Andrew Mennie is a long way from home, and surfing in his jeans. Yes, you read that right. Back in his native Belfast, Andrew grew up with an insatiable, and rare-for-for-his-surroundings passion for surfing. It was so cold he and his brother would brave the chilly waters of coastal Ireland in either two wetsuits or their jeans to keep warm enough to practice the new pastime they had discovered.
This was the early nineties and only three generations in from when the first time a person was known to ever surf in Ireland. “It was so rare, information was so scarce, we kind of just figured it out for ourselves,” Andrew muses, referring to the lack of surf culture, including magazines and even mates to share tips. “Early on I heard that you needed to put wax on the board. We started putting it on the bottom, thinking ‘maybe it’s to make it go faster, I dunno’”, he laughs “we hadn’t a clue”.
Andrew started surfing at nine years old, when a family holiday on the coast allowed the opportunity. In just two years, he was competing.
Andrew studied construction at uni, partially in the name of family tradition, but he soon became restless, gravitating toward more creative endeavours including film-making. He and his friends produced a series of surfing films in Ireland, as the local interest in the sport, and subsequent culture began to form.
About ten years ago, Andrew’s restlessness grew; he longed to travel. Around this time Andrew met and fell in love with a girl named Melanie, a pharmacist from his home city. But only five days after they met, Andrew was on his way to Australia on a holiday he planned before meeting Melanie, in the spirit of chasing his surfing dream locations; Snapper Rocks being one.
“I stayed with some friends on the Gold Coast, and we spent a few spare days in Byron. I instantly fell in love with the place,” Andrew smiles. “I knew I wanted to live here”.
Andrew returned to Byron Bay soon after, with his now fiancé Melanie, and the couple commenced settling into their new home.
So now, in his surfing element, Andrew is happier than ever, but has still experienced that misdirected creative energy, and restlessness, and has spent the last couple of years finding where to invest it. The result, might surprise you.
It’s socks. Mennie brand socks. A line of unique sock designs in an array of colourful and playful patterns for tastes of all kinds. Designs from skater-style, to fruit, to the Aboriginal flag, to mandala patterns: something for everyone. Andrew has been selling the socks in the local markets to overwhelmingly positive response.
“I wanted creative control of something. And I came to Australia to contribute to Australia. I wanted to work and make a life here. And socks are growing industry in Australia, believe it or not,” he says.
The creativity, design, and culture of the craft lends itself to all of Andrew’s interests, melding his love of the Byron Bay lifestyle with his creativity.
After months of research, many negative responses from manufacturers he approached to assist him with tests, and quite a few failed test pairs, Andrew set up shop in his tiny garage near Clarke’s Beach, and started hand-pressing the socks himself.
Using a method called ‘dye sublimation’, Andrew makes the designs, prints on paper, and adds the dye, which goes into a press that reaches 200 degrees Celsius, making the dye go into the fabric in gas form. Each pair takes around ten minutes each to press, not including concept and execution of the design.
“Every pair of socks literally has my sweat on them,” he laughs. “I’m new to the area but the brand is 100% Byron Bay made”.
Andrew has also teamed up with Liberation Larder, creating an honesty basket, to provide new socks for those in need. “People take off their old socks, and take a new pair,” he explains. “It was such a popular initiative, the basket didn’t last the entire day. They went quick”.
Andrew’s big challenge now is keeping up growing demand for his product, and future growth. “I’m hoping to employ some people soon, or even get some design students on board with me to gain some experience in the meantime”.
Long way from home or not, Andrew is cosy here, building a unique local brand, which he invites you to get cosy with too.
More information: www.menniebrand.com.au
Mennie Brand has made six limited edition designs featuring artworks of the artists from the Popped project, and will be selling them at Popped, Surf Alley, Friday 19 – Saturday 20 May.
More information: www.poppedcreative.com