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This weekend I took a moment to catch up and talk with Studio Skateboards owner Jai Ball. Talking with Jai about what's new with Studio, when can we expect to see their new video, and the difficulties of running your own brand.
How’s it going Jai?
I'm good Twa!
Good to hear, I want to start by saying I feel like Studio has a lot of momentum behind it right now. I see kids skating your boards everywhere I go, and with your new video on the way things are only looking to get better. But I think for the sake of anyone reading this interview we should still start at the beginning. So, when and where was the idea of Studio created and how long has it been a company for?
Darrell Smith came up with the name Studio somewhere around 2004-2005, it was a small clothing line at the time run out of London, Ontario for a season or two. It was officially registered and re-launched as a skateboard company in the fall of 2008 in Montreal. So it's going on seven years now.
Who was on the original team and who is on the team now?
The original team was the original three owners; Darrell Smith, Ryan Blaxall and myself. Jean Mat Vincent and Andrew McGraw were added shortly after.
Right now the team is; Wade Fyfe, Mike Fyfe, Bryan Wherry, Joey Larock, Chris Melvin, Kyle Macdonald and myself.
When you first started contacting shop buyers in Canada was the attitude generally positive or skeptic?
At the start it was a bit of both. We knew a lot of shop buyers at core shops from our years of skating across Canada and many of them welcomed us with open arms. Some shops were indifferent, they see a lot of new brands come and go. They want to see a brand that can sustain itself and is a proven success before they put in an order. My biggest realization was that skating is very localized, what's working in certain areas does not always translate to others.
You have been operating Studio for seven years how has the mentality changed towards the brand? Are shops more aware and open to carrying Studio or is every account still just as difficult to acquire?
It has definitely gotten easier and the first video helped a lot. People need to know what you're about, and board graphics alone aren't going do it. I think once people understood the culture behind Studio the product started moving faster. Stores started to hear more buzz and actually wanted to carry it instead of me having to over pitch it.
In the last year you have added Bryan Wherry and released a Pro board in his name. How did Wherry joining the team come about, and how does he fit into the company?
Well as you might know, Wherry was supposed to be on the original team. As we were getting ready to launch the company, he was getting flowed Cliché through Supra Distribution and was still a little on the fence, finally Cliché decided to fly him out to Lyon to meet the team and skate for a few weeks. Obviously that was an amazing opportunity for Wherry. We were super happy for him and wanted him to see that through. That being said we always kept in touch. He ended up getting me on HUF Canada back in 2011, and we would always talk about him getting on Studio. Finally when I moved out to Vancouver he was already skating with Wade Fyfe all the time and the timing was just right. He's a big part of the brand, his years of ripping and being a positive force in Canadian skating is a great addition to the team. His multiple video parts, magazine coverage, reputation and personality made giving him a board a no-brainer.
In the last 6 months I have noticed that Studio boards are everywhere in Vancouver. Your last few lines of boards have featured work from local Vancouver artists. Who are these artists? And why do you think these new lines of graphics are resonating so well with skaters?
Yeah the scene here has been amazing, thanks for the support! The last two seasons I've worked with LJ Brownlee (Wherry's roommate). As I was getting settled in Vancouver last winter LJ was just finishing design school and was eager to help out. He came up with some great original concepts and logos and helped bring some of my ideas to life as well. We have very similar taste so every time he showed me something I was like, "Yes"! We also worked with Martin Davis from New York. Wade Fyfe connected us with him for a board graphic last fall that worked out great. This year we've got Vancouver artists Jonathan Stewart and Derrick Fast in the mix. My mantra is simply to make good art. The styles and artists can vary but it has to evoke something, even if it's a very simple graphic, which last year's boards were. We put a ton of work and thought into them. The graphics aren't geared towards twelve year olds either, I like to give skaters a little more credit when it comes to taste and art. If skating wants to claim "art" status, there can only be so many beer logo rip-offs.
Supreme in New York City is showing Studio support with a full run of each board line on their wall. As a Canadian brand how did you get your boards in Supreme?
I met Pryce Holmes through Wade Fyfe in Vancouver a while back. I have always been a fan of his part in the "Baby Steps" video. Anyways, we started talking and he was down to carry the brand. We did a Studio trip to NYC last summer and hung out a bit, we also did a board last fall with artist/Supreme employee Martin Davis. It's been great for us our only U.S account is Supreme. I'm stoked and thankful to be working with them.
Being a Canadian company in this industry is difficult. What barriers have you faced when trying to push Studio boards into the American market?
I think the barriers are more mental than anything. How do you create something that stands out and will appeal to skaters everywhere? I try to focus on the overall aesthetic being on point. Making solid edits and videos so that when the products enter a foreign market it's not just another piece of wood with paint on it hanging there. Obviously skating was invented in California and you want to be accepted in the States, hopefully we create something of value that gives back to skating in some way and people will take notice.
What stigmas do you feel fall around Canadian companies? How has Studio succeeded in overcoming these stigmas or stereotypes?
Tall tees, beer drinking, hockey playing, FSU. These were the no-goes when we started Studio. I watched Canadian companies, and U.S brands represent Canadian riders that way for so long. I mean I love both hockey and beer, but that doesn't mean it should be your brands entire art direction. I guess we did the opposite and it worked. I never related as a skater to the Canadian clichés, growing up in MTL we loved the NYC, Pulaski, Love Park, Pier 7 and scenes like that. We were lucky to have Berri Square, Peace Parc and tons of downtown street skating. Studio is just an extension of that feeling.
In the last year you moved from Montreal to Vancouver. How did this effect Studio? And what was the reasoning behind this move?
It was a tough decision that took a while to make. Montreal is such a large part of my identity, and in turn Studio's identity. I'm born and raised in MTL, and I spent the greater part of my skate life promoting the scene there. I think it's a beautiful city with a lot to offer. But when we finished “Mood Lighting” I felt the first chapter of the company was done. I always wanted Studio to be a national/international skateboard company. I lived in Vancouver from 2006 to 2009 and met my wife Laura during that time. We moved back to Montreal for five years and felt it was time to head out west again. With half the team still living on the east coast I felt Studio was well represented and I could move on and focus on growing the company. So far everything about it has been positive. The weather is great and the scene is strong and very supportive of Studio.
Tell me about Studio’s new video project. There was a lot of positive feedback from “Mood Lighting”. What’s the new Video called and when is it set to come out?
No name yet, I'm hoping for a spring '15 release. Everyone got a foundation of footage going last year, so now it's on.
With every company trying to transition to HD footage why is Studio making their new video with only VX1000 footage?
Damn, I don't even know. I mean I remember talking to few people after “Mood Lighting” came out, asking them what they thought; continue VX or HD? I remember Joey Larock saying, "Maybe VX1000 is just our thing". Enough filmers were still rocking VX's and it's always been my favorite. It goes well with super 8 as well. It's funny because before Pretty Sweet came out everyone was saying VX would be dead after that. I think it had the opposite effect and now people want that O.G. flavor. At this point, if they're still working and there are still tapes to buy, we'll be using them.
Any final thoughts about anything I didn’t mention?
Just that when you support Studio you're supporting a completely independent and skater run company that uses locally made boards. I work with skaters and artists who truly care about the life of skating. Bryan, Wade and myself have been involved in the Canadian scene for a long time. When we're out there filming ourselves, or coming up with board graphics it's all for the pure love of skateboarding, to add to the legacy. There are a lot of takers out there, throwing porn stars on boards, never making videos, doing ads with "flow riders", you have to give as well, and at least attempt to create something that makes people proud to be a part of this culture. I've dedicated my life to this for the feeling I get at 7pm on a Sunday, skating an alley downtown somewhere with friends, laughing and joking while the sun goes down, trying a trick or cheering someone else on, knowing that I'm doing exactly what my heart desires at that moment. That love goes into everything that Studio does.
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