Stacks is a smaller company that was started last year by Michael Leon and Reese Forbes. Since then, they've grown from a team consisting of one pro to a full roster of heavy hitters including Reese, Dani Lebron, Adrian Adrid, Barry Mansfield, Mikey Burton, Cameo Wilson, Ben Fisher, and Sebo Walker. TEAM is the first promo from this new company, it's something that can be looked back on in the future as their first defining effort... an introduction of sorts. Given that, it's fitting to include an interview with Stacks founder Michael Leon to get some information on how the company started and where they plan on going in the future. Check it out below.
You were working in the Art Dump for many years. What did you do before that and how did you end up working at Girl?
Before that I was in school, so it was my first real job. Started in '97. My roommate Johannes and my friend Bucky were working there and suggested I come up and meet with Andy Jenkins because they needed another designer and I needed a job. It was just Jenkins, Johannes, and me. The Art Dump thing came later once we had a full crew. Board graphics were still output to film at that time. My first jobs were fixing mistakes on film with a marker. I remember the first one I did to learn was a Chocolate City series Chico board. Later on I ended up doing apparel and graphic design for Fourstar.
Talk a little bit about Andy Jenkins' influence on you. You've mentioned that when you started at Girl you didn't even know how to use a computer.
You have to remember in '97 so many of the digital tools we use now were new. We were barely using email and none of the brands had a website yet. Jenkins and Johannes were really into learning all the stuff that would make us more productive, and they both had a lot of time and patience for helping me figure things out. I was just doing art before that, so when I had done board graphics it was literally scanned from a drawing. I was really excited about learning it.
You left the Art Dump to launch Rasa Libre with Matt Field and Deluxe. You helped define their original look. What was the inspiration behind the original incarnation of Rasa?
I think the inspiration came from the team, as it should. The Deluxe guys are really fun to work with. Matt had his whole vibe but we didn't want it to be like IPath so we layered in these other rock and Americana influences. So if Matt needed imagery to fit his vibe we could go in that direction but also had slightly different art direction for Matt and Reese. Jim, Tommy G, and Nick Neubeck were also a part of throwing in ideas. At the time I think it sorta flew over people's heads but there were a few people who got really into it. It was just timing, you know, and it was completely different from everything out there. I think everyone involved is super proud of that body of work.
How did Nike come into the picture?
Nike was a next step that I felt I needed. I'd been deep in skate for a while and maybe a little sulky about the lack of success with Rasa Libre. Plus I wanted to learn more about design and grow as an art director. I thought the best place to do that is at a company that has a long history in design innovation. It was also a life decision to move to Portland. Right now I'm up at Nike working with a team on some new retail stores. We just launched a store in Malibu called Salvation that you should check out if you get a chance.
Stacks has been around for quite some time, but was licensed to Japan for many years. What was the original concept behind the brand and what made you decide to transform it into a skateboard company?
Originally it was an outlet to create tees, prints, records, boards, zines, whatever. Just a 100% creative engine. The tees started to do well in Japan and it kinda took off from there. I think it was a bit much for us to handle once we started getting truckloads of tees. You have to decide if you want to take the leap from being a small business to being a medium-size growth-focused business, so we ended up going into licensing because it allowed us to do the fun part, the design, and the production and sales happens elsewhere. Then a few years later I found myself in a place where I wanted to revive it, but I wasn't too interested in making a lot of t-shirts, at least at first. Stacks has it's beginnings in apparel and we have plans to go there again, but it just so happened that Reese was also in a place to do something new, and it just clicked into place. Maybe we have some unfinished Rasa Libre business.
How did you go about picking the team. You and Reese have a long history through Rasa and Nike, how did Sebo and the rest of the guys come into the picture?
Just random really. With Sebo, I think the guys at Built To Shred turned us on to him after they filmed an episode. He was way underrated and unsupported at the time. Keep in mind this was only like a year ago so he's really come a long way. Jason Rogers was really backing him with Autobahn and understood what he was capable of. We all just started to back him hard and he got into a crazy work mode. 24/7 skating. Dani we met through the guys at SB. Barry and Cameo we met through our distributors in Canada and Australia. Mikey Burton I met in Seattle when we were on tour. Adrian is our TM Justin's homie who used to stop by when we shared our office with Stereo for a brief time. Ben was through Justin, I'm really psyched to have him on board. The team is really up to Reese. He and Justin have an eye for it. I'm more looking for guys who I can stand to be in the van with on a 14 hour drive.
The new promo is called TEAM, other than showcasing the riders; is there any other significance in that name?
The video came about because we have been talking about doing a full length for some time, and some of the new guys like Adrian have a bunch of VX footage from this Summer. So we thought instead of holding onto it, let's do a short vid now and then work toward a HD full length in the Spring. So in a way this a teaser. I called it TEAM because it was supposed to be the first video with everyone. It's really dead basic. Maybe three b-roll clips in the whole thing and no arty stuff. Just straight up skating. It's not color corrected and the titles are dead basic. There's some fucked-up glitchy clips I just left in. So it needed a simple and straightforward title to go with that. Reese is working on the Quiksilver video so he didn't make this one, but we were lucky enough so get some insane Ben Fisher clips (Thanks Ben) even though he's focusing on a big Transworld part right now. Really it represents the moment in time where we finally have a full squad and we needed to go ahead and share some of what these guys have been up to before we get out the cranes and dolly's for the next one.
You've mentioned brands like Stacks being necessary in today's skate market, what is your vision for Stacks as a brand and how is it relevant?
What I appreciate about it is that it's very honest. We're not selling a gimmick, we're not trying to be funny or tough. We just make boards with a lot of attention to detail and at the same time we support our team guys however we can and try to show them in the best light possible. To me that's a very modern way of approaching it. I think it's relevant because skater's are smart people and they want to support brands that are obviously having fun with what they do. Plus the way this industry works hasn't changed in 30 years. If you look at the record industry the whole thing got shaken up and updated. I think that's gonna happen to skateboarding soon and it's gonna all of a sudden be less like Motorhead and more like Radiohead. So there have to be more forward thinking companies that are looking at new ways of doing things, and that's not just brand that's sales, marketing, team, everything.
You've mentioned that you primarily want Stacks to be in core skate shops even though it started as an apparel brand - there is a certain exclusivity that goes along with that. How important is that to you with regards to brand integrity?
There's that thing that happens...when a skater at a shop looks across all those boards on the wall, they have a choice around where they want to align themselves and how they want to spend their money on this month's board. Cause they are gonna be at the local park standing there holding that board and all their friends are going to see them and make assumptions about them based on that board brand, right? It's like a socio-political kinda thing. So if you are Stacks, you are asking a lot for a kid to NOT buy a Deluxe or Girl board this month.Know what I mean? So, going back to the shop... I don't see us competing with those brands. I don't think that would be in our best interest. So yes of course we need to be in the shops where skaters buy boards, duh, but when I go in a skateshop in a mall or whatever I don't usually feel like this is the best place to house what we are trying to do. I don't know if that made any sense at all. What I mean in a nutshell is I want us to be where a skater can buy a board, but I also dont want our stuff sitting next to some sandals. The only way for us to nail it is to open our own shop, so maybe we'll consider that. Ha!
Where do you see Stacks going in the next five to ten years?
Lighter, Faster, Stronger
Is there anything else that you would like to mention here?
I want to thank our team manager Justin Maruco for coordinating all of this, the filmers for killing it always, and the Berrics for all the support.