I really like the idea of being universally local. And I think it’s slowly becoming an inside joke in downtown Encinitas. I first noticed it with the Encinitas Ale House — their slogan proclaims that they are “locally world famous.” I love that.
I sense a similar message from the billboards that have been rising in the neighborhood, funded by behemoth brands like Nixon and Spy. Clearly these brands have reached international attention and success, but they’re still pouring thoughtful, and sometimes cheeky, advertising into their home turf.
Across the street from the Ale House, and the ever-changing Nixon promotion, is one of the most eclectic and personalized retailers in the area. The UNIV shop is built on the blend of being both local and universal at once. And it works.
The shoebox store draws from a variety of cultures, and I’d wager it appeals to a variety as well. But the space itself, the offering, the mindset, it all feels inherently Encinitas.
“The style of the store is eclectic, creative and nostalgic of the days gone by. We’ve always set out to offer what’s different from the norm, foster a fresh cultural perspective and be ourselves — fun and quirky,” said owner Tim Swart.
Swart opened UNIV in 2006. He has a unique industry background, having worked for and with several action sports brands, including Airwalk, Spy and Clive. To Swart, location is a major factor in building store and brand identity.
“We love being on the Coast Highway, and it serves to represent who we are. We surf everyday and live our lives within a stone’s throw of the beach,” said Swart.
With the UNIV brand, Swart has created a new line of apparel that’s based on local sourcing and unique cut-and-sew styles. The UNIV store functions as a brick and mortar boutique, tailored to house Swart’s vision.
“The concept for the shop was originally a global destination for our UNIV brand, based in a cool, coastal California town,” said Swart. “The style we’re always angled for is classic, heritage American clothing and accessories.”
But the universally local brand has a sense of humor. The ubiquitous wienerdog presides as the brand and store logo. The recognizable dachshund mascot stems from Swart’s background, and it represents UNIV’s personality.
“I was raised in England and on the East Coast,” said Swart. “Our mascot is representative of our classic roots, with an air of regality, and a bit of quirk, too. We try not to take ourselves too seriously, but we’re confident.”
The business is expanding into the community, with more projects and cultural events than ever before. Swart’s April agenda is brimming with activity, including an art show with photographer and UNIV friend, Charles Bergquist, and a top-secret surfboard project with professional surfer Rob Machado.
Somewhere mixed into this busy schedule, Swart has mastered the pairing of local and universal appeal. His brand and store are focused on this ideal, and the amalgam feels undeniably natural.
“We’re connected with the town and the region, but we also focus on being internationally known, recognized and marketed at the same time.” Swart said, “We focus our premium denim, made in California, and other key UNIV items toward the Japan market, and, as a result, we’re sold in some of the best stores in Tokyo.”
Going forward, look for more of the UNIV line selling worldwide, especially in Japan, Australia and Europe. With plans for store expansion right here in Encinitas, Swart also has his eye on opening a new UNIV store in Japan by the end of 2013.
UNIV is proving that it’s a good time to be local. And it’s a good time to be worldly. But if you can, be both.
UNIV CONTEST — Enter to win a FREE UNIV skate deck! Follow me on Instagram @spencerhirsch, post your best coastal photo and hashtag #coastnewscontest. I’ll announce the winner in my next column and over our social media sites. Local entries only, please.