Skateboarding is in a strange place at the moment. With contests offering $150,000 prize purses and talks of inclusion in the Olympics, the mainstream perception of skating is that it is bigger and richer than ever. And that might be the case for 1 percent of the industry, but the rest are struggling to make ends meet. Some of the problems stem from the fact that there are a shit ton of pros out there today, and many companies can barely afford to pay them the industry-standard $2 royalty per board sale.
A few weeks ago I interviewed former Alien Workshop filmer William Strobeck , who told me he wished that skateboarding would return to the golden era of the 90s. In one way it already has—rather than languishing on a team for little to no money, many skaters are choosing to step out on their own and start their own brands much like Rick Howard and Mike Carroll did when they left Steve Rocco's camp in 1993 to start Girl skateboards. The result has had a somewhat crippling effect on a few of the larger wood manufacturers in the core market. With mom and pop skateshops unable to compete with the volume discounts given to a Zumiez chain or various online mega-sites, shop owners (and skaters) are forced to seek out products that are uniquely theirs, with smaller distribution. Out of nowhere upstart board brands like Fucking Awesome, Polar, 3D, Palace, and Magenta have taken over most of the real estate on skateshop walls.
Mother Collective is the newest addition to this trend, and it is positioned to outsell all the others. Risen from the ashes of Alien Workshop's death in 2014, Mother reunites the unique styles of pros Jake Johnson, Tyler Bledsoe, and Gilbert Crockett with former Alien Workshop team manager Chad Bowers captaining the ship from his living room. Mother isn't reinventing the wheel—their focus is on no-gimmick street skating coupled with low distribution. When Mother shipped their first round of boards they made them exclusively available to a few dozen skateshops. No mall chains or online retailers. The response was immediate. In the 12 years I've owned NJ Skateshop we've never sold out of a new brand so quickly.
As a lifetime fan of the original brand known as Alien Workshop and a friend of the very talented and underrated Gilbert Crockett, who has been board-sponsorless for nearly a year, I'm really pulling for Mother. There was actually a brief moment last year when Gil and I had discussed doing our own board brand called Jumpers, but it wasn't a good fit at the time. A week before ole Gil relocated back to his hometown of Richmond, Virginia from LA I sat him down to discuss Mother, the rebirth of Alien Workshop, and bringing skateboarding back to its roots.
VICE: How did you get the news that Alien Workshop was going out of business?
Gilbert Crockett: Chad Bowers called me and told me I'm fired and he was fired and everybody was fired. It was getting weird around then so I knew that call was a possibility eventually, but obviously it was a bummer being the end of that chapter of my life.
What did Workshop mean to you, especially as a skater from the East Coast?
It was that company that I thought was forever. I've never felt like that with a board sponsor, you know? It meant everything to me. It was the dream sponsor when you were a kid. Workshop is the ultimate. Just watching those dudes in videos growing up, there was no better team. From Benny [Maglinao] being the filmer and editor, AVE [Anthony Van Engelen] and [Jason] Dill being at the head of the ship for as long as they were; you knew you were in good hands. I would never worry about the way my footage was going to get edited, the way my ad was going to get laid out, or anything. Once you leave that scenario, it's different. You actually have to think about, am I going to be stoked on anything that I'm working on with these people?
You went without a board sponsor for close to a year. What was that time like for you? What were you doing for boards?
I skated FA [Fucking Awesome] boards for a while. Jimi Britches gave me boards with the OK from AVE and Dill—not to ride for them, just so I had skateboards. I didn't know what I was going to do. I didn't exactly have a place to go for a long time and I didn't really care. We were just finishing this Vans video that's coming out next month and I didn't want to think about it for a long time. It was just that thing you didn't want to deal with, like paying a bill or something.
Recently Alien Workshop has returned with an all-amateur team. How do you feel about that?
I don't feel much about it. I never thought I'd be bummed about having this Workshop tattoo on my finger, but if anything bums me out it's that it's not dead when it should be dead. It died. You can't just call some girlfriend you used to have and get back with her and pick up where you left off…
When she's dead.
Especially if she died!
So you're not following the new Alien ams on Instagram?
I don't dislike either of those skateboarders, I think they're sick, I just think… Fuck, I don't know how to say this and not be mean, but I don't think the new Workshop is sick. I don't think it's Workshop. I just think it's this thing that's there. I don't even want to look at it and judge it or think about it like that. It's just some other thing and I just have to not pay attention to it and that kind of sucks.
Yeah, I just interviewed Paul Liliani for King Shit magazine and I said to him, "Riding for the Workshop has to feel like you're fucking a dead man's wife." Then I asked him if AVE or Dill would have put him on Workshop back when he was flow and he said, "I doubt it. They never put me on the team back then." But I'm wondering if you just feel the way you do because Rob Dyrdek never knew your name.
Maybe partially. Like I said, I don't even want to feel any way toward the new Workshop because Mike Hill is a genius and I like those two skateboarders, but I want to look at Mike Hill as Mike Hill and those two skateboarders as those two skateboarders. It's just a shame that I have to look at them and they're called The Workshop. That sucks.
What was the story with Dyrdek not knowing your name?
I was in LA years ago and we went to Dill's art show next to Supreme. Dyrdek was talking to AVE and I went up to him and was like, "What's up, dude?" I stuck my hand out and he was like, "Hey. How's it going man?" He wasn't a dick or anything, he was just kind of short with me, like, "…yeah, what's up, dude?" AVE was like, "Do you know who this is?" Rob was like, "No." He was like, "This is Gilbert. Gilbert Crockett." Rob was like, "…Gilbert Crockett?" AVE was like, "He fucking rides for us!" Rob starts jumping up and down and laughing, giving me high-fives and says, "Oh my god! Just the other day I read your name and I was thinking, I wonder if I would even know who that is if I saw him?
And he didn't.
Yeah, it was pretty funny.
Related: For more on the history of Alien Workshop watch Josh Kalis's Epicly Later'd episode above.
Did you feel like a million bucks?
Yeah, I thought it was funny as shit.
You're getting the band back together with this new board company, Mother Collective. Let's talk about that.
Yeah, so far it's awesome. It's me, Jake Johnson, and Tyler Bledsoe riding for Mother out of Ohio. Chad Bowers is running it; he was the Workshop team manager. It's something that I've never had with a company. Chad listens to us. It's not just this floating brand name or branding idea. Nothing is set up like another company and yeah, everyone knows that's the cool thing to do right now, but it's not trying to be cool. It's not trying to be anything it's not. It's just these dudes and their ideas and their images. It almost feels like a magazine, where all these people are contributing photos and stories and ideas and everyone is every part of it. Hopefully it always runs like that and it never even feels like some company. Hopefully people realize that these are real people who are all really involved with everything and want to be a part of it too.
Where does the name Mother come from?
We were struggling with a name for a while. Chad told me he wanted to call the distribution company Mother, and I think I said, "Why don't we just call the board brand Mother?" And that's what we ended up calling it. The reason it's a good name is that this is a family sort of thing; everyone is involved in what comes out of it.
All of you guys bled Alien for so long. Will there be any Alien aesthetic to it at any point?
It doesn't seem like it, no. We've only done this first run of boards, but it doesn't look anything like Alien.
Mother is out of Ohio. For decades Alien Workshop was the pride of the buckeye state, but in the end they moved to California to survive. Can a board brand out of Ohio be successful again?
I think so. I think people are attracted to newer, smaller brands who do things for the reasons that kids want to buy boards nowadays and appeal to kids who aren't in Los Angeles. A lot of kids come from places like where Jake, Tyler, and myself do, with smaller skate scenes. And things have gone back to the roots in those scenes. Everyone is looking at these videos and these board companies, and these people are doing real street skating—that's how all these brands were founded, with real street skating and not stunting down 40-stair handrails. I think things going in that direction will help.