Designer John Moore Talks About Surf Brand M.Nii



John Moore heads up M.Nii, a lifestyle brand that’s rooted in the world of surf. What originated as a small Japanese tailor shop in Hawaii during the 1950’s, M.Nii was responsible for creating the world’s first specific swim trunk. The shop closed its doors nearly a decade later and only recently has it been revived – this time, in the form of a contemporary menswear line that takes inspiration from mid-century beachwear. Fresh on the heels of being named one of GQ’s “Best New Menswear Designers in America” for 2014, Moore speaks on the organic progression of his latest project.

Life+Times: You have quite the fashion background. Scrap that – you have quite the entrepreneurial background. What was your very first job?
John Moore:
I was pushing boxes in the Freshjive warehouse in downtown LA.

L+T: You’ve worked with a slew of different brands – Hollister, Modern Amusement, Quicksilver Women and so forth. How did M.Nii come about?
I co-founded M.Nii with an amazing dude named Randy Hild, and he dropped a pair of vintage M.Nii Makaha Drowner trunks on my desk one day. We were blown away by their timeless design, and completely taken back by how beautiful the label was. We didn’t even know the history at that point; we just knew we had to build a brand around this trunk! We made fifty pairs and sold them at Partners & Spade on the weekends a few summers ago. They sold out and we got to work on a proper collection.

L+T: I know there’s quite the history behind M.Nii – what exactly is it?
M.Nii originated as a small, ramshackle tailor shop on the Westside of Oahu during the 1950s that gained widespread recognition for creating the “Makaha Drowner” — the world’s first surf-specific trunk. For almost two decades, the shop attracted the attention of legendary watermen in the Hawaiian Islands and then across the Pacific to California (and beyond) for extremely durable, bespoke cotton trunks. Early surfing pioneers like Greg Noll surfed in his M.Nii’s and news spread quickly. By the late fifties, mid-century luminaries like John F. Kennedy, John Wayne, and Frank Sinatra stopped by the shop for a pair during their holidays in Hawaii.

L+T: You’re known for your swimming trunks – what makes this a key item to the brand?
The story started out of necessity with the “Makaha Drowner” trunk. It was a stylish piece of equipment. Before this trunk was built in the M.Nii shop, surfers wore cut off chinos. So it’s only fitting that we continue to build the story around this timeless style. The modern “Makaha Drowner” is still produced in heavy two-ply cotton twill, with materials and stitches-per-inch that are 100% authentic to the original vintage pieces.

L+T: Tell me a little bit about your role at M.Nii – what do your duties entail?
I’m the chief storyteller and creatively direct the design and marketing process but there is a small team of amazing talent around me. It’s an intimate group, and everyone carries a lot of weight.

L+T: The “surf aesthetic” is quite popular now, yet your brand stands out in an authentic fashion. What’s your relationship to surfing? Have you always surfed?
Yes, I’ve been a surfer my whole life and go to the ocean daily for inspiration…

L+T: How would you define the vibe of your brand? When you launched – what was your mission?
The origins of surf style can be traced directly back to the M.Nii tailor shop. And we wanted to bring this heritage and soul back into the surfing lifestyle. That said, you don’t have to be a surfer to appreciate M.Nii. The timeless design, graphic lines and uncompromising quality appeal to all men who appreciate good style and craftsmanship.

L+T: You were recently named one of GQ’s “Best New Menswear Designers in America” for 2014. What do you make of this?
The POP Studio staff is so talented and I’m really happy they get to see their talents recognized on this level. It’s an incredible honor. Not to mention this is probably the most visible recognition in menswear, so it’s mind boggling that M.Nii will be in front of so many eyes globally. We’re very grateful to GQ and The Gap for this experience and look forward to an exciting year ahead.

L+T: Where do you want to take the brand moving forward?
I would like to grow the brand while maintaining our integrity, quality and built in the USA roots.