My friend and I were doing a short road trip from Costa Rica to Nicaragua, well better said a visa run. Instead of going to another surf spot and meeting more travelers and surfers, we decided to leave the boards back home and go on a city and culture adventure instead. Our destination was Leon, Nicaragua’s second biggest city and the political and intellectual center of the nation. The revolution and their martyrs are still present in every corner of the city.
On the search for a new lycra shirt we walked by chance into Marco’s surf shop in the center of Leon. It was not another random surf shop with lycras, sandals and bikinis made by the well known surf brands. We found a sweet little place with amazing and beautiful self designed shirts and caps and a very inspiring story behind. A story that shows once again that even if you start with nothing you can achieve everything by listenening to your heart and sticking to your passions and ideas.
Fortunately Marcos found some time to have breakfast with us, just a few hours before we headed back to Costa Rica, so I could interview him about the store and it’s story. Here it is:
Since when does the Get Up Stand Up store exist and how did the idea arise to design shirts and open a store?
I was traveling through Central America and didn’t have enough money to buy the ticket back to my home country Brasil so I needed to find a job. A friend of mine told me I could work at his surf school in “La Isla de Los Brasiles”. The thing was: the surf school hasn’t existed yet. I bought the first board from a local and promised him I would pay the other half of the price next week. I only had to think of a name for the school and produce some recognizable shirts for our clients to wear. The same day I bought the board, the name “Get Up Stand Up Surf School” popped up in my head and I immediately started designing the first shirts straight away. Since there is a minimum quantity you have to order, I ordered 20 shirts at once and, surprisingly, sold them all in the first week. The people liked them, so I ordered more, including girl’s shirts and caps. Since I worked together with the hostel “Surfing Turtle Lodge” in that time, I always had lots of students and travelers who bought my shirts.
One year and 3 months later I decided to open a store in Leon since more and more people asked for shirts. This store was very small, but I sold my shirts, caps and Hawaiianas there. Only 3 months after opening the store I got the chance to move to a bigger location, where I am still located today. It is across the street from the “Big Foot Hostel”, which I’m cooperating now. I designed the whole interior on my own, with lots of help from volunteers. We print all shirts on our own in the back of the store and there is always a lot to do since the demand is rising and rising. The volunteers who work for me get free accommodation, internet, water and shuttles to the surf spots as well as discounts at the Big Foot Hostel and on the store products. They either work for one month 6 days a week and 6 hours a day. Or, if they stay for two months, 5 days a week and 6 hours a day. Their job is to sell and display products and do inventory. Well, that’s how the idea and the store arose.
In short: Day 1: I bought one surfboard, ordered 20 shirts, and found the name (total of initial investment: 180$). The money I made with surf lessons, surfboard rental and selling shirts, I reinvested in buying more boards and printing more shirts. Only 4 months later I already had 12 surfboards and 500 shirts in stock.
What makes your shirts unique?
Since the beginning the idea was to create/produce everything from scratch, we made our own cuts and tried to be unique. The fabrics come from “Zona Franca” as left overs from big productions here in Leon and there are no color standards and fabrics. That means that for every new order something new will be developed and we try to design on top of it. The designs are original and carry the essence of surf, travels and freedom. We always try to use fabrics that are called “mesclada” which are not in plain colors. And this makes it more comfortable and lighter in wearing. All the pockets are mixed and matched one by one according to the combination of sizes and cuts of shirts. Some of our designs are handmade and burnt straight to the frame and to the shirt. We have one single design that carries multiple colors.
How did it happen that your shirts became so well known that fast? Everybody here in Leon seems to wear them…
The point is to get the brand out. We don’t use Instragram etc. At the beginning I just gave away a lot of free samples (for example to people who took surf lessons with me) or I sold them for a very low price (for 8$). People who rented boards got special discounts as well. That’s how the word got spread and how everybody knew about GUSU so quickly. We have a lot of travelers passing Leon and many buy them as souvenirs to take back home, as a memory of an amazing time here in Leon and Las Peñitas. Nowadays I have offers like ‘buy two shirts and get a cap for free’. That’s how I get my clothes among the people. AND: Everybody wears caps here, every day.
Where do you get your inspiration from for new designs?
Nicaragua itself inspires me. I try to get the juice out of it. All new ideas are taken from the beauty of nature and the life here in Nicaragua. In each design you can see the connection to Nicaragua, for example the waves with volcanos in the background. Sometimes I take photos of something I see and like and use this picture for printings. Or I just draw a design that I have in my mind and send it to friends who digitalize it for me.
Does the GUSU surf school still exist?
Yes, the school still exists, in cooperation with the “Big Foot Beach House”. You can take lessons and rent boards there and there is also a small store with my clothes. The dorms are only 6$ per night per person and it’s right on the beach, has a pool, restaurant, bar and pool table. We often organize events and parties and also offer shuttles to other surf spots and cities.
How long have you been working as a surf instructor? Do you still teach today?
I started the surf school and the brand at the same time in this Island called Isla de Los Brasiles – Poneloya. From there I was able to order a certain amount of shirts and kept on running the school. At that point the shirts were being sold on this bamboo stick close to the reception of “Surfing Turtle Lodge”. When I opened the shop in Leon things changed. I wasn’t able to carry everything on my back. So I hired my first employee to help me in the shop while I was doing lessons. After three months we moved to a bigger place. I had to move to Leon in order to run things properly. My employee became my surfing instructor.
Do you still run the school and the store on your own?
The surf school and the clothing business developed hand in hand. In the beginning I was able to run both. I was living at the ‘Surfing Turtle Lodge’ . I sold and ordered the shirts from there. At the same time ran the school and gave surf lessons. But when I moved to Leon, things changed. The school was moved to the Big Foot Beach House where we also opened a little store. Whenever my surf instructor needs a day off, I jump in and teach.
Even though I always hire volunteers to help at the store I always try to keep a paid employee as a manager. My role is to think of how to sell more and create new marketing strategies, keep production always efficient and create new designs. I am the strategic head. I have never designed anything before but apparently I am good at it. I love brainstorming for new designs with volunteers and to put them on the shirts.
So which one is your main business now: the school or the store?
The surf school, the brand and the shop work together and they are equally important because they are an extension of each other.
We sell lessons from the shop. We send people to the beach, at the beach house they surf and buy shirts or other products that we produce as a brand. So I think even though the business has expanded it’s still one.
And what do you do besides surfing and creating clothes?
I organize and sponsor different surf and skate events in Leon and areas close by. One of our last event was, for example, a local surf contest in Las Peñitas with a volleyball tournament. You can win trips to other cities as well as bikinis and Hawaiianas on those events.
Which other brands do you sell in your store?
We sell Hurley shorts and KC Bikinis. Eventually we will be able to produce shorts on our own. But for now we have to produce in another country and import them.
Which is your favorite surfing or skating brand?
I think my favorite brand is NIXON besides Get Up Stand Up (haha). Now I see brands in a different way. I think the best brands are the ones that produce different things and still keep their identity.
I think it’s important to go with the flow and trends, but not to fall into a trap. What is trendy today may change tomorrow. Your designs need to be original. And they need to represent who you are, so that other people can identify themselves. This is what people do: Wearing clothes to represent their lifestyle.
Which is your favorite surf spot in Nicaragua?
My favorite surf spot in Nicaragua is Popoyo pointbreak but the crowd is annoying so lately I’ve actually fallen in love with Las Peñitas. The locals are awesome and there is no crowd. The water is always warm and there are always waves.
If you could give someone only one recommendation for his/ her life, what would it be?
Do what you love, listen to the omens and be happy, money will come eventually.