Austyn Gillette interviewed by Silas Baxter-Neal and Joe Castrucci
Although Austyn Gillette is considered by many to be one of the greats to step on a board, he has spent the last several years exploring sponsors and trying to find a place where he can be himself and see his visions come to fruition. And now it seems that his perseverance and steady conviction have led him to an exciting new chapter. Back on Habitat and in lead of a Globe revamp, it’s his time.
This interview was conducted by Joe Castrucci and myself. I failed to record our first hour-long conversation, but thankfully both Joe and Austyn were patient and what you read below is our second go at it.
– Silas Baxter-Neal
Silas Baxter-Neal: Last time I saw you was in May 2019 at our contest (Grotto Lotto). HUF was ending their shoe program and you were ripping… I remember thinking ‘this dude has no board or shoe sponsor and is killing it, that’s crazy.’ So what happened? How did you get your groove back, stella?
Austyn Gillette: Well after I won that contest in 2018 Huf canned all of us from the shoe program! Great timing haha. Some stayed to do the clothing, but I couldn’t do that because of Former. So yeah, after that I was lost for a couple years. I filmed a couple video parts that had some traction but not enough to convince some of big dogs to put me on the team, so I was adrift for a while before this Globe thing.
SBN: And Habitat threw out their nets and dragged you back in:
AG: Yeah, that was two years after that.
SBN: So what was your in over at Globe?
AG: My friend Aaron Brown (Globe TM). We’ve been friends for about 18 years and also doing SML Wheels for about 15 years now. He’s been nudging me for the last 5 years. He would always help out and do counter offers with contracts and I didn’t know if he was serious about it for a long time, but when I started to realise that I could potentially have a bigger part in a company and start something new, with a new segment of the brand and get to create things that would have financial support, then the idea got exciting again.
SBN: I can imagine that after the roller-coaster ride you had for a few years with different sponsors you probably had a pretty good idea of what you’d want in a skateboarding sponsor.
AG: Yeah of course, I was lucky enough to somehow get by for those few years. And I was being patient, seeing what’s out there, but by the time it came I was pretty much going to quit skating. I remember talking with Joe (Castrucci) and saying, ‘fuck maybe I’m just gonna do this clothing company and kinda pull back, develop a team and just be on the side lines.’ I had kinda came to terms with that, but then this Globe opportunity came along. We chatted for probably about six months before even signing a contract… we just wanted to make sure before getting into a deal that we were clear about our expectations, and there were things that they didn’t want to do and there were a lot of things they were willing to do. It was very agreeable.
SBN: They liked the ideas you were bringing to the table and were comfortable with you taking a role there?
AG: Yeah, I made a presentation for them to show how it could be restructured and rebranded, put together a new website and instagram design, new shoe designs. We knew all of this would take a while, but they said yes to pretty much all of it. Everything that is about to come out will be showcasing all the stuff that we’ve been working on with their team and building Globe Skateboarding, which is a segment of the brand that will be focused on working with more core shops and developing a team from the ground up, kind of representing the brand in a new way.
Joe Castrucci: Do you think that working on your own brand (Former) and going through all these processes has helped you contribute to the whole Globe program?
AG: Over the last five years I’ve seen how art directors work, how designers work, how… And we don’t have investors, so I’ve seen how it is to work without money and how it is to work with money, and what’s possible with funding and support. I think that helped; having that experience and having my brand on the side where I know what it takes to creatively represent a brand. If I hadn’t had Former, I wouldn’t have done this because I wouldn’t have seen the possibilities. A lot of people would look at a 30-year old brand and be skeptical that you could change it, but if you look the bones of Globe, it has a very deep understanding of skating. If you look at let’s say Nike, they tried it for a long and it wasn’t catching on. Converse tried it a couple times and it took a while to catch on. Then Nike put on P-Rod and things changed and Converse put on a few different guys, and the perception changed. They didn’t change their identity, but they separated skateboarding from the rest of the brand and it took a long time before people got behind it. But we don’t really look at that, we just look at the final product. And skateboarding’s all like ‘no, this is the most core brand or that is the most core brand’ but actually it’s all relatively new and had nothing to do with skateboarding.
JC: I have another question: from seeing both sides, being in the van, being with skaters and just people you meet in the streets, their opinions on brands and money and design and everything are so different to those of people working internally for brands. It feels like there’s a huge divide. What’s your take on that?
AG: Yeah, totally. I think I probably now have the same opinion. Like now understanding what it would take to go on a trip, what you have to sell and all that non fun stuff. You have to have funding to make films and you have to sell things to make it all happen . Every major brand in skateboarding right now has a very large presence outside of skateboarding and the reality is that you’re going see them in every mall. Skaters need to realize that what brands are able to do isn’t just because of skateboarding, but that these brands still do want to support skateboarding. That goes for the most core brands, and I don’t want to name them, but most of those brands including every shoe brand that exists in skateboarding is in mall stores. So why can’t you play the game if all those other companies are playing the game? The reality of it is that there is a general public and they are the people that are supporting it in a big way. We may not even know them and it may be different to them, but we as skateboarders have a narrow scope of things. Especially now.
JC: Yeah, it’s like the whole art and commerce battle you know, where you can’t have one without the other, and as long as you can balance it, it can kind of coexist.
AG: Yeah with putting more focus on that, I want to build this from the ground up. I want people to see a different side of things and how you can work with core shops and communities, and how you can get people involved. Globe was doing all those fun contests back in the day with some of the coolest guys skating then and most of the guys didn’t ride for Globe. I’m like fuck, I wanna do things like that and make it exciting by getting people involved again.
JC: How do you feel, even with your own personal brand, going from being team managed to being the team manager? And how is it when you have to do both?
AG: Sending flight itineraries ten times to the same person and them still not knowing when their flight is… I now have a new respect for the team mangers over the years haha. Also, sorry to those of you. It’s weird being on the other side. I guess I try and be less difficult. Now I’m going on trips driving the car, getting the hotels and making sure they are wearing the products that we are selling, editing the videos, laying out the ads with the artists… I mean every single piece of it. And then at the same time, finally getting to a point where I’m back to being a pro skater. That stuff is so hard; it’s so difficult to balance that stuff.
SBN: I think it’s important to do both. Everyone should learn those skills. As in plan their own trips and do it for other people at least at some point in their skateboard life, so they can see what’s been being done for them for all those years.
AG: Agreed. We should all understand what the team managers do for us and sometimes you have to become one to really understand what they’ve done for us. I don’t even think it’s a skill set to buy a plane ticket, rent a car, get a hotel. It’s just something you’re going to have to learn in life as an adult. Most skaters choose not to because they don’t have to haha. That can also be nice.
SBN: Doing it for yourself for sure, but also doing it for others too. Doing what team managers do.
AG: There is nothing like putting down a company card after hard day of filming, or putting out a new collection of clothes, designing the whole thing and then being able to pay for a meal or pay for a trip to film. There’s nothing more gratifying than that. You created something that didn’t exist and you’re able to feed friends and take them to places that they may have never traveled to. All I want to do is create experiences and films that friends could be a part of.
SBN: That’s what changed our lives. Joe got us tickets to Europe and it changed our world.
AG: You did that (directed towards Joe). Thank you. What does that feel like?
JC: Uh, well when you can really get creative and film, and see all the products that you spent all this time designing getting used in a way that isn’t wasteful, and the skaters are being creative themselves, and you see them both together: it’s pretty incredible. Definitely very rewarding.
SBN: Let’s hear a little about this video: where all did you go to film for it and how did it all come about?
AG: I didn’t want to film anything in California haha. I felt that Globe already had a presence here and I wanted to focus on different territories. I wanted to be in these places in Europe and the East Coast in the states. We ended up going to Portugal, Spain, New York, Ohio and the whole project was filmed in maybe a month a half total. But, yeah, we were able to go to all these towns we had never been to… Vigo, Spain which was really fun. It was really fruitful there. Portugal is probably one of our favourite places to spend time.
SBN: Rad, and were you traveling with?
AG: Sammy Montano, who rides for Alien as you guys know, Aaron Kim that rides from Globe and then Appleyard came on the East Coast trip. I think he was busy for the other trips. So yeah it was just 4 of us, it was kinda nice working with a small group, and we had two or three filmers. One guy was shooting 16mm, Aaron Brown was filming HD and sometimes another filmer as well. We also have Alex Papke shooting all the photos.
SBN: You were saying before that some of these filmers don’t typically work in skating. How was it working with people that don’t primarily shoot skating??
AG: I think that’s what was needed. Joe G and Matt Payne have been working on the surf side of the brand for a while and I’ve always respected how they put films together. It’s just nice having people film 16 that don’t watch skating everyday. It offers a fresh look and hopefully thats how it translated with the film. People will have some different feelings about what’s going on and whether it’s good or bad, but I think it’s bringing some new aesthetic to the table which is exciting for us all.
SBN: So after the video, you guys got big plans? Now that this is all out there what are you trying to do? Any future hype you wanna tell us about?
AG: I am designing a pro shoe again which is almost finished, so we’re going to put that out at the end of the year or in the spring of 2023. I’m going to film another video part this year for that hopefully and we are now figuring out where the first trip for that is gonna be… It might be in South America, might be somewhere in Mexico. We are just doing some research with all the travel restrictions at the moment, so it might be couple of months until we know.
JC: How about where you live now, how long are you planning on living on the East Coast?
AG: I’ve only been in NY for about four months but I might do another year here, we’ll see. I don’t really know. I’ve realised with this move that I can kinda live anywhere and do my job either remotely with the brands or if I need to skate I can just fly where ever I need to go. NY is pretty central, unless you’re going to Australia.
JC: And Walter’s quality of life, is it upgraded? How’s he living?
AG: He’s getting more walks ’cause he doesn’t have the yard anymore; he’s loving the snow.
JC: Are there squirrels there?
AG: Yeah plenty of squirrels he won’t catch…
JC: In California too? Is the squirrel a new thing for him or does he have them back home too?
AG: He can get closer to the squirrels here in NY. I take him to Tompkins often or Central Park probably every other week or try to, so he’s hitting his squirrel quotas.