Founded in 2010 with an aim to blend eco-fashion with his love of surfing, Riz Smith is the brains behind London based men’s swimwear label RIZ. The label’s goal is to take the thousands of plastic bottles that litter the beaches and waterways of Britain and recycle them into swimwear. But whilst sustainability is one part of the brand’s ethos, design plays a big role too. Using Smith’s background in design, the boardshorts from RIZ utilise the latest in digital printing techniques to create a bold and instantly recognisable aesthetic. Taking classic floral patterns and updating them with geometric prints and vivid colours, each pair are a playful nod to both the British coastline and its culture.
This is our second season stocking RIZ and it has been great to see the label go from strength to strength. We thought it would be a great idea to sit down with Riz Smith to learn more about his design approach, the brand’s history and what it’s like to have the environment at the forefront of the manufacturing process.
Let’s talk a little bit about the history of the brand. Where did the original idea for RIZ come from?
Riz: My first job was for Speedo as their beachwear designer, where I designed a lot of swimshorts and after a lot of research trips around the beaches of the world was shocked at how lacking the men’s swim market was. I was acutely aware of the need for something better, something more inline with menswear brands, more stylish, more sophisticated.
What were your initial aims when you first started?
The phrase I scribbled in a notebook at the very beginning was, ‘ the most beautiful and environmental boardshorts in the world’. The aim was to design just gorgeous shorts that were environmentally sound. The best in every way. When you’ve got a clean slate and are only creating one product it made sense to perfect it.
Did you always harbour a passion for designing clothing?
I think I was around seventeen when I thought of becoming a clothing designer near the end of school. I probably thought it was cool and different, little did I know! I then went to Foundation Art College and Fashion was my strongest subject so went onto to do a degree in it. But as a teenager I always had a passion for clothes, which is kind of strange for a guy at that age.
Do you design with a particular guy in mind?
When we started, I used to design with just cool guys in my mind. Men who I aspired to and also I designed for myself a little. Nowadays we know our customer quite well, so it really helps when designing. So yes I design with this mind; he’s around 40 – 45 years old, probably a father, lives in a city, has a good job, is conscientious, not into trends, is a stickler for quality and doesn’t want look like everyone else on the beach.
What are your influences when designing? How do you start off the creative process?
I’ve always been inspired by contradiction, so clothes that function for movement but look smart as an example. Trying to design something classic yet contemporary, trying to harness that middle ground when design appears effortless.
Interestingly London and the UK is a strong influence for the shorts. Again, a contradiction of the norm for a swimwear brand. There is a lovely irony of designing swim shorts in England where it rains a lot and the sea is freezing.
It’s also helped influence our own unique ‘British-Hawaiian’ print style, where we swap tropical iconography for British endangered species, flowers and insects, that we hope will foster awareness and inspired appreciation for the natural world around us.
I’d say the beginning of the creative process always starts with a need. Why are you designing something, how can you make something better, the function for me informs all the styling and other design elements. This creative process has been rolling for five years now, so it’s more like refining and tuning now, turning the screw. The shorts are like a canvas that hold the prints which tell the stories. The influences for these prints are a constant evolution of our ‘British Aloha’ vibe and endangered species. I finding have these parameters really helpful otherwise there’s too much choice.
What does your day-to-day entail?
We’re a small team so have wear many hats. Whether it’s working on our marketing, branding, production, essentially all the creative side of the business, every day is full. Funnily enough the design side is the smallest part, doing this a few times a year for a few weeks at a time.
A big part of RIZ is the ethical nature of the business, how important was it for you to have this focus and how much does it affect the design/manufacturing process?
It is extremely important for us and has been there since the start. Central to the brand vision are three core elements: substance, style and sustainability. These inform everything I design and how we manufacture. Part of this is longevity; making shorts that last are better for the environment. So triple stitching, removing cord tips that can break, having no inside labels for continued comfort over time, for example. All our shorts are digitally printed in England with water –based inks and made in Portugal in genuinely small batches. We do not mass produce and have formed strong relationships with our manufactures, helping our transparency and quality.
How do you go about sourcing the materials for the shorts, it can’t be easy acquiring the fabrics you need and processing them into something usable?
Sourcing doe take a lot of time and currently we have been using the same recycled polyester since we started the brand five years ago. We were fortunate to find a fabric that was environmentally sound and performs really well – quick dry, nice weight. We are aware that our oceans are getting filled with plastic and in effort to do our part want make sure every pair of our shorts is made from recycled polyester ( made from recycled plastic bottles.) Our next goal is to make our own unique fabric and we are currently collecting bottles washed up on beaches and river banks to do this. The project is called #bottlestoboardshorts and we’re working alongside the Marine Conservation Society and other charities to get this rolling. It’s a huge yet exciting task so watch this space.
Where do you see the business in 10 years-time? Or, what are your aims going forward?
I’d love to see our little brand grow. To continue just making men’s shorts, to make them better, more beautiful and more environmentally sound. The pursuit of perfection can be addictive and what a nice product area to do that in? Perhaps the design office will be on a beach, somewhere warm… what can be better than that!
Many thanks for Riz Smith for taking the time to speak to us. You can see his selection of swimshorts over on the site and in store now.