San Diego Finsmen Founder Jeff Johnson On Creating Art & Surf Apparel

The brand Finsmen was born in 2012. For San Diego native and artist Jeff Johnson, who grew up surfing and has always made it a large part of his life, launching the brand was the next step. The idea behind the brand is to bring photography and various other forms of art alive through apparel, and Johnson has done this by working with a group of other like-minded surfers and artists, including Brad Masters and Laserwolf, to name a few.

“In my professional career, I was focused on designing and ‘concepting’ for other brands across different industries that I wasn't really connected with,” says Johnson. ” I wanted to take what I knew and apply it to the culture and lifestyle that I was a part of.”

The brand has also recently teamed up with Proctor Surfboards, a Ventura-based surfboard company headed up by surf shaper  Todd Procter. The collaboration, consisting of a photography-based graphic, conveys the message: “The Journey is the Destination.”

“I wanted to capture some of the essence of the journey that is the custom, handcrafted surfboard—where old-world art techniques collide with futuristic materials,” says Proctor. “A personal odyssey beginning as a vision of how the shape will interface with a certain kind of wave; ridden by a certain kind of surfer, and creating a one-of-a-kind synergy. The thought, the precision, the form and function, the passion and the joy that is under our feet.”

We caught up with Johnson to hear more about bringing Finsmen to life, and what he has planned for the brand in the near future.

Finsmen Founder Jeff Johnson

What was your background prior to starting Finsmen?

I actually went to college on a painting scholarship and got involved in design work. Since then, I've been working in the digital design and advertisement space for the past 10 years. I've worked with a number of brands, design boutiques, and major agencies all over the US.

Who else helped get the brand off the ground?

I definitely would have to say everyone we’ve done collaborations with. We work with some really talented people that have played an instrumental role in helping us get off the ground. Family, friends and even consumers play a role.

What sets Finsmen apart from other brands in the surf market?

We are creating work that is scalable in any medium, wether it’s being printed on a T-shirt, hat, or even a print you want to hang on the wall. Designing based off ideas and reason.

What retailers are backing the brand so far?

Since the beginning, we've been operating exclusively online and are just now starting to move our product into retail. You can find us in San Diego's Birds Surf Shed. We are currently on the look out for east/west coast sales reps to expand on our brand

What does your distribution model look like and how do you hope to evolve?

Since inception, we focused our efforts in the digital space, but we’re currently focusing more on expanding our brand into the retail space.

What will the Finsmen collection entail – will you stick to just T-shirts or do you have other apparel or different categories in mind?

Right now, the  majority of our time has been focusing on T-shirts. We’re big on the collaboration process, so we are open-minded to other categories that are aligned with our brand.

How did you come up with the idea behind the photography on T-shirts? What sets it apart from other brands that are doing photo realism with their apparel?

We wanted to create a brand that is based on the idea of being "timeless"…something that will withstand the test of time. I think it’s easy to convey that idea with photography and the photos we’ve printed. What set us apart is the relationship and input we take from the individuals and businesses we work with. We’re not into the idea of just buying a photographers photo and not building upon the creative relationship and having them involved in it as much possible.

If you had to describe what the brand stands for in three words, what would they be and why? 

Timeless – work that is not restricted to a current trend or time …

Quality – is what we strive for, we will always stand behind our work

Concepts – we tie in the idea of work that is visually pleasing, but also has a message associated with it.

What are the brand’s goals in the next six to twelve months?

Expand more in the retail space in the east/west coast, and continue expanding on our collaborations with other creatives and business.

What untapped opportunities do you see in the surf market at this time?

Offering more exclusive and limited-edition products.

Anything you’d like to add?

Thanks to everyone for the support and being stoked on the work. You can reach us at [email protected] with any questions about collaborations, retail accounts or anything in general. You can find us at