It was a one-off request for a Taranaki-branded t-shirt that inspired surf shop owners Nigel and Trish Dwyer to create the label that has been worn all over the world.
Australian Nigel, an ex-Cronulla surfer, travelled to Taranaki in the 1960s in search of "good waves and cheap ice-cream". He found both and also encountered a local surfer, Trish. They became partners in life and business.
While Trish worked as a teacher, Nigel, with fellow surfer Dave Littlejohn, founded a business shaping and glassing their own line of boards, DEL Surfboards.
By the early 1970s Dave had left and Nigel and Trish had opened a retail store to sell the DEL boards, alongside a range of surf and ski clothing and accessories. Trish helped to run the shop on Friday nights and during the school holidays.
After a couple of years they moved the shop into the central city and rebranded it as Del Free 'n' Easy. The business grew, and in 1974 Trish reluctantly left her teaching job. "It was too hard juggling two jobs and the shop in town was growing rapidly," she recalls. They sold a range of labels, including their own 'DEL' jeans, surf shorts and t-shirts, a label called Freezing Hot, and for the older surfers, a range called Lost in the Sixties.
In 1996 a customer came into the store and asked if they had a Taranaki-branded t-shirt. They didn’t but saw that there was indeed a gap in the market for a product that celebrated the outdoor culture of the region. Working with local skier, surfer and screen printer, Karl Quinn from Screen Art they developed a t-shirt logo that incorporated elements of the Naki - the mountain, the sea, farmland, the oil industry and the 'wings of freedom' that represented the Taranaki lifestyle.
They labelled the t-shirts 'Taranaki Hardcore', to capture their approach to the outdoor activities they were involved with. They both loved to surf and ski, and their children were also keen skaters.
Gradually the range of garments widened to include kids t-shirts and other clothing - featuring graphics that showed off the Taranaki region. The label is particularly popular with ex-pats who have their roots in the area and Taranaki Hardcore garments are proudly worn all over the world.
This regional pride is reflected in Nigel and Trish’s sponsorship of many local sportspeople, including Isaac Luke, Clark Elice and Lisa Tamati. They supply a range of Taranaki sports teams - from rugby league to darts - with playing strips and off-field uniforms.
Trish and Nigel sold the Del Free 'n' Easy shop in the late 1990s to concentrate on DEL Surfboards and Taranaki Hardcore. The businesses operate from the retail space in Strandon that they opened as a second surf shop in the early 1990s.
Taranaki Hardcore is now run by Trish and her daughter Nicki, with the online store providing access for ex-pat Taranaki residents all over the world.
Text by Kelly Dix. Banner image of Trish Dwyer (left), Robyn Gothard and Doria Gothard with DEL boards at Foxton Beach, 1960s. Image © Trish Dwyer.
Last published December 2017.