PODCAST: Kassia Meador Is At The Forefront Of Something Exciting
PODCAST // EPISODE 6 WITH KASSIA MEADOR
Kassia Meador Is A Leader In Women’s Longboarding & A Surf Industry Entrepreneur
Photos by Dane Peterson
Visit KASSIA + SURF
When you’re out in the line up, packed or alone, it feels like you’re part of a low-key club, a group of people who can connect with the ocean, can read it, move intuitively with it and can also be disciplined by it.
Life in the ocean started for Kassia Meador at fourteen in San Diego. She lived an hour from the beach and her Dad’s time in the waves was precious. She’d boogie board on the inside, watching him glide with the long waves, laughing with his mates. She would fantasise about surfing as her Dad persisted with his rule, ‘You learn the ocean first, then you can come with me.’
So she joined the Junior Guards over summer. It was a full-on immersion into everything the ocean had to offer; swimming, learning tides and learning the ocean. At the end of each day the groms were allowed to take the foamie out as a special treat, it made it even more enticing to get out there. She’d wait in anticipation for the moment that she could be out there with her Dad, part of the exclusive club of wave riders.
For Kassia, becoming a surfer meant she would also move down a path that would provide her with the tools to maneuver her way through a successful competitive sporting career, a influencer in branding and events and entrepreneur in her own right with the ability to be part of a sustainable future.
“When something is difficult I just want to push myself that much more.” Says Kassia, “The easy things in life just aren’t as rewarding for me. I feel that way about surfing and that it’s transferred into my business. Surfing gives you the skills to navigate life; patience, persistence, determination and drive, awareness of the subtle things and being fully aware of our instincts.”
SEE ALSO: Podcast Conversation With Rosy Hodge
It was a trip to Costa Rica for Junior Guards and then Australia to surf in the Noosa Surf Festival that changed Kassia’s life, and set her up with qualities that have driven her to become successful.
Before she even boarded the plane on her first trip, her parents set the condition that she could go if she raised $1,500. She recounts that later her parents didn’t think she’d ever make it to $1,500. Not event legally being able to work, she put her head down, selling candy to kids at school, painting fences, washing cars, doing everything she possibly could to make a dime. “It was the best life lesson ever, teaching me how to go above and beyond. It made me appreciate every moment of the trip and be grateful for the opportunities that I was given because of my effort.”
What lay ahead of her was over a decade as a pro surfer on the Roxy team, but as well, developing her skills in marketing, events and the processes of it all.
“Never in a million years did I think I’d be a pro surfer, I just knew that surfing made sense at a time when a lot of other things didn’t make sense.
In Noosa, Kassia was introduced to the late Donald Takayama by Joel Tudor, she says it was like meating a rockstar. On return to Malibu she won the Wahinie contest at Ventura and from there joined the Takayama team and Roxy. It was also the start of an incredible mentorship between Takayama and Kassia.
“Donald played a massive role in my life. He was like a father figure and taught me everything I know about surfing, took me all over the world, taught me about surfboards. He was the kinda guy that was all give, give, give. To see someone of that caliber, like a rock star but is a shaper, is just so overly willing in support of people was amazing.”
As her surfing developed under Takayama’s guidance so did her passion for the sport and the world she lived. She worked closely with the Roxy team in developing the women’s longboard events and was instrumental in pushing for the prize money they deserved. It was the experience she needed to watch and convert passion through return on investment.
With years of world travel under her belt and exposure to many cultures, Kassia saw an opportunity to take everything she’d learnt and earned and give back. “As time is a luxury, so is choice.” Says Kassia. “I saw the sad state of affairs that people live in developing nations; getting access to clean water, food, waterways of my favourite places overly polluted. I wanted to do something that was a little different. Something that wasn’t contributing to the problem, I wanted to work towards a solution.” She explains that by continuing to work with a big corporate company she felt part of the problem. “Fast fashion is the number two polluter in our world. The surf industry is one of the biggest polluting industries on the planet for its size. So many toxic chemicals into surfboard manufacturing, fast fashion, they’re areas that can be improved – that should be improved.”
She wanted to focus on solutions and start re-imagining things with sustainability and mindfulness for our ocean, our people and our world. So she jumped on into making wetsuits that are durable and don’t fall apart. “We started a wetsuit recycling program. Taking scraps, upcycling pieces into tote bags, bathing suits, yoga mats and changing mats. Small things that allowed us to do something different and gain traction.”
The wetsuit material she chose to work with was the technology that which Patagonia worked with; sustainably mined, limestone based neoprene, which, says Kassia “Is better than anything made with petroleum. We’re doing things in the lowest impact way and of higher quality.”
But it’s all a pretty big risk jumping into small scale manufacturing. She did it with the money she’d earned as a pro surfer, put every cent into starting a private company. “I didn’t know it would work and am still wondering if it’s working. I’m still trying every day.” She said. “I really believe in the product and the vision and giving people an alternative solution.
“I’m not saying my brand is the solution, we’re just working towards more possible ways that we can live and create in, and create a more harmonious way of existing with our planet, so there is a future.”
In their first year, Kassia says, “We were selling and people just liked our crazy prints but wondered about the price. At the time we were making the suits with premium neoprene and they were more expensive because of the process and way they were made. Those first two years were really hard to get people to buy into it our vision.
“We just pushed the mantra, ‘Try one on, take it surfing, are you warmer, does it last longer?”
They built house and started receiving a lot of wholesale orders understood that they weren’t necessarily dedicated customers. But the tides turned and over the last year to 18 month period there has been a surge of dedicated customers coming back. Kassia says, “There is a momentum building, people are repurchasing and recycling their old wetsuits, whatever brand they are. They saying thank you to us for what we’re doing. People have really started caring.”
The traction has meant they can move to work with better technology and increase the sustainability of their practices, processes and product. “We’re now able to work with the premium neoprene with sustainable limestone. Patagonia developed it and put a lot of their energy and time into researching to make it possible, and now they’re onto Yulex. Their hard work opens up opportunities for brands and small companies, like us to work with lower impact materials.”
Feeling so passionately about our world and best practice, also brings big challenges. Kassia hopes that by creating more options, more technology and getting more customers onboard demanding sustainability, and lower impact manufacturing, that the bigger brands will be inclined move in that way.
And there is a shift, says Kassia, “It’s been awesome in the last year to feel the shift and see a lot more customers come online and purchase online because of what we’re doing and our direction.
“For us to continue to stay in business we do the suits as cheaply as possibly but it’s not easy for small companies like us, to stay in competition with cheaper suits and big companies. In saying that,” Kassia openly admits, “with the shift in people’s thinking, we’re also seeing the bigger companies struggle as they become part of giant investment companies to make it through.”
SEE ALSO: Podcast Conversation With Caroline Marks
SO is it does becoming easier for small businesses make it, because of the change in thinking, in the empathetic behavioural move? “Consumers have the power to change this world. They have the voice and opportunity to dictate the environmental and quality standards that we want to see. It just takes a small change in a consumers behaviour to affect a change in profits, then a company needs to adjust their thinking, their strategy and the willingness to match what the customer wants to purchase. We want to see things made in more mindfully, we want to see the use of technology to create sustainability, and greater access to the materials. It is all there, it’s just the willingness to do something.”
The change is happening and the world is slowly beginning to move with it. What Kassia is doing with Kassia Surf is standing strong and pushing forward with a vision with the world and future in mind. “We’re the first women’ brand to be creating things in this way and we’re proud of it.
“It’s not easy to make big change in the world, or big waves, but it is really rewarding. If anything, the purpose of what we’re doing is to help change the mindsets of the bigger companies.”
Each day is a big deal in business for Kassia and her team. They’ve just launched in Australia with their premium wetsuits that are available in the Dead Kooks store in Byron Bay and Thomas Bexton’s store. The team is also about to launch a wax subscription, only available in the US at this stage.
With the work ethic, compassion and mindfulness that Kassia has for surf, the surf industry, business, and humanity, we’re sure to see a big change sooner rather than later.