• johnschengber

08: The Story Behind Skinny Dipper Studios

The Team: Lynn, me, TJ

I remember being in church as a prepubescent kid and seeing the altar boys with really bad acne. I wanted acne.

I remember seeing my dad at the breakfast table early in the morning with his business clothes on, the paper in his hand, eating granola and yogurt. I wanted to do that, too.

For me, and I assume the same for many others, adolescence was like this. It was an infinite step ladder of evolving dreams and desires. In elementary school I couldn’t wait to have lockers in junior high. In middle school I couldn’t wait to drive to high school. Then in college, I couldn’t wait to get a job, have an income, and live in a place other than campus. Sometimes what I once wanted eventually became passe or undesirable - like acne, or having to wake up early and put on formal clothes. In other instances, like living independently, having an income, or mixing yogurt and granola, age-earned privileges have maintained their enduring appeal.

But even now that I’m out of college, through with my first job, having traveled, having loved, etc., etc., parts of life still feel like a step ladder. It still feels like I’m climbing in anticipation of a certain moment where I will have reached a point of rest, where I can look around, and not worry about moving toward the next step. This stair-stepping anxiety is the nemesis of my dreams because I’m constantly convinced that now is not the time to realize them in full. My dreams will be better off achieved in a couple more steps, in one or two more phases, of life, love, or learning. Best not slow down now, lest I never get there. Such is the dominant narrative I’ve sussed out of my 20s. Recently I’ve been disappointed with myself, and whoever/whatever designs this world, in realizing that I’m still just as lost in that narrative, lost in the future, as I was in the past, when I wanted acne because I thought it was cool.

A curing wisdom has yet to find me but my work with Skinny Dipper has been some sort of reprieve. My team and I made our first issue last summer and it was shocking to ourselves and others that we actually did it. Not that it was an incredible feat, but that we actually went through with the idea. We did not push it off to the next step or wait to be told we’re ready. Friends have told me that it was inspiring to witness, and I’m beginning to think that that inspiration had very little to do with the content, the quality, or the message of the magazine. It probably had more to do with its physical repudiation of the established order -- rejecting digital in favor of print, rejecting mainstream publishing and funding routes in favor independence, rejecting credentials and hierarchies in favor of curiosity, hard work, and authenticity. It rejected any and all traces of reified or institutionalized paradigms.

To me, the magazine has proven to be one form of one possible treatment to slow down the stair-stepping nature of life: take a risk to invest in something you care about that exists outside the assumed rhythm of things. Outside of those paradigms that have you on a track. This way, nothing is predetermined or granted. It’s all up to you. Your design. And the overwhelming possibilities of life come crushing down on you. Crushing. You’ll be overwhelmed and not without fear but buoyed by the infinite currents of your imagination. It’s like the second day of a vacation where you wake up neurotically wondering what to do with yourself and you crumble under the weight of possibility but then you wake up the next day and you’ve got breakfast ready early, you’ve got your list, complete with a big blank spot for the unknowns, and the mother fucking sun is shining y’all! That’s what it’s been like to create and run Skinny Dipper Magazine. And in the six months since I left my job in DC, one month of which was the holidays, three of which were spent traveling, and two of which have been spent hustling with TJ in Richmond, I feel like I have enlarged and enlivened my existence ten fold. It’s not all been happy - trust me. But if anyone were to document my life in a wikipedia page, there’d be two paragraphs about college (4 years), two paragraphs about my first job, love, and city (2 years), and two paragraphs about my entry into the unknown (6 months). Note the ratio? More experience, more life, in less years and months and days. I realize you can’t slow down the stair-stepping nature of life. Turns out that’s called time, and it’s not slowing down. Some people like it, anyhow. But it turns out that you can step sideways and backwards, if you want; you can jump off and find your way back on; you can hold onto something and lift your legs and kick them in the air; you can practice your newest dance, teach some friends, and make up a name to call this new rhythm of yours.

The coolest thing happens when you learn a new rhythm, when you take a risk. It’s like you learn a new language and discover new pathways of empathy and connection with people around you. Increasingly you find yourself being thrown into the mixing action of the universe right next to other people who are in similar situations. It’s like a whole community comes out of the woodwork once you demonstrate your peace. The potent strain of vulnerability that comes from putting yourself out there, undisguised, ends up inducing the build-up of relationships between these people to form networks of support, collaboration, and growth. Networking is no longer the annoying thing you put on a face for at a work function - it’s the lifeblood of your community; it’s how you exchange ideas; it’s how you socialize; it’s how the wild ones come as close to institutionalized approval as is desired; it’s one part dance, one part dialect, and two parts defense of your right to do what you believe in.

When TJ and I bounce around our ‘network’ in support of friends, it ends up being co-productive. We show love to our friends in bands by going to their shows, and end up getting an earful of wonderful music. We visit the exhibits produced by friends and end up with a new appreciation for photography and the perfect piece to put in the living room. We interview friends about their businesses and put it in our magazine. Those are the transactional co-productive benefits. But the transformative co-productive benefits is the learning that goes on, and the sharing. As we’ve become more and more confident in the skills we’ve built through developing Skinny Dipper, it becomes more and more natural to share those skills and ideas in relevant conversations with friends who are trying to get a vision to take flight. Of course we will tell our friend, who’s trying to name his scent company, about the ridiculous process that went into naming Skinny Dipper. Of course I will talk freely about how I came up with the magazine’s tone, and how TJ decided upon it’s typeface. When friends come asking, we are beyond thrilled to share, to consult, and to dive in. Well it turns out there’s a whole industry for that. There’s a whole consulting offering out there that helps brands come up with their name. We’ve gradually realized that we enjoy helping others find their voice and their typeface almost as much as we did for Skinny Dipper. Sometimes it’s almost nostalgic - ah yes, I remember when we came up with our name...but more often than not, it’s a delightful challenge. It uses a new part of our creativity and intellect to help others strike bold and beautiful. And it’s all the better knowing that these people, these clients, are more often than not trying to dance to that similarly radical rhythm, and sometimes it’s as simple as them not wanting to dance alone.

That’s why we started Skinny Dipper Studios. We want to help others dig in, get dirty, and strike bold. We want to take in other brands and causes like they are our own. Together we will pursue ideas to their most daring and authentic ends. In doing so we reinforce our belief in eschewing the well-accepted lineup. We have developed skills and tastes and if those are credentials then great, and if not then even better, because we still want to put them to the test for other people, companies, and causes. We see that there’s lots of good work being done out there and plenty of lame stuff too and the only thing determining who gets or does what is your appetite for being bold.

So this is our pitch. For those people with an idea, a need, a dream. For those companies seeking an extra set of hands/heads/hearts to dive in. We offer our most daring and authentic selves. We admit to our relative inexperience while cherishing our lack of indoctrination. Our goal is to help others strike bold and beautiful by capitalizing on our skills in strategy, design, copywriting, and content generation. While we still have so much to learn, we know by now that going for it is the best classroom around. Some may say it’s not yet our turn. But it will never be our turn. There are no turns. There is in and there is out. We are in, standing on a magazine, digging deeper.

Take that, time.

+ & -


Check out our Studios website here.


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© 2020 by John Schengber

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