Conversation & Curiosity
Rusty Meador Talks About His Lifestyle Brand, Beach & Barn
“A client said to me one day, ‘Carpentry is hard, why not sell your hats and t-shirts?’ But I didn’t know hats and t-shirts; I did know he was right – carpentry is hard, tiring work – and I knew his kids were bugging him to ask me for a hat and a t-shirt, so I figured I was doing at least one thing right,” says Rusty Meador between bites of a fish taco. He’s wearing a Beach & Barn hat, of course, and the logo, a surfing rooster, stands out like a beacon in the restaurant. He sees people he knows and they jokingly tell him, “Nice hat;” strangers say the same.
Was that where Meador’s lifestyle and apparel brand, Beach & Barn, started? The moment when the seed was planted, buried deep and waiting for water and light to urge it to grow? Maybe. Or maybe Beach & Barn has been in him for a long time.
A young Rusty Meador sits on his grandmother’s porch. His horizon is mountains, undulating waves of them stretching to the horizon. They grow blue with distance and at the farthest point they seem to be one with the sky. Behind him comes the sound of tearing and the smell of cut grass and sweet corn. He turns to his grandmother and she hands him an ear. In three swift motions he’s shucked the ear; in a fourth he’s cleaned it of silk but now he struggles to break the stub of stalk and free the ear. He’s tired. Today they’ve picked and put up snap peas and walked through rows of corn twice his height and picked two big baskets. He grips the ear in one hand, the twist of silk and leaves and the stalk and twists as he bends them away from one another, finally it breaks and he drops the ear into one basket, the handful of green into another.
“I feel good with that memory,” he says. “I grew up in Martinsville, Virginia, not too far from the North Carolina line, but my grandmother lived on a farm near Roanoke. When we’d visit her, we worked — shucking corn, snapping peas, picking beans — and spent a lot of time sitting on the porch.”
Martinsville’s a mill town, a furniture town, a place where a good work ethic is a must, and Meador’s got that in spades. He grew up working, he worked in college, and work brought his family to North Carolina. Back in 1994, his father was transporting a boat up the Intracoastal Waterway when it broke down at Atlantic Marine and, as he says, “the family’s been here since.”
It started with one sister. He’d visit her and they’d explore Wilmington. At the time the film industry was big and the allure of it irresistible. “I remember telling my sister, ‘One day I gotta live here,’ so it was no surprise my wife and I ended up in this part of North Carolina.”
Before Meador and his wife arrived, another sister moved to town. Now, with his parents and two sisters here, Meador felt the pull to put down roots in Wilmington. He and his future wife were on an Amtrak adventure from Albuquerque to Seattle and somewhere along the way he looked out at the countryside and back to her and asked, “Do you want to move to Wilmington when we’re done?” She did and they did, arriving in 1999 , living in Wilmington for a few years, then moving to Lanvale Trace in 2003.
“When I moved to the area I was filled with delusions of film industry grandeur. So that’s one thing that pulled me here; the other was my mother, she was sick and that made the move a no-brainer: I needed to be near her and near my family,” says Meador.
There was no film job. Even though the industry was booming, film work was only slightly easier to come by then as it is now, so Meador’s interest in carpentry was stoked by stints building film sets, and he later found more steady work framing houses on Wrightsville Beach until 2009.
“That’s when it all dried up. In 2009 I was laid off and I wasn’t sure what to do for a little while, then I opened a carpentry and handyman business called Beach & Barn.”
Young Rusty Meador dozes in the back seat of the family car, chin falling to chest as he sleeps for a minute or two before forcing himself awake. It’s vacation, the beach, but vacation doesn’t start until he sees the lights of the Myrtle Beach Pavilion brighten the sky. Soon, he thinks to himself, soon I’ll see the lights and then it’s nothing but sand and waves and vacation.
Beach & Barn comes from two memories that inform who Meador is today: escapes from everyday life to his grandmothers’ mountain farm in Virginia and family trips to Myrtle Beach. The beach, the barn, they’re part of him, they instilled a work ethic in him and gave him just as strong a drive when it comes to leisure time. Beach & Barn does that too, but subtly. The logo alone is mysterious — Why is that chicken riding a surfboard? What’s it mean? What is Beach & Barn? — and in that mystery people find their own meaning, which is part of Meador’s master plan when it comes to the brand. He calls it “cogitative marketing,” inspiring people to think and question and identify with a brand on their own terms.
“When I started Beach & Barn — the construction business — I spent a lot of time developing the brand. Who did I want to be? What did I want to say? I think everyone has Citizen Kane moments in their life, the moments that really speak to them, and I wanted to speak to two things that I hold important, so Beach & Barn was born. And the logo, well, it’s a rooster on a surfboard, how better to say Beach & Barn than that?” Meador says.
Hats, stickers, shirts all adorned with his logo grew popular. Clients asked for them, he traded with construction industry reps and fellow pros, he made a new design, it got popular too. He worked and built, constructed and handymanned until one day he remembered what that client said: “Carpentry is hard, why not sell your hats and t-shirts?”
“So I called him. He knew I was onto something but he knew he had part of the puzzle too: logistics. He knew warehouses and shipping and how to really grow the business. It was a natural fit.”
It wasn’t long before Meador stepped away from the table saw and stepped to the sewing table, and by 2015, he was working Beach & Barn — the apparel and lifestyle brand, not construction — full time.
Today things are a little different. The business outgrew a handful of designs (and now has more than 100 color and styles in their shirts alone, not to mention stickers, tumblers, hats and you-name-it), outgrew the house, outgrew its sole employee, and has taken on a life of its own. Beach & Barn doesn’t rely on Meador’s design eye, instead they have a full-time product designer and developer with a Patagonia pedigree (and Patagonia is one of those brands Meador looks up to for how they’ve built a brand based on integrity, a solid core of products, and a loyal customer base, all things he wants — and is earning — for Beach & Barn), and with help from his partners, the company is building their wholesale side (look for select designs in Redix soon), launching a sub-brand (Center Console, focused on boating lifestyle), and they have a new cut-and-sew polo coming out.
“This new polo we have, the fabric is phenomenal, the design looks sharp, and we went through plenty of prototypes to get it right,” he says. “The polo and our new Agricoastal t-shirt they’re our first premium products. We’re so excited to see the response from our new polo.”
The response will doubtless be the same as the one he’s seen in traffic a thousand times. At red light after red light, Meador says he sees the folks in the car behind him looking around, scowling, but then they see the sticker — the rooster riding the surfboard — and a smile breaks across their face.
“That smile took them someplace. It stirred up some memory they’d forgotten or some emotion that’s been buried. That’s Beach & Barn.”
He said, “we came in ’98 or ’99, I don’t remember” so I went with ’99.