Gideon and crew, Gwithian and the old Rover 110 back in the 80s.
Seeing as it is freezing out, we thought we’d post the story behind dryrobe. It is pretty incredible. A story of one of the boys done good, of belief and perseverance, and of how one man sold changing robes to a nation.
Gideon Bright was one of the St Ives’ crew roaming West Cornwall in a shitty van in search of waves, odd jobs and possibly the odd quarry party in the 80s and 90’s. A string of life changing events led him to North Devon where, in 2010, working hard to provide for his family, he came up with a product for coldwater surfing – a jacket you could check the surf and get changed in during mid-winter, surfing the Atlantic storms.
Gideon put in hours of his time and slowly the project grew and became a full time job. Then after 10 years hard work lockdown happened. Things went pretty crazy pretty quickly and his product became a household name and inspired a million copies.
To say we (his friends) were all pretty cynical about the idea when he first come up with it would be an under statement, but after testing them at a time when most brands were producing puffer jackets that left you drenched after half an hour of coastal mizzle, we realised they worked. A lot of us still have the first versions, and are still using them over a decade later.
Interview Steve England.
Tell me about the St Ives days. Where did you grow up and surf and who did you surf with? Where were your favourite spots – Leven, Gwenver, Porthmeor, Badlands?
I lived in Carbis bay, near St Ives, in a small house that had a view of Godrevy lighthouse. After a few years of watching, we could pretty much gauge what the waves would be like anywhere on the North Coast by checking the wind and the amount of white water hitting the rocks around the base of the lighthouse. We usually ended up somewhere between Penhale and Gwenver, only rarely venturing anywhere north of that to dodge the more crowded spots.
How did you get involved in the film Blue Juice?
My friend D went up to the production office when they set up to have a nose about and came back saying there was well paid work as a driver available, so I ended up driving cast and crew to and from Newquay airport in a Range Rover. I had the vehicle to use for the duration of filming, which was pretty fun at the time. The location manager needed some help, and after offering a few pointers to him it led to me to work on some future projects too.
We took Catherine Zeta-Jones to The Sloop for a beer, which turned into quite a story, and I remember a couple of parties at Tregenna Castle with the then unknown Ewan McGregor. I think that film really helped nurture a few long-lasting friendships between some of the Aggie and St Ives crew, too.
How did you end up going to London to work?
I spent a few years being an assistant location manager on some TV dramas and films based in Cornwall after Blue Juice, and was approached about doing some similar driving work in London. It sounded fun, so I headed off. It was a difficult job back then with no sat nav and film cameras. Lots of long days and running about all over London with an A-Z on my lap, half lost most of the time to be honest, but it felt like a big adventure and I could save enough money to get away every winter to surf. I would also drive to Croyde to surf at weekends as it was one of the closest spots and I knew it well from working and surfing there when I was younger.
The standard Indo quiver shot with the boys.
What was your ambition?
Looking back, I just wanted to be good at what I was doing really. I was chasing the money a bit and was drawn into commercials and pop videos. 12 busy years later I was a Location Manager doing pop videos for the likes of Amy Winehouse, Sting, Robbie Williams, Kylie and quite a few names that were well known at the time. But time flies and you feel a bit like London will use you up and spit you out without you noticing if you let it. I was still doing a lot of surfing and getting to travel and surf but the work was pretty relentless.
What inspired you to move back to the coast?
I think it was the arrival of my kids more than anything that marked the end of the interest of being in London for me. I knew I had had my fun there but didn’t feel it was the place I’d like to bring up my children. I spent some time trying to commute, but a few cancelled meetings after driving that far made the decision easier. My dad had trained me as a graphic designer so I decided to transition back to that with some help from him. I got a few websites to design and look after and I had the feeling that if I worked as hard as I had in London, I was sure I could make a living.
My dad died in 2010, just after I had shown him the ideas for dryrobe and made a couple of samples. He was a real inspiration to me and I’d always ask his advice. He had a stroke at 45, which left him paralysed down one side but he never let it stop him. He would just launch into projects and find ways to get things done. It wasn’t an easy time but I remember it hit me that it was really up to me now to make and trust in my own decisions and make things happen for myself.
How it started vs. How it’s going.
And it was your mum who actually made you the first prototype ‘dry’ robe?
Yeah. I remember she gave me this homemade ‘thing’ one Christmas. It was like a huge cape. It was light blue waterproof material on the outside, with a dark blue strip across it, a dark blue towel lining with an elasticated hole for your head to stick through and a hood with poppers. She later told me it was like something her mum made for her (only just out of towelling). I also remember taking it with the best fake:“Wow… thanks Mum,” I could muster and slinging it in car to go for a surf. (Laughs)
It was a freezing day at Godrevy. I can’t remember when exactly, but it must have been winter in 1983 (ish). The wind was so cold it was freezing our faces off just looking at the surf. So we got in the suits ok but coming out I remember thinking, I don’t care what anyone says, I’m using that thing! So I busted it out and slung it over my head.
I think it was just Scraps and myself but maybe Ratsy, Ramble, or Huddy (old school St Ives’ crew). I can’t really remember but I’m pretty sure the car park was empty apart from us. The cold had frozen our brains as I don’t remember much being said. We had gone into survival mode. I got changed in it, then I passed it on and we all used it.
That thing did some changes over the years! It got in a bit of a state due to the towel lining, but my old mate Jasper told me that he still had it and he sent it back to me. It’s in our office now in Braunton.
What a lot of people won’t know is that you set up roughly the same time as your childhood mate was making towelling robes in Cornwall. You’re both hardcore surfers and as I remember pretty cynical about the surf ‘fashion’ and ‘industry’ at the time. I remember him telling me what he was doing and I was like: “No surfer will ever wear one of them”. Then they started flying. When I saw yours I was still a bit the same, but when I tried it at a time when brands weren’t making winter coats for surfing (they were into short puffer jackets), l’d be out on the cliffs getting soaked. Then your dryrobe came along and I got it… three quarter length, waterproof, gale proof, practically bullet proof… It was proper gear for coldwater surfing… Anyway between you both, you have invented two huge product categories… You must laugh when you look back?
The current dryrobe product was created as a mix or hybrid of products that already existed. My friends, Tarps and Tamsin, really grew the towel-changing robe business in the UK. Towel changing robes were an established idea but it didn’t really work the same way. I always had the old waterproof and windproof ‘robe’ idea in the back of my mind, but I didn’t really think to develop it. I’d just got back from a trip to Australia to see my daughter there and she was using a swim Parka-type product there for after playing waterpolo. It just kind of clicked as a product idea there and then. A mix of a robe and a swim Parka-type coat that was easy to get on on off, but more importantly, you could use time and time again without having to dry it in between surfs. So I thought, right, I’m going to have a go at making a version of that waterproof ‘robe’ idea, and I started as soon as I got back from that trip.
Cynical is putting it lightly. When I first introduced the dryrobe in 2010 it really was so different to anything out there and people didn’t really understand what it was. Why was it so expensive? Isn’t it just a towel? Why do I need one? I got a lot of negativity at first, but I quickly stopped reacting to the comments because of the feedback I was getting from the early adopters – who were letting me know how much they loved them. I realised I just had to explain it and show people what it was. I knew once they tried it they would get it.
I also remember for ages it was slowly growing, but then… boom… Did you see that coming?
No, not at all! It was always going to be a coldwater surfers’ product, but after it crossed over into triathlon for the swim training and then was embraced by the open-water swimming community, it open my eyes to just how many activities it could be beneficial to.
Surfers were taking them camping and mountain bikers were using them for car park changes, and people were posting and letting us know what they were up to and how much they liked the product. Social media has helped us a lot and articles like we read in the Guardian: ‘Too cool for the pool’, have helped dryrobe® reach the awareness of a large number of people. It will always be a coldwater surf product at its core though, as that is what it was born for.
It is so big that love even got meme pages… That’s got to be pretty funny?
It’s crazy seeing some of the results that a search for dryrobe throws up now on social. There’s a whole community of people doing all sorts of activities. It’s the most rewarding and humbling experience, to see people wearing and using a product that came about the way it did. We have seen them on TV shows, on multiple celebrities and we even watched Team GB use our dryrobe® Advance products in multiple Olympic games over the years. But yeah, I have to admit it’s quite surreal at times.
So… big question… have you got a decent van now? ‘Cos I remember you having one that was cool, but let’s face it, was probably an MOT nightmare…
Ha, ha ha.. The old Morris Minor Traveller has gone unfortunately, but what a vehicle that was. I’ve never driven anything more fun than that. You had to be in tune with it and grab the doors as they opened when you went around corners. Many a great mission was had in that car. The latest addition to the dryrobe van collection is, of course, all electric now. Times change.
‘Scrappy’ Tarps and Gideon were permanent fixtures at most West Cornish spots in the 80’s and 90’s.
And how is it to be able to support the British surfers, the English junior surf squad, RNLI, SAS and all the other charities? That’s pretty rad…
It really is. So good to see how surfing in the UK is evolving and we get to be involved and see it up close and can share in the personal journeys. So many characters are involved in pushing the level of surfing, from the coaches, facilities and surfers themselves, it’s an exciting time and it’s really developed into something very positive. We’re also very proud of the dryrobe® Warmth project where we find ways to give back and do some good. It become a big part of what we do.
The other day I was relating the story and how you still own the company and are massively involved day-to-day, and the other surfer said: “I’d have sold out and legged it to Indo by now!” Are you still loving growing everything? Because in the early days I know it was a lot of work you took on, and you pretty much taught yourself everything, so no one could blame you if you disappeared to a small tropical island!
It feels like a part of me now. It’s been a real personal journey of discovery in terms of how this business works, and what we can achieve with the right people and team. I’ve Googled and read my way through the gaps in knowledge and what I like to think of as a bit of my Dad’s, ‘Let’s get it right and get it done’, attitude has fuelled dryrobe®. It feels like it has the right culture and people, and we still feel like we are at the start of something bigger. It would be tough to leave something like this that you’ve nurtured and watched grow from just an idea, but you’ve given me an idea for the new head office! Ha ha ha.
I’d like to say thank you Steve, and the team at Carve. The first surf mag to ever feature and review the dryrobe® Advance. You understood what we were doing straight away and totally got it. I’m very proud of dryrobe® , its history, its authenticity and the journey. A huge part of this for me is the culture, people and places it was born from. Gideon Bright
dryrobe® is now seen everywhere, every sale helps them support surfers and charities. Some of the surf lifesaving communities that dryrobe® give back to and support are;
• Support the England junior surf team as well as teams riders like Andrew Cotton, Lukas and Ben Skinner, Cal Major, Siyanda Hewitt and Sophie Hellyer.
• dryrobe® annually donate £100,000 to the RNLI
• Collaboration – a Wave Project dryrobe® is available online, 100% of the profits from each sale of this Limited Edition dryrobe go to the charity.
• Annual donation of £10,000 to Surfers Against Sewage.
• Produce a custom dryrobe® Advance for Surfers Not Street Children where 100% of the profits go to the charity.
• Based in Malibu, California, A Walk On Water provides surf therapy programmes to children and their families.