Would you have guessed that dirt box started in the back of Ford Escort?
I can think of better places, but dirt box’s birth location could not be more appropriate for two creative young men who have gone on to produce some of the most entertaining, controversial and high-quality goods in rollerblading since that day.
Formalities? Corporate responsibility? Nope. Sam and Anthony have done it their own way.
Their dry sense of humour was immediately picked up by local Norwich boutiques but took slightly longer to tickle the interests of the rollerblading industry. Now, ten years later, with their goods highly sought after, they are here to speak out with a brutal breath of honesty and transparency.
Their mission, driven entirely by passion and comedy, may deviate from what you’d expect to hear from most current day companies. Call it what you will, blunt, rude, sarcastic, caring or artistic, dirt box are deeply rooted in their enthusiasm for rollerblading and they will not be budged for a long time to come.
I could write a dissertation about these guys but I’d rather you hear it from the horse’s mouth. So, without further ado, Sam Currie and Anthony Zinonos are dirt box.
Words: Harry Abel
Questions: Josip Jagic + Harry Abel
Photos: Sam Cooper + Sam Currie
Artwork: Anthony Zinonos
Josip: How and why did you start dirt box?
Sam: I can’t really remember to be honest, 10 years ago nearly now. It was fairly organic though, no plans, no rules. It’s always just been to make us laugh and we were lucky enough that other people got the joke.
Anthony: I guess dirt box really started off the back of a local skate DVD Sam filmed and edited, I did the artwork for the case, a little booklet and the titles, we also some how put a website together. Working together on that was really fun and made us realize how much we had in common besides just skating. We were just constantly throwing ideas around so it was only natural that something new would come out.
At the time rollerblading was taking its self far too seriously so we really wanted to just joke around, have a laugh, be random and hopefully make people laugh. There is only so much Mindgame philosophy a person can take, haha….
To cut a long story short we were super baked came up with the name dirt box, pissed ourselves with laughter, still found it funny the next day so just went with it.
Sam: First time we saw the words dirt box we were crammed up in the back of an Escort in traffic, it was written in the mud on the back of a white van. Our mate Loz told us what it meant and we pissed ourselves. I used to stay at Anthony’s place all the time and I think it was about a week later one of his house mates was away and I was staying in her room, there was mental African shit everywhere from some gap year bollocks. I remember laying on her bed feeling a bit freaked out by it all because we had been waddling about on shrooms all afternoon and then Anthony came in with a sketchbook that he had done the dirt box text in and the first logo we used, which was a TV.
Josip: Is it a proper business? Like an LTD firm?
Sam: It’s registered, but I try run it at zero. So I don’t have to pay tax on top of my regular job. It’s a business that’s run like a hobby.
Josip: Why is there a password to the site right now?
Sam: We’re working on some new things then we’ll start circulating passwords. Had a lot more interest from shops lately so we might be selling mainly through select shops and then the site will be password access for existing customers and anyone else that can get hold of the code before it changes.
Early stages of this idea but I’m going to play about with it over the next few months and see how it goes, if the shops drop off again I’ll just open the site again as normal but I want to give the shops that are trying to support us the best chance of moving the product and as our site is doing well now I think cutting that off will help shops out a bit. I’m so busy at work now it’s hard to keep on top of the web orders so it should also free up a bit of time for me to work on new projects which is the bit I enjoy most.
Josip: Did you decide on starting dirt box by recognizing there was a need for cool clothing on the market?
Sam: Anthony was the driving force, he’s a talented man and started the whole thing with a strong DIY ethos. It started in the print making department while he was at art school making one offs. We had more interest from boutiques than the skate industry in the early days which was a surprise. 90% of the ideas were Anthony’s. I work in textiles and I still haven’t seen anything as good as his since then.
Josip: Do you feel that a punk aesthetic is an integral part of rollerblading, the whole DIY approach to getting things done?
Anthony: Punk, yes. But, hip hop also comes from that same “fuck the man” stand point. Subcultures will always be exploited. That’s kind of what exciting about what’s happening now in rollerblading, it’s at a very pure state.
We are in control which is so rare.
Sam: I think most the time it’s out of necessity rather than choice. We’re in a position now where it doesn’t have to be as DIY as it is, but, I think it’s so ingrained into us now that it’s the only way we know how to create things.
I do agree with you that we have a lot in common with early punk and even early skateboarding. There’s no real gain to be had apart from what you take from it so it’s mainly driven by passion also you’re somewhat ostracised by doing it. I mean you’re not gonna clean up on tinder with a good switch foot.
Josip: So, it’s pure vs. money?
Anthony: Hell we’d all love a bit extra money. It’s more the lack of corporate control, we don’t have to clear anything with a lawyer we can just put stuff out. No hurdles to jump over.
We don’t have some goon in a suit telling us what we can and can’t do. Sorry not really answering your question though are we, haha.
Harry: Is there a sense that the industry needs to show more altruistic values?
Anthony: We’ve always joked that running a rollerblading company is more like running a charity than a business. In fact the amount of time, work and effort that Sam has put in he’s like bloody Bono. Or, more like the mother Teresa of rollerblading? Haha!
Having companies drop out, or fizzle out, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s more just like trimming off the fat, making some room for different people to step up with new ideas and visions.
To keep moving forward rollerbladers need to just support each other. If you like a company buy something from them, if you’re into skate comps/events then travel to them. See a great edit of someone online, send them a message, add them on Facebook.
Josip: Do you ever regret certain projects that you started but never finished?
Anthony: Nope there is a time and place for everything, unless your dead there is no reason why you can’t continue with projects. Sometimes it’s best for ideas/projects to marinade. Makes for a tastier outcome.
Harry: One project I wanted to ask about was “Quids in”. You get a lot for a quid and it seems to have a lot of room for growth too. Were you trying to make a statement with it being such a low price?
Anthony: The ‘Quids in’ idea is Sam at his finest, the amount of chatting in pubs that we did about VODs and how to utilize the idea in a different way that will benefit the skater and the downloader nearly had me throwing myself in the river. The aim was to release not just an edit of a skater but a whole bargain bag full of treats with it. Basically charging what you would for a DVDs for a VOD is taking the piss. So having the ‘Quids in’ cost only £1 is more like a charitable offering to the skater, it’s cheap as chips but you pay it out of respect to the time and effort the person has put into it, all the money goes straight to the skater. Each download comes with a bunch of raw clips for people to play around with/ experiment with and make an edit if they like. Then there is also the bonus bits that each skater has the freedom to choose something that interests them to share.
The options are endless and we wanted to highlight other aspects of the skater lives/interests besides just their amazing skating.
We have the pleasure of working with such overly talented skaters, it’s ridiculous
Sam: A bit of the decision to do Quids in came from the frustration of wanting to put some kind of dirt box video together. But, that would be a logistical nightmare. Some people have someone who can film them, some don’t. I couldn’t fund a trip together and everyone has waves of productivity. So, when a few are on it, some others won’t be.
After chewing Anthony’s ear off about it every week at the pub for a good year we came to the conclusion that the traditional video format is somewhat dated and doesn’t really take full advantage of the freedom that’s available via the Internet now. We tried to step away from that as far as possible and figure out a way to create video projects that were tailored to individuals rather than a vague “look how fucking cool we all are, you should buy our shit” team video which to date is still the go to and most effective marketing tool in extreme sports as far as I’m aware.
dirt box is my form of self expression and it’s given me a lot of fulfilment in life. So, it’s become very important to me to try and share that with the people involved, they all have very clear visions and an abundance of talent so “Quids in” was my first attempt at helping them buy the time they need to produce something that’s theirs. And expresses their vision exactly as they choose, with the hope it would fund their next project.
Right now James and Umberto are both a good way into filming theirs, Jon is putting them together. I never pressure any of the guys to do anything so I don’t know when they’ll be out but I’ve seen/heard a lot about both of those and I’m really excited to see them.
There’s a few people I’m going to approach that aren’t involved in dirt box too, I’m still in two minds about it because money can make things really tricky and it really upsets me when something that starts with passion ends in misery purely based on paper. It’s ok with the dirt box guys because they know me and what my ideals are at this stage, so I feel there’s more trust involved.
Basically with Quids in all the money goes to the skater but I hadn’t considered the costs involved so every sale I lose 20p at the least. I started it saying I would give the skater the full pound not factoring in PayPal fees and hosting costs, I won’t go back on my word so I just call it advertising budget. But, things are so tight in skating right now that if one of them went mental and sales of the product didn’t reflect it I’d be fucked.
A lot of skaters still have false expectations of the industry too. It’s a tricky one because I think we’re all to blame. The companies obviously wanting to project success and the media is desperately trying to keep the things people see positive. I’m not necessarily saying that them doing this is a bad thing, I do it too at times but it does give the people doing the skating a level of false hope.
I don’t think you (Harry) or Scott will mind me saying that you both made around £200 for your quids in which to me was somewhat disappointing because I obviously feel the effort you put into those projects was worth a lot more than that. There in lays the part that I still struggle with because it’s impossible to not feel that I’m somewhat responsible for it not doing as well as I hoped. It makes me apprehensive to approach people with that on the forefront of my mind.
Harry: I appreciate that it’s a tough place to be in. When you compare views/likes against sales it leaves questions like “where have all the people gone?!”. But, hearing an honest perspective can be really sanitizing.
Sam: I couldn’t encourage the idea more though and I’m excited to see the new ones.
Harry: Are you pro to the idea of sharing numbers?
Sam: I would fucking love to see everyone’s figures, might make people realise how much buying power they have with who stays and who goes. I’ll start it off, last year we made £1500 profit, every year before we’ve been in the minus. Right now there’s £900 in the bank and if I don’t get my shit together in the next few weeks the monthly running costs will mean I’m footing the bill out my wage again to keep it going.
That’s not a sob story either because I don’t feel entitled enough that anyone else should foot the bill, I just feel blessed when it’s working that way. It’s my hobby and my passion and it would probably be more expensive to be really into golf or something like that. So, while I still get as much out of it as I do on a personal level, there’s no question about paying to keep it alive.
I get way more excited about being able to make things than I do about money. I find it as enjoyable as skating, I found it through skating but it’s definitely something I’ll always do in one way or another now.
Harry: So, do your runs of products aim to fund the next thing you want to do?
Sam: Yeah, basically. Always got to be careful because one expensive project that bombs really sets it back a lot. People seem more into it lately which has made things easier, but I still try to treat everything we make with the same importance. Half-arseing anything isn’t an option. People are smart and the worlds full of people trying to make money off you for minimal effort. I want people that back it to get something they’re happy with and I want to price it so it’s accessible. dirt box will never be something you wear for bragging rights, that’s bullshit.
Harry: Many companies seem to be interested in the gigantification of wheels, yet, your wheels have got smaller and harder. How do they fit into it all?
Sam: When you’re a kid to create your own skate is the dream, it’s still not an option right now but when I looked into it 6 years ago wheels seemed like an attainable goal. It took me over a year to find out some of the places I could source them because anyone I approached in the industry wanted to keep that information to themselves which is fair enough. I saw people talking about different manufacturers on the Internet and approached a few of them, Labeda are the one I went with on the first run.
A good friend of mine, James, went halves with me on the first run and we approached it with the mentality that if it didn’t work out at least we would have a life time supply of wheels. James really liked the first run as did a lot of people, but I wasn’t completely happy with the quality or their terms, they had a percentage in the contract for seconds and we had over 100 wheels that weren’t useable that I had to pay shipping and customs on from the states. Luckily they did well enough to fund a second run, mostly because James was kind enough to refuse reimbursement on his investment.
I then tried to work with a company in France but it didn’t work out. Then I took a chance on a factory in China which turned out great. We were all skating the standard sized aggressive wheels and the first run with them was the 5692 which a load of us ended up skating flat. I then bought as many old wheels as I could from when it was common to skate street flat and found that the harder ones seemed more responsive and durable on UK streets. I got samples and gave them to a few of the guys, got great feedback and it went from there.
I’m slightly concerned with a few sizing issues at the moment but you (Harry) had a great idea to sort that. So, we’re now working on getting 55mm and 59mm wheels out there in three hardnesses 90a 95a and 100a. We still need to sample the 100a’s, but as you can combine hardnesses in the same setup flat I’m confident it will work.
It’s frustrating having so many limitations financially but they’re a product that I skate and back fully so I’m happy for now. But, definitely looking forward to being able to experiment more with moulds and then move on to other hardware, with the end goal being a complete skate. I’m not sure if that will ever be something I can fund independently but it’s definitely what I’m gunning for.
Josip: Do you have any people you could say actually influenced dirt box?
Anthony: I’ve always been heavily influenced by collage and the fight between digital and analogue. It’s always hard to just pin point one thing cause dirt box is very much a collaboration between Sam and I as well as everybody we work with.
I studied fine art but working on dirt box made me realize that I could and really enjoyed working in the commercial side of art. I never fancied myself as much of a designer, however, I ended up creating fonts, logo’, websites and what not. I’ve been working as a freelance illustrator for the last 6 years now.
Harry: I saw that you have produced work for Chanel, Crabbies and Nestea , that seems like a big deal?
Anthony: It opened up my naïve eyes to other potentials that I hadn’t considered and, yep, I lucked out and have worked with some pretty fancy clients on good projects.
Harry:Was your move out to Oakland related to your art work?
Anthony: The move out to Oakland was more related to growing up being obsessed with American culture, greatly influenced by skate culture too. My wife and I have been taking trips out here yearly ever since we met and both of us became obsessed with the golden state and looked for a way to move out here.
Also, Big thanks to Brian Krans for inviting me to that BBQ a couple of weeks ago, was great to meet everybody and looking forward to getting involved with the local scene here.
Harry: Are you able to accept paid work over there?
Anthony: Right now I’m just creating work for myself and doing the cooking and cleaning for my big shot wife (Gemma Correll), she got a 01 visa which is for ‘a person of exceptional talent’ I’m on a spouse visa so I can’t work right now. We’re in the process of hopefully changing that so I should be back in the saddle later this year. It’s been nice to have a break and take stock of the work I’ve been making but likewise, it’s stressful not being able to contribute especially because the Bay Area is not the cheapest place to be living right now. It’s bloody amazing around here your going to have to come visit.
Harry: Were you pro for Roces in Cyprus?
Anthony: Haha. Not pro, more like just a shop sponsor, that was nearly 20 years ago now. Good times, got the opportunity to go to ISPO in Germany that was mind blowing as a 16yr old!!
Josip: Does dirt box have a steady team?
Sam: The dirt box boys are lifers, they know who they are and it would be nothing without them. They’re as integral as we are and bring a lot of inspiration for us both. I’m terrible at looking after them but they never complain, they’re like us, they just get on with it and do what they want.
Josip: Do you guys feel that you have had an influence on how the fashion in rollerblading has changed in the past few years?
Sam: I don’t think we did as a brand but a few of the guys involved did, for sure. They look fucking good on their skates, why wouldn’t you want to look like that.
Anthony: Personally I wish I looked more like Scott Blackmore. Can they stretch me out to be 6 foot something haha…!
Sam: You should of seen him in his suit yesterday, trying to get him to run that in the streets, people aren’t ready. Made Oli Short look like old man step-toe.
Josip: Do you think rollerbladers dress well now?
Anthony: I think we as rollerbladers really need to get over what people are wearing. I understand some folk need a uniform to wear and follow, but honestly people are old enough to dress themselves.
Sam: I honestly couldn’t give a shit what they wear.
Josip: We’re not really a youth subculture anymore, right?
Anthony: We’re more like a bloody bridge club.
Sam: Doesn’t seem to be too many young-guns.
Josip: How do you think that happened?
Sam: I knew you were gonna go there. It looked shit for ages, that’s how.
Harry: Any final words?
Anthony: Most importantly thank you Sam for keeping our baby alive. If it was left to just me I would of dumped it on some church steps years ago.
Sam: Thanks guys. That was fun! Excited to see it.