Stefan Brandow has been a member of the Be-Mag messageboard for a long time, and has pretty much always been very vocal about his opinions on blading. But besides being a guttermouth messageboard rat, he’s always been down, working on making stuff happen in both rollerblading and hard core punk scenes. During the past six or seven years, he’s dropped a slew of street sections, independent and for his sponsors, getting better all the time, never losing sight of his counter-current perspective on trick selection or his music affinities, out of step (note the Minor Threat reference here, guys) with what is considered cool by the blading militias. Fast forward to now, not long after the release of his Manifest Decimation section for his blade sponsor Razors, he’s launched his own Brigade Brand clothing, with a team that consists of Cameron Talbott and Sean Grossman, both dudes moving up.
Interview: Josip Jagić
Photography: Brandon Ballog, Hawke Trackler
So, what made you try and start Brigade? There’s not that many blading clothing brands around. Do you think it has room to grow?
That is the exact reason I started Brigade, because I saw nothing in our space. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anyone wear any blade specific brands and I think thats for two reasons. One is the fact that there really aren’t any anymore, and secondly the ones that do exist do nothing. Putting out one shirt and maybe one other item every 8-12 months doesn’t mean you have a line. I wanted something for all of us in blading that is like any other brand in any other sport. A full line every season, a team, constant content, social media presence, etc.
It can get demanding if you have a regular life and job.
I came up with the idea for Brigade while working at a full time design job elsewhere, and knew I couldn’t do it while working there as I was under contract. The company and I came to the mutual decision that being there wasn’t the right fit for me so I left right before Thanksgiving and immediately went to work starting Brigade, bringing back Lumen, and doing freelance design work again. I’m doing all the things I love full time by choice and I love it.
That takes a lot of guts. Did your family and friends mind? Also, I was really excited to see your team picks. Was it hard to get the other guys on board and where do you know them from?
My family and friends and even people at that job had been telling me I needed to leave and do my own thing for months. It started out as a great opportunity and being there made me learn a lot about myself, what I wanted to do in life, and how to run/how not to run a business.
Before you answer the question on the team members… how not to run a business?
For what the company was there was a decent amount of employees, and it always seemed like they were unhappy and their needs were never listened to or being met. For me I got hired as a designer and never had any of my design work used during my time there. It taught me that if you want things done right you have to do them yourself.
With any brand that has a team representing it you obviously want the best of the best, but you want people you can work with and that fit the style of the brand. Sean Grossman has been one of my better friends I’ve met through blading and is constantly out doing things on blades just because. He and I always have a blast when we get to skate together and he’s always sending me content. Cameron Talbott has been one of my favorite bladers for awhile and he’s doing so many rad things in blading right now. His last Rollerblade edit in San Francisco was spectacular. Both guys are so positive and appreciative and a pleasure to do anything with. Along with the release of the next line we’re planning on announcing some new riders. It’s important to take your time and do things right without falling into the rollerblading black hole of “s00n”.
True. You also kind of answered my next question… how hard do you think it is for a company to pick team skaters? Like, one is incredibly talented but is also really hard to work with and is bad with people and the other may not be as talented but is better at representing the brand. how to choose if you don’t have a huge budget? Also, if you just pick the wrong person, the one not really dedicated to the cause?
We did have some other riders in mind that we sent clothes too, but they ended up feeling they weren’t going to be able to produce content or be a part of it in a way they felt they would need to be. As a new brand people have no clue what we’re going to be like, if it’s going to be successful, if it will fit them and their style. I completely respected that honesty but it’s also tough because it’s blading and we don’t have a large industry or market to promote to so as a business everything has to be calculated carefully. I’m completely fine with adding the right people at the right time and having a slow constant growth.
As there are many sub-groups in blading, who did you have in mind when deciding on a creative direction?
I definitely didn’t want to pigeon hole it to any one specific group or style of blader. I wanted everything with Brigade to be very simple and clean from the logos to the clothing to the website. When you look at the whole current line together or the next line that is being planned you can definitely see that there is a certain style and feel that is our own that comes from the phrases, logos, and colors that are all being used.
I love both Sean’s and Cameron’s blading. I feel like Cameron might have been overlooked for too long, and like Sean is only getting in the limelight now. I loved Caprice. These days, a lot of companies struggle with forming a coherent team and look, something maybe only Valo manages to do completely coherent, even with people of different styles and age groups on the team. Is this something you think companies should strive for, or try to achieve a more uniform look? Also, where do you draw the design influences from?
Most all of of my design work outside of blading is for hardcore and punk bands so that style is obviously very specific and rooted in traditional tattoos, reapers, skulls, and darker things. I’ve always been a huge fan of simple, clean, text based designs and I think thats been the biggest influence on all my clothing work as thats what I would wear myself. Between its name and the ‘Us Against Everyone’ phrase Brigade definitely has a hint of a military influence. I say that because the idea behind using ‘Us Against Everyone’ is that we all need to stick together and have each others backs because no one else does. We get enough negativity from people outside of our community, we don’t need it when it comes to each other.
Being a designer branding is so insanely important to me and something I always look at and pay attention to. Valo is definitely a company that does it correctly, and it’s something that I don’t feel like anyone else in blading is really paying attention to. With the current state of our community and industry we also need brands that have a more punk/DIY ethos like southernscum and Haitian. There’s no reason there can’t be something for everyone. The more professional and well run brands we have the better our community and industry looks as a whole to outsiders who want to get into blading.
First thing that came to my mind when I saw your slogan was Sick of it all’s Us vs. them. When you compare the two scenes, what can one learn from the other except how to lose money on tour?
We can definitely learn more from the DIY ethos I just mentioned. Hardcore bands make shit work no matter what the situation. No money? Vans broken down? Far from home? Fuck it we got this lets figure it out. I feel like bladers are so quick to bitch and whine about the current state of the industry instead of trying to actually do something about it. Yes we all love blading, yes none of us want to stop, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give a shit and care about things and try to make them better.
I just talked to Immony Men today and he said that it will be the small companies that will keep rollerblading running. And I agree.
Absolutely. Not saying the big ones don’t care, but I feel smaller ones have the ability to move and grow and adapt with the market and smaller niches inside the community.
So who do you think is doing a good job now and why?
Valo/Them Goods is obviously nailing it. They keep it simple and modern and its appealing to a wide range of bladers. TBJP has SPECTACULAR design and branding. Tim is a great artist and knows what he’s doing, I just wish they were able to do more outside of Europe. I like what AJ is doing with Street and “The Streets Of” different cities. Thats something smart and unique they really need to do a lot more with. Adapt is doing a great job with the DIY thing and staying true to themselves and what they want to do.
I feel like a lot of the bigger brands are so concerned with trying to keep their current market share (which is continually dwindling) that they’re afraid to do something new or brand themselves in a very specific way for fear of losing customers when I think it would actually be very helpful. Roces during Face The Music was killing it because they had a very specific team and style and I always loved that.
I remember when the first Valo skate came out, nobody gave them a year.
And you know what I loved about them when they first came out? The ads. All of the print ads were great and consistent and coherent.
Yes, the ones with Mike Martinho and John Starr.
Moving on from brands to bladers… other from the obvious choices like Broskow or Haffey, I guess, whose blading do you get most juiced from? Who is progressing blading the most now?
I know, this might be two different answers.
I might be a little biased when I say Cameron has been killing it, but he really has been. Brian Weis has been on a TEAR the past few years. Jeph Howard is one of my favorites and the last few sections he’s put out are above and beyond what most everyone is doing. I love how Pat Ridder has created his own style and vibe recently. I always go back and watch Mike Lilly and Charles Dunkle sections and I feel like those have been molding my current skating the most lately.
I feel like blading as a whole has had a bit of a culture shift away from stunts to smaller creative obstacles. I understand the reasoning, I also understand the backlash. But I remember when I was growing up skating watching Forever Now and Road To Nowhere and doing toe rolls with James (Short) people didn’t want to see creativity or anyone being different. Now I feel like it’s widely accepted and even expected to be trying things outside of what the norm has been the past 10 years, and thats incredible.
So, what are your plans for the Brigade Brand in the immediate future? Whose section is next and what items will you be releasing?
Sean is on his way to California in a few days to escape the shitty NYC winter and film a part out there. I’ve got a short one coming out after his of my unused footage from my full part that we just put out. Cameron has been working on a lot of content for his other sponsors that I can’t wait to see. The next line as well as reprints of the current line will be coming out late Spring along with some new sections. We have a southerscum collab planned, and Jolly Jolly Heartbreakers tee releasing around the James Short Memorial Session with the profits going towards his memorial fund to keep the session and skatepark going. I think I’m most excited about that because we’re going to get as much of the JJHB crew back together to film an edit to release along with the shirt.
JSMS is a really nice and respectful event.
Ok, I don’t really do these lists, but I have to ask you… top five bands pre year 2000 and after and top five skaters pre and after 2000?
I love lists!
Pre 2000 Bands:
5. Joy Division
Post 2000 Bands:
1. Power Trip
Pre 2000 Bladers:
1-5. Jon Elliott
Post 2000 Bladers:
1. Mike Lilly
2. Charles Dunkle
3. Oli Short
4. Colin Kelso
5. Jeph Howard
Love your pre 2000 skater list. Thanks for taking the time to chat.
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