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Contrast Magazine
The Pacific Project

thepacificproject
Words / Race Skelton
Photography / Mark Kushimi

Gabriel “G-Bo” Tennberg and Kyle Spencer are sitting next to each other on a wooden bench on the deck of a 1960s built North Shore home. The surf is rumbling outside, a new northwest swell is filling into Ke Iki Beach across the street, churned from an El Nino weather pattern storm that formed thousands of miles away. Kyle, from Maui, is explaining how he first started working with G-Bo, who’s from Kauai, at surf brand Hurley in Costa Mesa. “I was at Etnies, designing wovens, and G was doing boardshorts at Billabong…no, wait, he’d left Billabong and was at Element. But that was after G-Bo was at Quiksilver.” recalls Kyle. G-Bo’s resume reads as a who’s who of international surf brands. He started at Quiksilver, then moved to Billabong, then Element, then Hurley—where he recruited Spencer to his team—and then on to DC, designing everything from boardshorts to denim to snow gear, holding titles of Design Director and VP of Design. The two clicked together as two outer island Hawai‘i kids would, putting their design stamp on the surf industry. The unique thing about Hawai‘i kids when it comes to surf design is that they grow up in surf wear, specifically boardshorts. It’s literally half your wardrobe, year around. Coming up as groms in the shorebreak then grabbing a plate lunch after, they know what works and what doesn’t. Only later in life would they realize that their adolescent years would be viewed as research and development.

Tennberg and Spencer are recalling their previous careers in the Orange County surf industry and I can sense their reminiscing starting to arc. Simultaneously the onshore windflow is blowing in some Pacific Ocean salt air with a hint of plumera from a budding tree out the front door. That smell, the personification of the lure of Hawai‘i. G-Bo begins telling me about the start of The Pacific Project. While at Hurley and DC, the two would talk about how they’ve always wanted to go back to Hawai‘i. Both of their wives, natives to O‘ahu, shared the sentiment. But, what would they do? There aren’t any international surf brands based in Hawai‘i. While at DC, the parent company, Quiksilver, was going through tough financial times. They had taken on some bad investments and were clouded with debt. To consolidate costs, they wanted to move US design teams to France and keep everything under one roof. G-Bo and Kyle had opportunities to stay with the company and move to France or leave and move back home. The two ultimately couldn’t resist the lure of their home state and moved back to Hawai‘i. With their combined 15+ years of experience, they started The Pacific Project: a full service creative agency specializing in brand development, apparel design and sourcing.

Across the street, at Ke Iki beach, occasionally a sandbar forms and a dredging shorebreak crashes over and over. That shorebreak is the muse of renowned ocean photographer Clark Little. You’ve seen his amazing imagery of ocean waves and ocean wild life. Little lives up the street from the house we are sitting at and happened to be the first client of The Pacific Project. Clark was an established name and artist, but G-Bo and Kyle thought he could be doing more to capitalize on his hard work. They designed a full collection of apparel and accessories for Little’s gallery in Haleiwa, creating and sourcing shirts, hats, slippers and more which has been doing very well for Clark. The product offering found a new market of Clark’s fans that could enjoy an easy-to-pack-home t-shirt or an instantly wearable hat. The Pacific Project has built similar offerings for T&C Surf, HE>I and Aloha Exchange.

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Kyle’s father-in-law is internationally known surfboard fin maker Steve Mock, arguably the hardest working person on the North Shore of O‘ahu. Mock hand makes fiberglass fins under the brand Island Fin Design. He’s been doing so since 1979, with a passionate commitment to making the best fins on the market. He’s built fins for legendary surfboard shapers down to the backyard guys just shaping for themselves and fins for retail at surf shops. G-Bo and Kyle were amazed at his dedication and wanted to help him capitalize on his hard work. They created a branding package that could be applied to the fins and launched an apparel line of shirts, hats and accessories. “We created a brand mark that spoke to their heritage, and existing customer base while also appealing to a new, younger generation of surfers,” says Kyle. The logo and designs are clean and simple, selling well at surf shops that were already carrying the surf fins. The Pacific Project also introduced printed patterns to the retail fin line and initiated artist collaborations fins with surf artists, both have been great sellers.

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There’s a garment factory in the industrial area of Kalihi, the western edge of Honolulu, near the airport. In it’s 1970s glory days, it produced 30,000 aloha shirts a month for brands such as Reyn Spooner and Liberty House. That factory hasn’t produced those numbers in years, as local brands began moving manufacturing offshore to chase lower price points. This local supply chain once existed and produced profitable made in Hawai‘i apparel. With their sourcing background, The Pacific Project sniffed out this supply chain and started putting some of the pieces back together. They found a fabric maker, a pattern maker and started assembling. They found a client that wanted to pursue a made in Hawai‘i collection, Aloha Beach Club of San Diego with roots in Hawai‘i. While they aren’t at the 30,000 pieces a month number yet, they have built a capsule collection for Aloha Beach Club comprised of an aloha shirt, boardshorts, walk shorts, chino, a blazer and two oxford button up woven shirts; all of it made in Hawai‘i. “Our goal with this aspect of our business is to breath new life into what was once a thriving part of Hawai‘i’s economy. It will take time, and hard work, but the rewards are heartfelt,” shares G-Bo.

It’s this love for Hawai‘i that motivates and creatively pushes The Pacific Project as they continue to expand their portfolio of local companies who want a refined touch to their brand. Gabriel and Kyle took a chance coming back home and were rewarded with fulfilling work and a client base that trusts their experience and curated perspective. The swells continue to crash outside and we start talking about what the next storm is doing and the endless amount of surf this winter. We talk about surfboards and a lot about surfing. I start to realize another reason they moved back home and another source of creative energy.

This feature can be found printed over 4 pages in Contrast 16
For more about The Pacific Project:
thepacificproject.com