A Conversation with Banks Journal Comrade (and Design Director): Chris Schulstad
Moving to a sprawling metropolis like Los Angeles from a sleepy little beach town in Australia can be a little jarring for some. Disorientating. A bit much. But for some people, like Banks Journal’s Design Director, Chris Schulstad, that contemporary blend of beachy sensibilities with a big city’s multicultural perspective is precisely what makes his creative juices flow. The man behind each of Banks Journal’s seasonal design drops and collections since 2017, Chris and his family have recently moved to L.A. to a be closer to Banks Journal’s U.S. operation. Thoughtful and effortlessly cool, we caught up with Chris to talk about where he gleans inspiration from, his start in the biz, and what he values most from Banks Journal’s frequent collaborations.
So, how’d you get into designing and, eventually, a job with Banks Journal?
Out of college, I got a job with Billabong. I was with them for nearly 10 years and worked across most categories, but for the last 5 years I was there, I designed boardshorts. While being at Billabong I got to travel a lot for research and work with a great team of really talented guys who I gained a lot of knowledge from. It was a great introduction to the surf industry and design with a great company culture.
I guess the reason why I left, is after 10 years of working there, I wanted a change of scene. I wanted to get away from that bigger brand mentality and work with someone that aligned with my vision and passion for brand and design. After a phone call from Rama McCabe (Banks Journal Co-Founder & CEO) I really liked what Banks Journal was about, being a modern coastal brand with a focus on design and sustainability. So, I signed up at the end of 2016 I just really loved their vision and the vibe of the brand. And with the guys I just felt like we were all on the same page.
Amazing. Where do you normally find inspiration for the Banks Journal designs, colors, and style?
I think for this recent Spring Collection, I was really inspired by travel. New York, L.A., Tokyo and obviously working in Byron Bay, that transfer from an urban environment back to a beach culture in Byron, integrating the cultures of those places and the people, all the prints, colours and textiles from those trips inspired this collection a lot. There was a lot of inspiration from vintage surf and silhouettes and interpreting them in modern ways. But I think one of my most favorite and inspiring places in the world is Tokyo. There’s just so much great vintage and retail stores and the attention to detail they have is by far like none other. It’s just amazing. I’d love to go to London and other parts of Europe in the future for inspo, though.
Has it been tough moving to L.A., juggling family with work?
It’s definitely a juggle [laughs]. I’ve got a pretty young family, two young girls and with a job that has long hours, it’s been pretty challenging. But if you love what you’re doing and with the love of your family, it’s not really a chore. I think the only bummer is with two kids, there’s a little less time in the water...
And moving from Australia to the US for Banks Journal…was the culture much different?
The move has been great, actually. Yeah, I mean I lived in a small town near Byron Bay called Cabarita and it’s very different than L.A. Caba has a small population, it's just a tiny coastal town, L.A. is a lot busier and chaotic, but there’s also more culture going on. It’s a lot more inspiring living in the city.
Good to hear it! The new Spring Collection that just dropped looks so good…what are a few of your favorite pieces?
The first one is the Revelator Shirt. It’s a linen shirt with vertical stripes. It’s got a vintage silhouette made into a modern way. Another one of the pieces I love is a new pant—the Supply Pant. It’s a new, relaxed fit with elastic waist and darts on the front, so it’s really comfortable to wear, but still has that polished look that you can wear out. I like the Reversal Tee, too, which has our new vintage style fit in a thicker jersey. The Big Bear Walkshort is one of our most popular style shorts, again vintage style done in a more modern way. We did a collection with Jared Mell again this season and his jacket turned out great, I really love that too.
Do you sew or pattern-make, or know how to do that part of the biz?
My grandmother was a dressmaker and used to sew and have her pattern room out of our garage when I was young. So I was exposed to that side of the business for years.
Awesome. So, what would you say sets Banks Journal apart from other brands?
Well, besides being inspired from coastal living, I think what differentiates Banks from other brands is that we do that kind of culture in a minimal and modern way with a subtle attention to detail.
Collaborations seem like they’re a frequent thing with Banks Journal each season. What do you love about them or think they bring to the brand?
I really like to do collaborations with our “Comrades,” like Jared Mell. For me, I get to hang out with them, go surfing and curate and create really unique things together. It’s just a good way to do something different within the brand, and outside of the box of the normal collection. We can create even more unique, individual pieces that we might not normally do from a commercial perspective. It also enable us to do some storytelling and marketing in a different way.
Any advice to the next generation following in your footsteps as a designer?
I think it's great to start out and get your fundamentals from college or big experienced brand then you can either grow there or you have the experience to choose where to go or even start your own thing.. do what you love and love the process find something that is aligned to your vision and values with a good culture so work doesn't feel like a chore and your surrounded with like minding people.
Where do you see Banks Journal going in the future?
As far as the future, I think we’ve had great feedback from the stores we’ve opened, in DTLA and Honolulu, so we’re looking at possibly opening up a few more. I think they’re really good for representing the product and the brand as it was designed—it showcases everything as a whole story. I'm also excited about some of the future collaborations coming out, we have some cool things in the works, and I'm proud at where we've come with our effort for more sustainable products, so I'm excited to see where that takes us as well.