Pop first hit the scene as a Dutch-based clothing brand. A brand that was there for the local scene with events like Spot The Spot and B.Y.O.B.S.S in Amsterdam. Starting out as a distribution and slowly but surely morphing into a clothing brand with its roots strongly inside skating. Their team is currently boasting some of the Benelux’s best talent, people you know like Rob Maatman, Noah Bunink, Pascal Moelaert & Yeelen Moens. The people behind the brand, themselves skaters saw it fit to add something new to the mix: hard goods & wood to be exact. So instead of wondering why, we simply used our connections and hit up Peter Kolks, one part of the team behind the scenes, and asked him why they didn’t go to the normal route of hard goods bard turned apparel slinger.
Interview by Roland Hoogwater.
All photos by Hugo Snelooper.
For the people that don’t know, when did Pop start?
Pop started in 2013, as a trading company, hence the name Pop Trading Company. We basically started as the Benelux distributor for Palace, Magenta, Polar, etc. At the time, those brands were still all small, new brands on the horizon. Around 2015-16 we started to do more of our own brand, developing our first apparel ranges.
How long into that did the idea of making boards first get brought up and why?
Well, that took us 7 years to be exact, (laughs). The honest reason is as we had always been distributing other brands we felt we didn’t want to compete with them.
But over the years it seemed like things had slowed down a bit, and some major players from back in the day took the backseat and new brands like Quasi, 917 and Palace took over the reins.
As we have quite a big team of riders whom we still supported with boards*, so we were handing out Palace & Magenta boards to them as we still distributed this on the side, which was great, but we were paying these boards out of our own pockets and basically promoting them with it… So we figured let’s just make boards for the team only, to tackle this.
Maybe, we can sell a few in our Amsterdam Store, but then ideas for graphics came and with that also the idea we could add something to the market and it was a great extension of our collections. So we just took the step and went with it…
*if they didn’t ride for another board brand
A lot of people start the other way around and do boards first and then move to clothing. What does this mean for The Pop brand as a whole, are those things mixed or separate.
Yeah, I hear you, it is kinda like the childhood dream and as mentioned before, at the time we felt it wasn’t the thing to do for us. We felt we could make a difference creating quality clothing where other skateboard (apparel) brands would just buy basic Gildan or Fruit of the Loom tees, hoodies, and headwear via their printers and print or embroider on it. We wanted to make our own cuts, choose our own qualities, know who had made it, and divert into other avenues. In the end, we were making more menswear-based styles which we thought were interesting. I reckon a way more challenging path, that we had to figure out before we had the space to think about doing hardware.
As far as the apparel side v.s. the hardware side. Our vision remains the same; we work with the best skate shops and the best menswear retailers in the world. On the apparel side, we like to keep things tight, but we just want to make sure our product is presented in the right way, the people we work with have to understand what we do and why its priced a little higher than other skate brands, only then it works.
The boards we will offer with the same criteria, but we want this to be open to a few more skate doors, but also menswear doors can buy into the boards if they feel it. As it is an extension of the collection like having hats or bags, they can also hang a board on their wall. If you’re a Pop account we don’t want to exclude you from buying any product, if they feel like repping it, then we are cool with it.
More doors mean different types of stores than you do with clothing, did that factor into the decision?
Well honestly, the boards we will offer to a few more skate doors than we do with the clothing, so it’s a wider distribution. We currently work with shops in key cities and we will open up to the usual suspects in core skateboarding around the globe, the ones that support their local communities, have a team of riders and just do cool shit. We work with FTC in Japan for our distribution there, Mike from Savour in Seoul, and have Dan Plunkett doing our sales in the USA for example and we are stoked to see everyone is very open to us doing this and people are super supportive.
But obviously, potentially there are more doors to work with outside of skateboarding, but that hasn’t really been a motivation. We felt like doing boards, so we did. Also, we don’t have the urge to force the company to grow, even on the apparel side, we like to keep it steady, make good stuff and all else should follow organically.
A big part of the OG team rides for the boards but not all of them do, what does this mean for riders like Yeelen?
Yes indeed they do, we just asked the whole team what they wanted to do? Since some of them had deals with other board brands, some had flow deals or a distro hook up. Everyone was down to take the plunge with us, but Yeelen is in a good place with Antiz and we obviously don’t want to force him to ride for us and we respect that. Who knows what will happen in the future, but Yeelen obviously is and will remain a big part of Pop as a rider.
Pop is growing a lot internationally, with that come riders. People like Darius Trabalza or even Ishod Wair have popped up in your gear and your clips will we see more focus on potential new riders from outside of the BENELUX area?
Yeah, we have been sending Darius packages for around 2 years now, but Darius is now being supported by Isle and decided to stay there. We will keep on flowing him with the clothes, but not the boards.
The idea is that the team as you know it and as it appeared in the video is the main Pop team, with Rob, Billy, Pascal, Jair, Logan, Alex, Tomas, Willem, Noah, Mats, Bastiaan, and more. Benelux-based basically.
Issey Kumatani recently got introduced to us via the guys from FTC Japan and Laurence Keefe, who is the best dude, he linked us up over there.
Japan is a very important market to us on the apparel side, so, we wanted to make sure we also had a rider there to back the brand. Issey is just so fucking sick, amazing style and great trick selection, you will see more from him for sure he will also ride for Pop.
Will we see team boards only or are we getting guest/artist boards and pro boards as well?
Who knows what the future will bring… for now its only team boards and we have the Dick Bruna/Miffy artists series in this first range, so we will continue the artist series as its an extension of the apparel collection, the same goes for the team board graphics, they all tie back into our collections as a whole.
POP has been known for its exciting and sometimes “outside the box” type of collaborations can we expect some new and exciting stuff in the future? And when it comes to a lot of these collabs like Nijntje/Miffy and Camper for instance how do those things come about?
Thanks for the kind words. We just do it as we’ve always done it and sometimes that may be out of the box for skateboarding, or sometimes it’s out of the box for our menswear side, but we like that it is giving friction, I think that is the essence of skateboarding as well, finding the thin line to walk.
People can think it is wack or hopefully they like it, but if we feel it’s right, it’s right for Pop.
There are always new projects in the pipeline, which is great and I think there be will some interesting output this year, which we are very stoked on, but it’s always more fun to not spoil it yet, so have a little patience and you’ll see…
In the case of Camper, this happened via my old skate buddy Job Willemsen, who is one of the main footwear designers there. We grew up skating together in Silvolde, our hometown, and one day his boss came up to him saying, “I see you wearing a lot of this Pop stuff, I am seeing their stuff around more and more, do you think we can connect these guys?”, so we linked up. Camper is a great company, with a very creative mind, so we were given a carte blanche and our first project revolved around the late 90’s/early 2000’s nostalgia both Job and I grew up with. Taking inspiration from Axion’s Guy Mariano – Aries pro model and another “chiller” shoe based on the old-style I-Path shoes.
It is just great how at times stuff like this comes together and we have been lucky enough this has happened to us on multiple occasions.
Talking about collabs, I heard somewhere that you put Popeye on a shirt and the people behind Popeye found out, and instead of sending a cease and desist they actually reached out and you worked with them on new stuff later on?
(Laughs), Yeah that was a funny one. I think it was for our SS18 collection, we had a design of a t-shirt that had Olive, Popeye’s girlfriend coming out of the O of our POP square logo (on the back of the shirt). Being who we are (especially back then) we just went with it, didn’t clear the rights for it or anything.
Once it was on sale it was also sold in Japan. One of our retailers who is quite a big player over there bought the
t-shirt as well and promoted it with a big window display in Tokyo and had it featured in GQ Japan. So a week later we got an email from our Japanese agent asking if we had the contract cause King Features (Popeye’s licensing company) had seen the output and “couldn’t find the contract.”
It is funny how the Japanese just thought there must have been a contract somewhere, that they lost. Because someone going rogue and just running with an iconic character like that without fixing the rights wouldn’t even be a possibility in their minds…
So we contacted them and said, “sorry, but we never arranged a deal with you, we are a small skateboarding brand and don’t know this works.” I reckon playing it off with a bit of charm worked and as the product had already sold out in a week they couldn’t cease and desist us, so we got lucky there. They asked us to pay a royalty fee which is a percentage of the sales and we were fine.
When we got the bill, it stated they had a minimum buy when it came to their deals, so we actually had to pay them more than we sold. We then asked them what do we do with the remainder of this royalty fee and they replied; “Let’s make another official collaboration”.
So that’s what happened in 2019, we did an official Pop/eye collaboration (laughs)…
(laughs) Peter, thank you, I think I am all out of questions.