Making the Mistake of Being a Basement Brand as Opposed to a Garage Brand. An interview with Mike Gigante of The Northern Company.

  Skateboarding is bigger than we can imagine, it’s easily accessible, and it’s everywhere; commercials, music videos, television. Access to Skateparks is now available worldwide. Huge televised contests result in enormous cash prizes  for the winner, and every big brand wants a piece of the pie. Corporations invest tons of advertising dollars to have their logo embroidered on as many Street League skaters hats as they can.  

   Now, on the opposite end of the spectrum, there are a few brands that are fighting the “good fight”.   The guys who are skating for the love of it, making hardly any profit with no financial backing.  These guys are scraping by just for the love of skating.  Some call these brands crazy, but I say they’re exactly what skateboarding today needs.

 

SMDM: Let’s start off with the basics.

Mike: I’m Mike Gigante.  I co-own The Northern Company.  I do most of the art direction and graphic design.

SMDM: Sweet, you’re an “art director”.  How long has Northern been around?

Mike: Almost 4 years I think? Do the first few months count? Is this like skating, where you lie about the first year you started so you sound better?

SMDM: Yes, exactly like skating.  So it’s been around 3 years.  Is it still as enjoyable as when you started?

Mike: It’s different…. I would say the year it didn’t count was the most fun.  No pressure.  We had no idea what we were doing. No idea if we could sell 10 boards.  One graphic.  Can’t beat that.

SMDM: How small did you start?

Mike: Really small.  To be clear, my buddy and I had no idea we would get this far into it.  Steve, my partner, made the first graphics by taking a picture of an axe at his job, which took him 5 minutes.  My girlfriend and I sewed patches on the first hats we did in her basement.  We put just enough money into it to have one graphic made. We just wanted to do something for ourselves, to keep us involved, if that makes any sense.

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SMDM: It makes sense.  Too bad you didn’t start out of a garage. Instead you chose a basement.  Bad move. Starting from a garage is the new thing.  Just ask Numbers….

Mike: We just weren’t lucky enough to start from a garage.  Those are reserved for the Nike sponsored skater’s who run “small” brands.  We were lucky enough to be able to store the boards at Steve’s job, without his boss yelling at him.

SMDM: So you started small. How was starting up? Must be easy. Everyone seems to have a brand these days.

Mike:Honestly, starting up wasn’t that hard. The reason why there are so many board brands now is because it’s not too expensive to start pressing boards.  Also, people don’t know how many you are making, so make 10 and BOOM! You’re a brand!

SMDM: So basically this was all a random idea and you made boards.?

Mike:Steve and I had ideas of what we wanted to do.  I would always think of brand names and stuff.  Also, I should mention that Steve knew some wood shops we could try.  He had past experience.

SMDM: So basically your partner is an industry whore?

Mike: Ha, let’s just call him a dreamer…

SMDM: OK. We can be politically correct.  So, does it bother you that everyone and their nephew who doesn’t skate has a brand?

Mike: It does when they don’t offer anything new or interesting.  To hate something because it’s new isn’t fair.  Northern is fairly new, but I do believe we offer stuff other companies don’t.  It sucks when something comes out and looks the same as the other 5 brands out, and all the teams look like mini Brad Cromers, with tiny beanies on. (for the record, I like Brad Cromer).  I think it bothers me when huge pros start their own companies to put their buddies out of business.  I get wanting to leave when things get stale, but maybe it makes more sense to support a smaller thing than to make up an idea for a company you don’t really even have…

SMDM: I’ll agree. It would have been cool if some pros went to smaller companies as opposed to starting their own brands that suck. It’s not in line with what were saying, but it would have been dope if Jake Johnson rode for Scumco.

Mike: Yeah, Jake Johnson rules!  I get that situation though.  Alien went out before they left and they wanted to stay a team.  That’s totally different.  Quasi also offers something different, so thats cool.

SMDM: It’s crazy they haven’t really put out any content and are huge.

Mike:Yeah, they are killing it.  That team is solid. Stands on its own.

SMDM: Yes, Tyler Bledsoe is my favorite………… Do you feel video edits are the lifeblood of a brand?

Mike: I do, at the moment I think edits are really important.  I think  that branding, solid direction, and spot on graphics are probably most important.  The edits/videos are like respect back up what you do.  With that said, some brands can put out little to no video content and be successful.  Image is everything.

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SMDM:Do you feel for a small brand you need to put out constant updates?

Mike: With edits, the sad truth is that they get lost in the shuffle, no matter how rad they are.

SMDM: It’s all disposable now. Kids have short attention spans.  Being small, whats your biggest outlet to the public?

Mike: I would have to say Instagram is probably the most consistent outlet, which is insane. When we do put out edits, we usually get reposted around, and our last edit was featured on the Transworld Skateboarding website.  Mostly though, its all Instagram. It’s powerful.

SMDM: Instagram.  That leads me to the “Sponsor Monsters”. How are they treating you?

Mike: Ahhhh. Good lead in.  Well, it’s hilarious for the most part.  Kids are so brave, but so dumb at the same time.

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SMDM: I’m assuming it was flattery at first?

Mike: Um, yeah, at first I think it was “oh cool, I’ve never been on the other end of this before”.Some of the people we met in the beginning were ok…but now it’s a joke.  It’s a lot of trolls.  I can’t believe kids send flatground tricks and ask for free. Like, when did that ever work?

SMDM: Do you think it’s because they see your pros doing single backside flips on flat in videos? Like, “FUCK, this dude is pro and I can do that! I’ll get “sponsed” for sure!”

Mike: Yeah totally.  I get what you mean. What they don’t see is the style.  Their eyes aren’t trained for that.  I’d rather watch Jesse backside flip on that than some kid bounce flip at a park any day.

SMDM: Likewise.  These kids don’t get that you have to know how to push.  They just don’t look good doing tricks.  Have you ever sponsored one of these little DM bastards?

Mike:Zero. If we are talking Instagram, no one.

SMDM: Ever get any crazy ones?

Mike:There was one where the person didn’t know we had a team or boards.  I was so confused as to what they even wanted for free.

SMDM: That’s normal.  All these kids are lost from what I hear.  So for the record, you have never sponsored from a DM.  Kids, pay attention!

Mike: Hmmmm, no, can’t say we have.  Usually the way it works is someone we know, or trust suggests someone to us.  Then they send you a link to some footage, YouTube, or whatever.  It needs to make sense.  Usually the people you would be into aren’t going to hit you up blindly through Instagram.

SMDM: Interesting, I surely thought your whole team sent in clips of parks through Instagram in 15 second clips.  

Mike: Nope.

SMDM: So, it’s just you and your partner, no financial backers.  How is that?

Mike:It’s stressful.  Once you start bringing people on and you have a team and pros it changes.  Your goal is to then look out for those people. You are the last in line for everything, but it’s rewarding when you pull something off.  It’s just Steve and I.  I have to give credit to Steph, my girlfriend, for basically being our free “on staff” production artist. Without her none of the final products would be possible.  I wish we had financial backing, If anyone is interested I’m taking applications!

SMDM: Maybe someone would loan you money if you were a garage brand, not a basement brand. That mistake is going to haunt you forever.  Live and learn. With that said, you seem to draw comparisons to being “Rasa Libre 2.o”, but with less dream catchers.  Was that the plan?

Mike: No, definitely not the plan, but I think it naturally got the comparison because of Jesse (Narvaez)  and Bryan (Botelho), which is fine.  I loved Rasa, all the versions.  They were ahead of the game. Matt (Field) is a great dude.  With that said, I’m very conscious not to bite his shit. That’s his style and ideas. These are mine.  It’s like actually skating.  It’s rad to take an influence, but lame to directly copy something.  I haven’t done a dreamcatcher, yet……

SMDM: I don’t think dreamcatchers are your guys style.  You guys are definitely more drugs and graffiti.  Straying away from that, I was curious, do you pay your pros? I want to ask because you guys are small, and kids want to get sponsored to get rich. 

Mike: Yeah, we pay our guys.  It’s definitely not as much as we would like,  since we are small and can only generate so much revenue.  Everyone on Northern does it for the love, and the free boards. Haha. It keeps it honest.  I don’t know what board company can pay pros enough to live off of. There isn’t enough market space. I’m sure even the big brands are hurting.

SMDM: I think its all shoe money that lets people just skate.  The boards just get the pro’s names out. 

Mike: I agree about footwear actually providing the dough.

SMDM: Were there ever any guys you tried to get on that just didn’t work out?

Mike: There are always people that you try and get on board, and for whatever reason, it doesn’t always work.  I really was rooting for Nate Broussard when we did the guest board with him.   He is a really awesome dude and a great skater.  I felt like he fit the vibe well, but the reality of him being in Texas, plus real life stuff, it just didn’t happen.  The rad thing with skating though is that Nate and I keep in touch.  We have common interests aside from skating.  He also still rips when he skates.   He doesn’t send “Sponsor Me” tapes out.

SMDM: Kids take note! Someone who doesn’t send a “Sponsor Me” tape.  Well, it sounds like your an industry guy now.  You weren’t a pro or “sponsed” skater, so how is the adjustment to being “someone”?

Mike: Ha, I am really nobody.  I’m just some dude who loves skating.  Same goes for Steve, my partner.  That’s probably my favorite part of the whole deal.  Nobody knows what we look like.  That’s good.  I like the low profile.  I don’t even know if Northern qualifies as being in the “Industry”.  We are still so small in the grand scheme of things.

SMDM: Do you get lots of free stuff?

Mike: Ha, oh man.  No.  I pay for all skate related stuff besides decks.  I do know some people who get some free stuff.  I should probably hit them up and maybe I’ll become a “Sponsor Monster”.

SMDM: Well, you got caught.  It’s all going to be in print.  Aside from planning on harassing shoe companies for free stuff, what are the plans for your brand in the upcoming year?

Mike: Damn! I almost made it out.  Well, I think the gas is more exposure in any way possible.  I like to not let too many details out.  We will have a few surprises soon.  Hopefully the brand will survive to see 2018.  Thats the plan. Survival.

 

Check out @northernco on Instagram, or on the web at www.thenorthernco.com

 

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