In Conversation with Skateboard Cafe
It’s not an everyday occurrence that a tight-knit British brand has the chance to collaborate with a global footwear powerhouse. For that reason alone we were thrilled to find out that Skateboard Cafe and DC Shoes agreed to work together to present a collection which encapsulates why the Bristol based hardware brand is where it is today.
Skateboard Cafe, which celebrated its ten-year anniversary last year, was born from a scene video produced by Rich Smith in 2008. Smith, who is still responsible for the company’s visual offerings, joined operations director Andy Makepeace with an aim to carve their own space in the UK skateboarding community. Since then, they have released equally-memorable video projects, decks, and clothing lines that are well-accepted on both sides of the pond and greater Europe.
In addition to finding out how the now-international brand has evolved over the past decade, we were especially keen to learn how the Cafe x DC collection mirrors the hues of the epicentre of Bristol skating; Lloyds. Keeping the colours and physicality of the iconic plaza in mind, Makepeace and Smith pay homage to a skate spot that means so much to not only themselves, but to the Cafe team and to skaters worldwide.
Introduction: Elliott Wright
Photos: James Griffiths
Flatspot: Last year Skateboard Cafe celebrated its ten-year anniversary. It’s such an achievement to successfully own and operate a UK-based hardware brand. How does it feel to see how far you have come over the past decade?
Andy: When we were planning the ten-year exhibition, I thought, Are people really going to want to see this? Is this something that other people are going to be stoked on? But when we did it–and I'm not really an emotional dude–it was a really nice moment to see some of the people that came through. It summarised the last ten years; I'm so glad we did it.
Rich: It’s a trip seeing how it looks and what it is now from what it was ten years ago. It's been such a gradual process. At the start we would put out one board and t-shirt at a time. If you look at the stuff we were putting out in 2012 and 2013 and compare it to now, it’s like a totally different thing. It’s like we are raising a kid or something [laughs]. In terms of the exhibition, without doing things like that you can forget half the board graphics, or the stories. You need to do things like that so you can see it all together.
Flatspot: Let’s talk about the collaboration with DC. How did it come about? Did the fact that you have shared riders play a role?
Andy: Rich and I met through working in a store which, at the time, sold a lot of DC stuff. A funny side note is that Layth, who now rides for DC, would come in and buy Kalis’ shoe from us.
For me, as soon as we got the opportunity to collaborate, it made a lot of sense. And looking back to when I was a sixteen-year-old kid, or the kid working in the store serving Layth, what would that kid say to this opportunity? It would be crazy to say “No” to do something like that. Personally, it felt like a full-circle moment.
Rich: With Cafe in general, everything has felt pretty organic; this also felt like that. An organic collaboration.
Andy: On a surface level, if you look at Cafe and you look at DC, you might not think it would be something you could put together straight off the bat. But if you know the stories and you know the people–especially with how we drew inspiration from Lloyds–I think it fits really well from the story side, as in how we all started, and how we became part of Cafe.
Flatspot: It’s amazing how you incorporated Lloyds into the collaboration. It is such an iconic British spot that is recognisable the world over. Can you expand on the significance to yourselves as well as to Cafe?
Andy: You have the whole story around LOVE Park and how it influenced Josh Kalis. You can see this in the On Video LOVE Park issue. Once we started working on the shoes, I realised how important Lloyds was to me and the whole Cafe crew growing up. That spot being there helped Cafe and has such a big impact on our lives.
Rich: We are so lucky to have Lloyds; it sort of gave us an identity in a sense. Kalis and all the Philly guys have LOVE and the importance of that for them. I thought it was a great opportunity, almost like a little “love letter” to Lloyds. There has never been any product based on Lloyds and it's such a famous spot and had so many skaters come through over the years. The Kalis OG colourway is based on the grey stone blocks. The Clocker 2 is based on the floor, which is like a dark navy.
Andy: If you look at the greys on the shoe, they are all different shades. If you take a look at the marble blocks at Lloyds, there are loads of different grey flecks in them. We wanted to get that across. There is the tan on the building behind as well, which is the gum and the sole, essentially.
Rich: Everything seemed to flow so well from the first meeting we had when we pitched the idea. From the mock-up and PDF, to making the samples, everything has run so smoothly.
Andy: DC, to work with, has been amazing. They have been proactive in speaking to us and making sure that things are how we want, and that we are happy. From the collaboration, to outside of that, they are super cool. It’s been a pleasure.
Flatspot: Can you expand on some of the fine details, such as the small icons on the back of each shoe?
Rich: On the back of the left Kalis shoe, there is an embroidery of a diamond. In the ledges at Lloyds, every panel has a diamond on it. A lot of the panels are super cracked now, but the diamond’s a symbol which a few of us in Bristol have gotten tattooed. And on the back of the right shoe, there is an embroidery of the big three.
Flatspot: Do you foresee more collaborations in the future?
Andy: We don't do loads of collaborations because a lot of the time, brands do them seasonally. It doesn’t make sense, or fit. A collaboration can’t be a mix of logos. That's why DC felt perfect because there's a reason; we are telling a story [about Lloyds’ influence]. Like I said, people might not see that at first, but when you add up those reasons it makes sense. Those are the boxes that need ticking if we were going to do other collaborations. Alongside that, are possible [partnerships] going to work with us, like DC did, and be equally collaborative in what we are trying to achieve?
Flatspot: How do you feel about where Cafe is at today?
Rich: I’m really happy with where the team is at, at the moment. It took us some time to get to the sweet spot. I wouldn’t want to add anyone or take anyone away. Right now, I’m feeling comfortable, in a positive way.
Andy: The people that have left, we still have love for them and everything that they do. We back what they do, as people. Just because they are no longer on Cafe, it’s not like it's out of sight, out of mind. As a brand, when we started, everything was cafe-inspired. We went down that rabbit hole of thinking about making everything fit with cafe culture. Almost like a theme thing. Today we have managed to evolve into doing things that don’t necessarily need a tie-in to a cafe theme.
Flatspot: It’s apparent that Cafe transcends into non-skate audiences as well. Is that something you ever strove for consciously?
Andy: When I see it out and about, I see a solid mix of people who are buying the brand, which is nice to see. I think we’ve always been conscious about offering something for everyone. It’s not about excluding non-skaters or a female audience. It’s about having a happy mix of positive things.
Flatspot: What do you envision for the next ten years of the brand?
Andy: When we started out, our intention was to develop the brand into what it is now. You can do that with a bunch of investment, and do it a lot of different ways. We took the approach of not borrowing money from a bank. Everything that we have developed has been “on us”. We have had a lot of problems that have come from that, but we can also take a lot of pride in that as well. We have had lots of ups and downs, but I think we have both put a lot of time, care, and effort into the brand. We always try to do what is best for the brand, not necessarily ourselves.
Rich: We do want to delve more into the cut-and-sew realm, which we have been doing gradually. Just experimenting with different fabrics and different fits. It’s always something that we have wanted to do, and now we are here. In terms of the visuals as well, I've put down the VX, and been doing HD for a little bit–going to give that a go.
Andy: We have a few different board shapes coming out. We have been on the same board shape for the whole time, pretty much. So we are going to introduce some new shapes with a little steeper concave. We want to give a few more options to people. Personally, I would like to see us pay homage to the guys that have been on for a while, maybe add a board or two in for people who have been around for a minute. There are a couple of people I would like to be able to showcase, and celebrate, for their contributions over the years.
Thanks to Andy and Rich for taking the time to speak to us.
The DC x Skateboard Cafe collection will be available online at Flatspot on Saturday 4th February 2023 at midnight.