In 1964, Bob Dylan recorded the anthem of a generation, “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” which, in addition to being possibly the understatement of the century, has held for over five decades of increasingly rapid development and cultural shift.
One of the few constants in all of those years, artists have always felt a little on the down and out, searching for havens where their version of underground culture will be allowed to spread, even flourish just a little while longer.
So what does Dylan have to do with a little beach town T-Shirt and clothing shop?
Well, maybe nothing, except that the mind gets to wandering after taking a few photos on location and lingering over a relief carving depicting a young woman famously placing a flower in the barrel of a Guardsman’s gun.
While the artist featured on their gallery wall this month may be old enough to remember the scene depicted, Cayucos Collective shop owners Anthony Circosta, 37, and Abe Hiro Toke,48, are decidedly not. United by the aesthetic of a surfer and skater subculture that springs to life in the 1980s, the duo merged more traditional graphic design elements with photography and computer design. A strong claim to Cayucos as their hometown and unwillingness to let the entirety of Ocean Avenue be claimed by realtors and antique stores in visitors’ imaginations, seems to play a part as well.
“It’s all three together, the surf and skate culture, and the art that comes from that.
The three blend together as a culture,” explained Circosta. “Surfers, in general, have a great artistic eye. We wanted to have a shop that wasn’t a tourist trap.”
Although, he adds, they have had great word of mouth advertisement bringing in customers from all over the country over their six years in business.
“We started off without much, just our own graphics and a hat machine,” Hiro Toke said, gesturing to the equipment used to put digital prints onto trucker caps and similar apparel. “We gathered work with friends and locals as we went.”
That word local comes up a lot. Friends for at least fifteen years, the duo’s artistic endeavors first went entrepreneurial for the now-defunct LOCAL brand with other collaborators while Circosta got some technical education with a degree at Cal Poly. Hiro Toke noted that while he’d spent time at Cuesta College he was more interested in actually creating the art than getting a certificate for it. As a business arrangement, they joined existing skill sets with learning as needed. Hiro Toke’s artistic style is more physical media-driven, starting from pen and paper, with his younger counterpart bringing in Photoshop elements. Now more so than even a few years ago, almost anything can be digitized and reproduced on whatever garment a buyer might think of.
They founded the collective in Cayucos initially intending to do a web-based printing company, but finding a brick-and-mortar spot advantageous. In an era where more niche retailers struggle to make rent in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara, they said they were aided by a landlord who respected their style and was enthusiastic about their business moving into the spot formerly occupied by a small brewpub.
Alternately describing themselves on social media as, “an art gallery and custom t-shirt printing company,” a “beach culture gift gallery located in Downtown Cayucos,” or “a place for underground artists on the Central Coast to promote their one-of-a-kind products and services,” the artist collective features work outside of standard graphic design with a seamstress creating unique garments, including the “split-hoodie,” often sported by Circosta, and graphic elements from half a dozen other artists available on demand.
They’re particularly proud of a new bit of technological wizardry designed from scratch.
The “Take Out T-shirt” kiosk has been used for some time in the shop similar to other touch screen catalogs in use through furniture and interior design studios. Customers can pick from styles and colors, then superimpose their own images or any of the logos and drawings on file, for print on garments and pick up later that day.
Intuitive in feeling like an iPad app that must already exist, Circosta assures that it’s all from scratch in programming and execution, earning both the business and product design a new trademark.
Circosta explained that they were already providing the service but people used to come in and hold up one shirt and then say things like, “Can I get this one with that, logo, but in this other style, and in that color?” Circosta pantomimed using several garments on hangers. “They haven’t done that since we made the kiosk and interface: it just shows you every combination.”
The business is now getting set to come full circle from a web platform that went brick and mortar, to an order on demand retailer utilizing a web-friendly version of the kiosk software.
“Our website is fairly dated but this will replace the whole thing. We can go live with it any day now. I want to make sure there are no bugs left to work out when we do though,” Circosta said.
Hours and contact information, along with a gallery of past work, are available on their website. The updated ordering platform will go live through the website when it is ready.
Camas Frank has been a San Luis Obispo County print journalist for over a decade. First drawn to the Central Coast for a stint at Cal Poly, he’s focused on community affairs, people and technology.