness. I named it Always Do What You Should Do as a reminder to always be on the path of peace and growth, enabling us to be of help to others. Operating in this realm is my primary skill-set, but I wanted a name that will represent everything we hope to do in the future.
What are the main influences your brand are inspired by?
Everyday life, really. The main goal is to provoke emotion and have people feel a glass half-full when in the gear. The 2000s surf era—Andy, Kelly, Taj, Parko, Steph etc—that era is forever imprinted in my brain so it’s highly influenced by this and by things that make me feel some type of way, if you know what I mean.
What did you want to achieve with every collection you put out?
To be better than the last. I really started this from the most humble beginnings, so getting to a stage where we can produce and pay for the development and execution of a collection was amazing. I believe this humble cash flow made for more accuracy on what we make as we simply couldn’t produce the next lot of gear without selling what we had made first. Having less is almost more of an advantage at the start, as you become frugal and aware of what will work instead of being able to make whatever and being careless in the execution. We’re still a while away from our full scale collections. It very much feels like we’re in the mixtape stage and have yet to release the debut album, if that makes sense.
Whereabouts do your run the label from?
The label was founded in London and has been operating here for the last two years. I’m originally from New Zealand and we’re thankful to have a customer base there also, so at the moment I’m currently setting up the southern hemisphere operation to help us spread the message without people having to pay international shipping and wait two or three weeks to get their gear.
How did you navigate through 2020 as as a brand?
Friends and people around Always really made 2020 a blessing when it very easily could’ve been a nightmare. If anything, 2020 has taught us that the world is constantly subject to change and adaption is critical. Being the size we are allowed us to make changes and do what we needed to do to keep it moving. I am fond of the words, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.
There seems to be a real community feel with Always—is that something at the core of the brand?
People are everything and problems arise in businesses as soon as this gets forgotten. This is what I’ve learnt working for other people anyway. Always is for the people. It’s really just a vehicle for the mission. I would rather have that vehicle be a big bus with everyone in it rather than a small car where there’s only two spare seats.
Which projects have you loved working on so far?
I would have to say our latest project with Mikey at Goma Projects and Vivendo um Soho surf has been the best feeling project to date. The helping side is by far the most exciting. Especially when you can operate in the same way as releasing mainline product. We raised over £5000 off the first t-shirt we did together which shifted the reality closer of being able to purchase a club house for VUSS in Rocinha, Brasil. We ran a week long raffle the first week January and from this result we were able to purchase the house. We are still working on this project and have more news about developments coming up. Having substance behind products sold is the goal as we grow and being able to turn hype into help. So people who don’t necessarily care about the cause but want the product are in the end helping the cause and people who care about the cause and also want the product feel great about supporting.
And have you got exciting stuff coming up that you can tell us about?
ALWAYS! We have projects in the pipeline that we are stoked about. We’re also growing our global presence through shops this year, so hopefully you’ll be able to get some gear physically from more countries.
What’s the ultimate vision for the company?
We want to continue to grow into an organisation that inspires and helps assist all walks of life, whilst keeping it real. Always do what you should do!