There’s a lot of talk of recent of a resurgence in small, independent brands within skateboarding. Whether or not “recent” is the right word to use – East Coast brands like Hopps and Traffic have been around for ages – there’s no denying the do-it-yourself mentality that spawned skateboarding in the first place is still alive and well within the greater cultural context. From Paris to London and NYC to LA, brands guided by some of the industry’s most exciting and authentic individuals and ideas are thriving at the moment. So much so in fact, keeping the list to ten was well easier said than done. So while Montreal’s celebrated Dime and Sweden’s Kaleidoscope Skateboards missed a spot, here’s their shout out. Otherwise, in no particular order the following ten independent brands capture the unconventional spirit of the ever-changing skateboarding landscape.
No surprises here, Palace is atop the list. Though the hype has only caught more momentum in recent months, if not years, thanks to some famous faces in menswear and hip hop, there’s much more to the London-based brand than what most are saying on the style forums. For a history lesson, before becoming an official brand, the Palace Wayward Boys Choir was a local South Bank skate crew. Roughly five years ago Lev Tanju and his homies caught the attention of skaters everywhere with weekly PWBC Global Skateboard News broadcasts, offering a hilariously bootleg look (filmed on flip phones and VHS camcorders) at the London scene and the whack, corporate bullshit leading the industry. From there the brand took off, thanks in part to the branding work of illustrators Fergus Purcell and Will Bankhead.
What makes the brand so important to the current landscape of skateboarding though, is not the widespread recognition, but the stance on which the brand was founded – make skateboards and gear that “look nice and skate good.” Do that right, and the rest will come naturally. Of course Tanju isn’t the first to do this but he certainly is proving to be unequivocally consistent in delivering on both ends. And that won’t be changing anytime soon. Word is the Palace boys are filming a full-length video right now, so keep an eye out for more raw skating, ill VHS edits and perhaps even a return of the PWBC to Don’t Watch That! TV.
Polar is another heavyweight, hailing from Malmö, Sweden and captained by Pontus Alv, founder, art director, illustrator, filmmaker, editor, skater and DIY innovator. The guy is a creative force unlike any other in the contemporary skate scene. And with the help of co-founder and artist Stefan Narancic, the brand has quickly become known for their always impressive graphics – each deck could very well be a wall hanger. Alv’s modernist illustrations almost seem sculpturally inspired, while Narancic’s surreal, disjointed and occasionally haunting illustrations are original and intriguing in their own way. It’s more fine art than skateboard graphic. Though that may be the point – who’s to say there’s a difference? Now add in the crude, cartoonish graphics by Jacob Ovgren and you have opposing styles that somehow feel cohesive.
Across the board, Polar produces far and away the most exciting, interesting graphics currently on shop walls. And when paired with a stacked team of international rippers, the small company holds a large presence in returning skateboarding to its arts-driven, DIY roots. The more no complies, wallrides and shuvits the better, we say.
As the son of a skateboarder, Alex Olson has rebellion in his blood. And Bianca Chandôn is hell bent on doing things differently. Products are done in short runs and made available only through an exclusive, small number of stockists. There’s no team, or any immediate plans to have one. It’s just Olson and fellow creative Steven Kay steering the ship, which is currently floating in rather uncharted territory, drawing inspiration from Studio 54 era disco and drag culture, and ’80s and ’90s fashion. Though some are quick to question Olson’s interests in the LGBTQ community, many more, ourselves included, back his efforts in bringing attention to a subject conventionally considered taboo in skateboarding. Whether or not they continue down this path though, we’ll have to wait and seen. Either way, the socially conscious agenda and simple, fun art direction is refreshing to say the least.
When Alex Olson and Brian Anderson left Girl in 2013, the plan was to start a new board brand. Though before 3D even got off the ground, Olson was gone and Anderson was on his own. Still, the industry vet forged ahead, inking a deal with Skate Mental’s Bigtime Distribution and signing certified Team Handsome skater Austyn Gillette in the process. As one of the most respected dudes from the original Girl generation, Anderson’s influence on the past, present and future of skateboarding is immeasurable. We’ll put it this way: his 360 flips are legendary, he’s one of very few skaters capable of doing a varial flip without getting shit on, made boneless to rail tricks cool in less than 15 seconds in Pretty Sweet and when BA died his hair blonde a year or so ago, more than a few fellow skaters (this writer included) felt bizarrely compelled to try the look on. In short, 3D’s graphics are clever, the boards are quality and the folks running it are top notch. What’s not to love?
In some shape or another, Jason Dill’s Fucking Awesome has been around for 13 years now. Though it wasn’t until Dill and Anthony Van Engelen left a floundering Alien Workshop that FA saw its full potential come to fruition. In September, the brand officially began producing skateboards and even more recently picked up fellow ex-Alien riders Dylan Rieder and Kevin Terpening. There isn’t much driving FA, aside from a total disregard for anyone’s feelings or opinions. It’s exactly what one would expect from such an enigmatic character as Jason Dill. And that’s exactly what makes it so great.
Further proving California is no longer the absolute center of skateboarding, Nick Jensen and Paul Shier’s UK-based Isle Skateboards was born when the two bailed on the once-legendary but now-busted Blueprint program. Isle feels very contemporary, with photo heavy, design-y graphics that could easily find their way onto your favorite aesthete’s Tumblr. The art direction extends beyond graphics to the brand’s overall identity, keeping Isle very much in line with current trends in blending subject-heavy photography and sculpture, reminiscent of the studio work of Stephanie Gonot and Charlie White’s “Self Portriat” series. But as a brand cannot survive on visuals alone, Isle’s team is growing stronger as well. As a relatively young brand, like many of the others on this list, we’re curious to see how Jensen and Shier continue to evolve with Isle.
For lack of a better word, Welcome is weird, in the best of ways. At it’s heart, Welcome is about having fun, and not taking oneself too seriously. In direct opposition to the norm, they offer 22 different board shapes with fantastical graphics on both top and bottom plies (encouraging grip tape art). The unique shapes encourage a more creative way of skating, as each trick feels different on a wide, blunt-nosed board versus a traditional popsicle shape, for example. The overall brand aesthetic seems to fall somewhere between the brain child of Timothy Leery and Doctor Moreau, with an illuminati-esque logo and graphics featuring wicked sorcerers and bizarre animal creations in wild neon colorways. Every thing about the brand is different, as their about page states, “others take themselves seriously and not their products, we take our products seriously and not ourselves.” Skateboarding needs Welcome.
A video franchise, a hardware brand, apparel and deck maker – whatever the hell Bronze 56k wants to be, we’re okay with it. The overall brand concept draws heavy inspiration from (err, rips off) a myriad of ’90s lo-fi and low-brow iconography, from the perfectly pixelated Windows ’95 logo and PBS silhouette to Pissin’ Calvin and the No Fear muscle guy. The appropriation of dated corporate logos corny computer graphics for use by a comically small, Internet-driven brand is too on point.
In an era of mega HD videos and arena run contests, Bronze’s late 2013 video release “Solo Jazz” and more recent “Enron” come ready with a disclaimer: “for maximum viewing pleasure switch quality to 240p.” Both deliver pure raw NYC skating mixed with amazing video overlays and interludes. Even if the lo-fi shtick is harsh on the eyes, we back the brand’s effort to keep skateboarding in the streets where it belongs. Either way, how can you not love a brand that makes a “404 Error” board graphic?
Born in Paris in 2010, Magenta is in essence a little bit of everything already mentioned. It’s completely independent, skater-owned and operated with all branding and graphics done in house by founder Soy Panday. Though the identity is entirely its own. Magenta’s team boasts individuals from the U.S., Europe and even Japan, with each bringing their own unique flavor of skating to the table through spot selection and truly creative trick combinations – check any clip of quick feet king Kolchiro Uehara skating his hometown of Osaka and you’ll know exactly what we mean.
By way of Brooklyn, Mood exists to take the best parts of the art and design worlds and connect it to those in skateboarding. By working with established and emerging artists and designers from around the globe, founders Grandison Tabor (formerly of Rhode Island’s Fountain of Youth skateshop) and Calvin Waterman have successfully introduced a handful of genuinely interesting artist collaborations in the two years since Mood’s founding. Each collection uses specially commissioned work as apparel and deck graphics – the most recent collection delivers ’90s streetwear-inspired apparel and graphics adapted from photo-realistic paintings. While the concept may sound stuffy, the two graphic designer’s are far from pretentious. Smart brand videos, “short stack” Instagram edits and playful product shots keep their project light without losing sight of the artistic end goal. To the adult design nerd that never stopped skating, Mood is just what you’re after.