Thursday, October 17, 2013

M.Nii tailor vs Birdwell Beach Britches.

There's a marketing concept that suggests that customers buy the 'why' you do something rather than the 'what'. If you accept this premise then you will understand that a product story becomes all important, sell your 'why' and then you're half way to success.
 For the past year or so I've been following the M.Nii surf wear brand, whose story is absolutely second to none.

Peter Lawford one of the period celebrities known to wear M.Nii
   ("Makaha in the 1950s, was a surfer’s Eden. Situated on the west side of Oahu, the sun shined brightly, the prevailing winds were offshore, and the ocean shimmered in vibrant sapphire blue.
   Down the road, at a mom-and-pop tailor shop called M.Nii, some of the first surf trunks were about to take flight. It was a natural progression: first, local waveriders brought their “baggies” to M.Nii’s for repairs. Recognizing the need for durability and comfort, M.Nii built simple twill trunks made specifically for surfing. 
   With feedback from some of the best surfers of that era, he added stripes, wax pockets, patches. They earned a nickname: the “Makaha Drowner.”
  They were not just a pair of surf trunks; they were a memento, a badge of honor. The faded back-side spoke of six-hour marathon sessions in ten- foot waves. Those beads of sandy wax stuck in the eyelets smelled of coconuts. That stain on the cuff? Pork laulau. The more weathered and beaten your M.Nii’s, the more wholeheartedly you understood ‘Aloha.’)".

  Often however the 'why' doesn't always correlate to the 'what' and we are easily caught out and so with my nostrils imagining the smell of tropical trade winds mixed with pig roasting on a spit, I bought into the brand. An online order conveniently done, 'Makaha Drowners', black size 34", $150.00 plus an equally ridiculous postage charge and presto a few weeks later my trunks arrived. Excitedly I try them on, pulling them up fastening the lace waist and stepping in front of the mirror, as I move the trunks fall off my hips and down to my knees, ahh jesus too big!  I take them off check the size, 34" yes okay they should be right but they aren't. I visit their website and check the sizing chart page, 34" waist is a 34" waist and are designed to sit lower on the hips, okay so no big deal there, almost all mens bottoms these days fit low so I'm not surprised at all, still these do not fit anywhere on my body. I get the tape measure out and soon all is revealed, the 34" suddenly becomes 36". No mention of an oversized fit anywhere in the size chart I can find, and so I must assume the sizing is just    out of whack. So this is the point where I start getting the shits and ponder the question why can't companies just tell you what the actual size is? These shorts being vintage inspired are meant to be worn fitted and close so why is the waist oversized? 

 The M.Nii Makaha Drowner simple cotton twill no fuss construction $150 a pair.
Vintage styled rear pocket high on the hip so your not sitting on your wax.

  Still however that pork laulau lingers on, the palms are swaying and my hand reaches back into my wallet again for my credit card. There's so much history in this brand, I want, I need to be a part of it, the brand is talking to me, its calling me, its dialled into my sense of history, my sense of brand soul. Size 34" all wrong so I've got to be a 32", never been a 32" before but what the hell, go down a size and this will be fine. 'Makaha Drowners', khaki size 32", click, done. The weeks past, my imagination is running, khaki vintage style trunks, yes! In my mind I've an image of National Geographic magazine November 1943, A line of Naval swimming Instructors are standing along the edge of a pool in California observing aviation cadets undergoing water training, khaki trunks, blue cotton zip jackets, navy blue aviators caps, the reference doesn't go unnoticed its locked into my head for the pending summer season.
  The mail man arrives, package in hand, my new trunks! Again the ritual pulling of paper and cutting of carton, revealing my purchase. Here we go. I strip down and slide on my 'Drowners', they in turn slide right off! What! I can believe it, not again. The magical 32 inchers are yet another hoax sent to torment me. They don't friggin' fit and now I'm really really not happy. Out comes the tape measure again and these ones measure almost 35" in the waist, this lack of consistency is killing me, not only has the laulau dissipated but I feel like I've gone under in that Californian pool with the instructors looking on. 

 M.Nii khaki Drowners undergo a transformation. To make them wearable cost me another $45 in alterations I had the waist taken in and the length taken up. The existing length on the Drowners is an awkward one so the adjustment made all the difference in balance. The USN Jacksonville Florida patch is my ode to the National Geographic Magazine November 1943.

  All illusions are now gone and I begin to see the thing for what it really is, a great marketing campaign with a fantastic story masking a mediocre product. I dig a little deeper and take my blinkers off, these are a cotton twill short, not a bad quality either with a decent thread count. The construction? Yeah its alright, nothing special really though and certainly not a $150 worth of product that I can see, then I realised what I had just thought, and I had my answer, nothing special really! What had I thought was special? The story! The story encompasses everything a surfer could want and the people that reportedly wore them was everyone you wished you could have been, but at the end of the day there was nothing to the product other than the very clever vision of an ad company. M.Nii had closed decades and decades ago and if it wasn't for a couple of savy Californians who thought to revision the brand M.Nii would have passed into eternity along with many of the surfing legends that wore them. There was no continuity to the brand outside of that moment in history when everything seemed to revolve around the conquest of water mountains at Makaha and for me it took the best part of $400 in product, postage and alterations to realise this fact and to come to terms with the reality of this product falling short of all claims. 
  Sometimes we need an awakening, an opportunity to critique. Too often we accept new brands or new products within our sphere of interest and immediately jump into support them because we feel a need to validate others that are apparently in tune with ourselves. But the truth is not everything is good and some things are just damn disappointing and often there are those that will spin a great yarn so that they can tap into an energy and try to capitalise on it. I've learnt from experience, often quite expensive lessons as this post will attest but on the other hand I can also tell you there is great stuff out there right under our noses. I really had no need to look for surf trunks anywhere else but with Birdwell Beach Britches.

 My collection of Birdwell's, 9 pairs, the backbone of my surf kit. I just thought the M.Nii's would be a nice addition, but upon reflection.......

Perhaps its just that yearning for something new that leads you astray? Upon reflection I could have whatever I wanted through the Birdwell custom service, their talent for building surf trunks and my ability to imagine it is all I ever really needed in the first place.

 Custom Birdies for the Papa, three difference camo patterns for the Battalion.
 Did I really need any other brand? I think not, Birdwell's amphibious and airborne.
 Three pairs of frogspot camo Birdwells, three different fades. The oldest are about 6 summers old and have graced a thousand waves or more.

Of all the companies out there in the surf industry, Birdwell has been consistently servicing the beach community since 1961 and is now in its 4th generation of being family operated and that's a story that isn't made up. They have only recently redone their online webpage which previously was so antiquated that one had to conclude that they were just too busy in their workshop making great shorts that they couldn't be bothered with dealing with the new technology. I forgive them for that absolutely! Despite all the frustrations at times in the ordering process and some on the stupid online reviews I read from dopes who have no understanding of the brand, I will stand up anywhere and honestly say that Birdwell Beach Britches have never let me down, not in quality nor in performance. 
  Birdwell is something that you can't just make up, it doesn't flow off the end of a copy writers pen, nor does it need a press release to tell you its great, happening or the latest, it just is, and at the end of the day that is all that really matters, that is the story of Birdwell, 50 years of just getting on with the job, making great surf trunks.


  1. Ahhh Birdwell, very nice products but a special sizing too!

    Mnii is a good brand but not professional at all. I had so many problems with them concerning the shipping etc... but I must admit that their tees are really good stuff.

  2. Amazing how simple it can be to communicate with people and have them understand a certain topic, you made my day.

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  3. Birdwells..... the only surf trunks I will wear...........
    they are bichen'

  4. Birdwells are the only board shorts I will wear.
    They are the real story

  5. Where can I get my own custom frog spot birdies?

  6. Sean go directy to Birdwell Beach Britches online and order them from there. Tell them the Papa sent you!

  7. Do Birdwells fit true to size? ie: 32 measure 16" across?