Peter Kolks | A life in skateboarding
So maybe it’s good to start by going backwards and talk about how Pop started. I’m sure you’ve told this many times so give us a quick lowdown.
Sure. The lowdown... Well we started as an actual trading company. It started with us working in a skate shop in the East side of Holland called Frisco. At one point I got a job offer in Amsterdam and at that job I did a lot of buying internationally.
Through that I got to know Gareth Skewis who runs Palace. I got to know the guys from Magenta and I got to know the… well I met Pontus Alv at this trade show. I think it was at Bright. The first one in Frankfurt in some police station. Back before he started Polar. He only had his movies. In Search of The Miraculous and stuff.
I knew all these people kinda through that but it was before they were doing the brands. At one point I got kinda burned out. When I was 25 or 26 or something. I moved back to the east side [of Holland] where the skate shop was, where Ric was still working.
Anyway, I came back and chilled out for like a year. And then those brands started coming up. We were kind of interested in them. I went to one of the trade shows in Berlin and bumped into Gareth and Pontus. Magenta was already doing their stuff too. They asked, “What do you guys do? Are you guys interested in doing some distribution?” Two of the three brands came to us. I thought maybe it’d be kinda fun to do something like that.
So I introduced it to Ric and then we asked the owners of the store in Arnhem which is called Frisco (after San Francisco), “What do you guys think? You know we can probably get you a distributor's price for the stores. We do all the legwork and you guys just finance it.”
I was doing marketing and sales and Ric was doing the back end. We didn't get shit out of it. Probably like 10% or something. It was more of a hobby project because we really liked the brands.
It sounds like there’s kinda a parallel with Josh Stewart with Theories of Atlantis.
Exactly. It was similar to what he was doing. I think we even did Static premieres as well. It was all about the way we view skating. There was a new thing going on in skating. This was like six or seven years ago. Maybe even seven or eight years ago. So slowly we started doing the distribution for Polar, Palace and Magenta.
Maybe around a year and a half in, there was a little bit of a crisis going on as you had to pre-finance it (orders). The guys from the shop we were working with also owned another shop in another city and they’d just opened up this sneaker thing which was popping off so they were like, “Hey guys, we cannot really finance the new Palace order.”
We were like “What the fuck do you mean?!” We had done all the work but we didn’t have the money to finance that.
So their response was “Hey it’s your thing, you already do all the work, it’s your company. You guys can sort it out right? You can have it!”
So then we had to figure out what to do. I borrowed money from a friend. Ric had some money saved. Then at that point I actually started working again with a menswear store called 290SQM in Amsterdam with a guy called Ido.
That store is a lot more menswear right?
Exactly. They did APC, Our Legacy... they actually did consultancy with Stephen Mann on Arc’teryx Veilance. That was really cool because I got to learn a lot about that stuff. They did consultancy for other brands too but the main project was Veilance. My main thing back then was buying so I went to see all the brands. 290SQM was the first Nike Tier Zero account in Holland when that kicked off. I think it was around fifteen years ago. For Holland they were kinda the pioneers of that world.
Then I told Ido we were doing this project as a side thing but that we had to figure out where we would stock our stuff. How can we do the orders? So he was like, “I like your stuff. I’m down. I’ll invest.” So he invested one third. We got to use his space as the office and the warehouse. We got forced to start Pop.
We talked about what we were gonna call it. Let’s call it like a trading company but let’s not make a hell of a Dutch or a hell of an American or English name. So pop in Dutch actually means like doll. It obviously has multiple meanings in different languages. And obviously pop is like popping your board. That’s like the main meaning. But it had multiple meanings in a way so it was very easy. It was just very easy. Short name. Obvious name. So we were like let’s call it Pop Trading Company.
How about the logo?
A friend of ours made the logo. We were thinking just do some weird shadows and shit like. Popping off the floor. Off the ground. So he made this logo like, “You’re the middle... You are the O and the brands and consumers are the Ps. People have to go via you guys because you’re the middleman.” So that’s the whole idea behind the logo which I love.
It’s funny, the guy made a lot of other good logos but at first with this logo we were like “What do you mean?!!”
Then Ido (290 SQM) who was doing a lot of brand consultancy stuff said “It’s the best logo I’ve ever seen dude.”
We were like “Really?!!”
We were honestly thinking more shadowy pop stuff. But when Ido said that we were like “Maybe if he says it’s a good logo, it’s a good logo.” We ran with it.
And you guys have quite a unique vision for skateboarding right?
At this point we weren’t doing any brand stuff. Ric was still working at Frisco in Arnhem. We both had the mission then to push skateboarding how we saw it. You probably had a similar situation in the UK too, but back then we had very dull websites. Tacky covered all the contests and shit but they hardly had any good street footage. At the same time Josh Stewart was doing his thing. More and more independent skate videos were coming out. We had all these friends of ours that never really got hooked up in a proper way and we really liked their skating.
So we made this team of like eight dudes or something and it’s still the same dudes on the team now. We just started making our own clips. Also we decided to do monthly clips which back then wasn’t the norm. It was definitely way more like still making DVDs or still making a full length video. So we made clips.
When you make your own shit you get hyped off of that. You see your own clip and you’re hyped to get another one. You get good feedback from people. There’s this constant motivation thing. And we just wanted to get those dudes out and create our own platform.
So anyway that’s how we started. Just doing distribution.
Then making your own stuff?
We did that for like three years or something and then at one point my dad. He’s our accountant. He’s like, “You’re spending so much money on marketing. You give so much shit away. You’re doing all these trips, you’re making all this content.” We basically had a brand which we really like. We’d worked with brands and for brands, but never really created our own thing. So from having this little side project which was a little passion project we went on to push our own view on skating. You know. The people we like and the way we like to portray it.
When Palace decided to quit their apparel distribution my dad asked us, “You know you’re going to miss a bit of money from this. If they’re going to quit selling to other stores, why don’t you start trying your own stuff.” At this stage I didn’t know if people are really waiting for this stuff. Like you said we have this menswear background. In Arnhem we actually had this legendary menswear store opposite the skateshop called The Globe. They were like the first Stone Island account in Holland run by this old dude. I think he’s around 70 now. Anyway we always went there to get educated. It was like a museum. He had shit loads of stacks of clothing and it was all super good stuff like old Woolrich Woolen Mills by Daiki Suzuki. All this shit we didn’t know about. This was almost ten years ago.
I love that Otaku feeling. Just finding out about the craziest stuff.
Exactly and that dude was completely off the grid. He wasn’t online and he wasn’t in some magazine. He just had this store that was in this monumental old building. We always hung out there and learnt a lot from him.
I’d already started working with Parra. Having quit my job at 290. And then I got asked to work as a consultant for Converse and Parra at the same time. I helped him with his range and doing sales and marking up his thing. At that point he said, “You guys really have something cool going, why don’t you start doing your own apparel.” If Parra says it and my dad is backing us…
It was kinda like the time when Bronze and Dime came up. Everything was Fruit of The Loom and Gildan hoodies. Made in China dad hats and shit. It was all cool, but crap quality. So walking into a skateshop everything was essentially the same shit. All the same tees. Our thinking was, “How good would it be if you walked into a skateshop and were like what the fuck is this?!” All cut and sew. All made using our own cuts. Good quality. Made in Portugal. Well thought out.
Considered skate wear was kinda the idea. Our first season was FW16. We made a list of our top fifteen stores and hit them up. We hit up Street Machine in Copenhagen. Slam in London. Supreme in Paris. Civilist in Berlin. And those guys were into it. Everyone bought into it. From season one. It was cool you know. We had some good accounts straight away.
We had a bit of money in the company bank account which we didn’t take out as we had our own jobs on the side. So we could invest in our own range. We didn’t really have any stress! We went into it knowing that people were gonna be paying us late or that we had to invest in making the minimum orders of 100 pieces at the factory. So we were basically like, let’s figure this out. Let’s do this.
The way we designed it was as a more considered skate brand. More of a menswear inspired skate brand. We were perhaps more preppy looking skaters. Older dudes you know. I’m 35 now and Ric’s 30. It was all about what we like. It felt like something that wasn’t really out there. It was our own way of thinking.
Tell me more about the team!
They’ve been with us from day one. A lot of them from before we even started being a brand so they were an integral part of our image. And also the way we do the website… From our photography in the studio to like... A big thing about the brand is contrast. There’s a contrast in our distribution. There’s a contrast in how we make a range. The whole contrast thing is a big thing for us so we kinda wanted to fuck with the skate versus the menswear. The same with our distribution, it's like a direct translation of that. On our website the models you see in our studio photography are also our riders. You see them in the streets skating in our videos or you see them almost like pretty boys.
Team Handsome kinda shit.
You kinda fuck with it. You also gotta fuck with skateboarding as well. This kinda macho culture. I wouldn’t say it’s homoerotic but you give them a different platform. You take them out of context. Within the Dutch skate scene when we dropped off our first lookbook people were like “WTF is this?” You know cus they’re not used to it.
I think we also have that in our range. One of the best examples. We have this jacket in the range, the DRS ribcord jacket. It’s based off an old Droors jacket that I still had lying around at my parents. We basically used that whole cut. It’s a kinda nautical looking Droors jacket which has Droors printed on the sleeve etc. It’s a pretty wild jacket but we just decided to make it in a black cord. Basic. Make it more menswear, but with a skate heritage.
So that’s how we went about making the range in a way. Like I said, that was kinda like the contrast. The team is integral to translating that into either lookbooks or the videos.
Do any of the boys fuck with designer clothes themselves? Are they wearing Pop with Louis or whatever.
Yeah well we have a guy called Noah. He’s modelling actually now because… well we don’t want to take all of the credit, but he wasn’t really into it back then, but because of the shoots that we’ve been doing. The guys we work with, Koers von Cremer get asked for bigger shoots. Some of the agencies were like ‘Who is this kid. Do you want to add this kid as well?’ Now he's hooked up with a proper modelling agency. He’s in Japan right now for two months doing modelling work as well.
Is he gonna stack clips whilst he’s out there as well?
Yeah well we’re working on it. He always gets shit. Always gets good shit. Super talented skateboarder, but definitely a character on his own. He’s one of the main dudes in our campaigns as well cus he’s just a good looking dude and knows how to model. But nah, like I said a lot of those dudes are into clothes.
Like right now we have a dude, Alex who’s one of our Belgian riders and we recently did this 4x3 advert clip and he’s one of the main dudes in there. He’s doing an internship now so he’s our marketing intern. He also is involved in our strategy talks, but he’s one of our main riders. He’s definitely into his Dries Van Noten. Cus he’s from Belgium. You know he lives in Antwerp as well [the heartland of intelligent designer fashion]. He has all this vintage Dries and Vivienne Westwood. He’s got a Vivienne Westwood denim jacket on at the moment I think..
He’s got taste by the sounds of it.
On a skateboard he has one of the best styles. He actually just got this cover. It’s one of the last posts we put on Instagram but it’s like him ollieing through this frame in Antwerp city. Make sure you have a look. Sugar skate magazine you know. The French magazine. He got the cover. But he’s like a smart dude. He’s been with us for five years now or something so he knows the brand. He knows and is into his fashion and stuff and he’s done this marketing course you know. So he’s a good dude. When he gives you some feedback you’re like ‘lemme listen to what he has to say.’ On multiple levels these dudes are very much an influence. To the brand and to what we do.
The best and most fun thing still is getting new clips in and being like, “Yo sick. We can make this into a cool project.”
We’re working on a lot of new projects now like a new 4x3 with some of the younger dudes you know. Mixing it up with some of the older dudes.
You mentioned Droors. Was that your favourite back in the day?
I definitely grew up in that era. I used to see myself and Lev, for example we’re the same age. We definitely have a similar frame of reference you know as far as like the Palace Kalis Alien Workshop board. I’m a massive Josh Kalis fan. I like Gino. I like Keenan Milton. The early days of Fourstar. Axion. Droors were obviously earlier you know. Droors was kinda revived through DC. DC was a massive influence.
We actually made this DC spoof of their first logo that they did in 1996 or something. It kinda looks like a Champion logo, but we flipped it. Yeah, this was a while ago and all the DC guys were in Europe and Leo Valls went to do a retail tour with them. Apparently they saw the shirts. I think Samir had it in Paris in the Supreme store. And they were like “Whoa what the fuck is this?” Because they obviously recognised it. They weren’t too amused. Leo had to kinda smooth talk it and straighten it out a bit.
Who are the young kids coming through that are gonna make some noise?
Fuck man. Jair. He’s just left [the studio] but he’s in our lookbook now. A young kid. He’s fifteen years old now. He’s on Converse as well but we’re focusing on him a lot.
Yeah I’ve seen his clips! Great backside flip.
Super good style. Super young still. A lot of potential.
From Antwerp a new kid Logan da Silva Ortiz. He’s like half Belgian half Brazilian. You can imagine what’s happening there. He’s on DC as well so you can imagine! Back like 3-4 years ago we did this event called Spot the Spot and he was there already wearing super baggy jeans and like DVS’s. Older DVS’s. No one was wearing that shit! He’s been wearing that shit forever! So now he’s on DC which works for him as well. He’s super good. Maybe he’s 17 now. Jair is actually 15. And then we’ve got this other kid called Chima who we’re gonna focus on as well. I think he’s like 19. But he’s fucking good. He’s on Adidas.
Who does most of the team managing for you guys?
It’s basically Willem who’s also on the team. He’s the guy with the long blonde hair. If you see him you’d probably be like that’s the dude. He also models a bit for us as well. He used to be a nurse and work in a hospital and shit. But, because he’s been with us from day one almost, he’s running the store and running the team as well. So together with myself we’re looking at projects we do. Kinda almost like how can we develop the guys a bit more so there’s actually something in it for them as well. Getting other sponsors on board. We did this Antwerp project and one of the guys in there, Yeelen Moens. He rides for Vans, he was on flow and now he’s on the European squad so he’s getting paid and shit. There’s definitely ways of making sure… cus we don’t pay our riders we don’t have the money to do that you know... so we really try and facilitate them getting paid.
It’s coming for sure!
Yeah we just try and build that together. So that’s actually something I get a lot of joy from. At least I get a lot of joy from. Just seeing those guys progress. When I get new clips and shit being like ‘Oh sick, this can be a good clip.’ Like I said we’re getting more and more. We’re becoming more of a platform you know to kinda showcase that. To link it to Transworld or Thrasher.