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Own Skateboards

Made In Germany

They can do anything in Baden-Württemberg”, a slogan of the state located in the southwest of Germany promises, “except speaking Standard German.” Although we lack the ambition to completely verify this claim, this allrounder mentality is totally spot-on regarding Own. As the name already implicates, everything is DIY – even or rather especially the boards. They are manufactured by hand at a small carpentry in the tranquil city of Nürtingen (next to Stuttgart) by Own founder Philipp Günther together with the rest of his team. Reaching a huge amount of output figures is pretty much impossible, for obvious reasons. Their video output, however, is in fact huge in comparison and can be seen in various “Tagesschau”-clips as well as their new video “Made in Germany”. It has been a long way that took about 15 years to get to. But over the course of time, something special, which goes far beyond a regular board company, has ripened in the vicinity of Stuttgart. A bit of stubbornness and the tendency to take an unduly independent line, two traits Swabians are accused of as well, probably added their part to the unique concept. As for Philipp, we can say that he has a clear vision of what Own is supposed and not supposed to be and that he sees skateboarding in a cultural context most of all. Whatever comes out of his mouth is no simple platitude

Phil, how many people are on the team by now?

Glenn Michelfelder, Robin Wulf, and Andi Welther are three of the guys that are more known to the public. To say that they’re pro would be kind of stupid because defining the status “pro” in Germany is tough – we can’t pay them obviously. Then there are Stjepan [Lovric], Denis Nitsche, Sheehan Kneeland, Zlati [Kevin Spina], and the newest member Tim Rebensdorf. There might have been some partings, but after all I’ve never kicked anyone off. Daniel Mertin, a transition veteran from Reutlingen, as well as Sebo, Stefan Thomann, and Michael Kempf are still with us, too. Not forgetting my dad. He is pretty much the most important person, who has always put up with our shit and helped out wherever he could.

That means a lot of work only to provide the whole team with boards. How many do you produce per month?

Between 15 and 20.

How did you start making your own boards?

It was basically my final project as a wood technician. At that point, I never heard of anyone who was really successful in doing so and I couldn’t call anywhere to ask for advice. Later on I had one board and went up to Klaus-Peter Grüb from the Skatebox, he smacked the tail on the ground once and when he heard the sound, he saiDick: “This is a skateboard.”

So it worked straight away with the first board you made?

Of course you learn and change a lot over the course of 15 years, but we had some CNC milled shapes and experts around us like Alf Speidel, who sadly passed away, who was the absolute specialist regarding CAD. And we have Benni Müller, who is a product designer. Drawing a skateboard is not as easy as it sounds since they are bent in every direction.

Glenn Michelfelder No Comply Kic Kflip Hr Reichenbach Frp 82

Glenn Michelfelder - No-Comply Kickflip | Foto: Faby Reichenbach

Are self-made boards better than industrial ones?

Our production processes are not too different from industrial ones. They just have more people working at multiple presses simultaneously.

You’ve treated it more as a hobby from the beginning, right?

Rather, I see my real job as my hobby because it allows me to do this thing here with Own. I don’t really care about the money in the first place, it’s more about the culture.

Can you elaborate on this a little bit?

It starts with me growing up in the punk scene. Political things have always been important to me. This goes along with a certain refusal of compliance. This is what skateboarding was all about for me back then. It was the sport that allowed you to separate yourself from others. Whether this has changed by now is something everyone has to decide for themselves.

Andi Kfbsnb01

Andi Welther – Kickflip Backside Noseblunt | Seq: Thomas Gentsch

You screen print the boards yourself as well – who does the graphics?

That’s not so easy, because I have certain ideas about it. This applies to the whole process though. The appearance in the media, the videos, the graphics – all this is supposed to work hand in hand. But of course you can’t contrive this all on your own. That’s where people like Julian Häcker and Hein aka Aktion4All come into play.

Did you ever think about growth and having the boards made in wood shops?

No, never. This might sound a little bit boastful, but there are none that could compete. That’s hokey though, of course there is a professor Schmitt who makes sick boards for sure, but his factory happens to be in Tijuana. The skateboard is a product that is produced in low-wage countries. This is, for example, a thing that really bugs me. But I don’t want to go on a rant about other people, because not everyone is in the position we got ourselves into and also because it’s always sick when people become active.

"It’s kind of a German thing, too, that no company from Germany has made it elsewhere."

How do you work as a collective?

Well, regarding the videos, it started with me buying a VX back then and starting to film a lot. So of course I sat next to Hein, while he was editing, to get my ideas involved as well. We developed a pretty good cooperation. Those guys aren’t being paid either, they just do it because they want to and I can’t act like some dictator since they’ll lose their drive otherwise. And it would be wrong because this way pretty insanely cool things emerge. Hein, who got super deep into editing and almost became some kind of luminary, is a great example for this. I see myself somewhat as a bandleader, who just tries to push the right buttons.

How did it come about that Own got so much attention lately?

That’s just what I’m asking myself a lot, too. I think that it’s connected to the general development. All of a sudden you were able to produce videos autonomously and weren’t dependent on knowing a certain filmer in order to appear in relevant media. At one point we just took this matter into our own hands. And then there’s Robin, who we should mention for sure. At one point I asked him: “Why aren’t you riding for us?” And he answereDick: “Because you didn’t ask me.” So I asked.

Robin 1 Fsbs Fliphaecker

Robin Wulf - Frontside Flip | Foto: Julian Häcker

You also discovered Glenn and Lem Villemin.

Martin Grüb entrusted me with Glenn, but then Andi came along with Popular and snatched him from me. [laughs] Then I saw Lem at a contest, where he was kickflipping off of everything, and told him: “You ride for me now.” He was snatched again by Titus. I was still wet behind my ears and had no idea of how the skate business really works. But the whole situation has turned upside down again and Glenn is back with us.

Lem also doesn’t have a board sponsor at the moment…

Exactly, we’re working on that. [laughs] That’s probably utopian, but I have been pestering him to hit the streets with us some time.

It kind of feels like Own is not just a company but more like a really close group of friends.

Exactly. Especially Andi, who has pretty much gone through every side of the business, is insanely happy that he’s with us and able to have some influence. The whole DIY thing gives back a lot. It’s more than just opening boxes.

The guys even produce their boards themselves.

They just work with us. Arrange the wood sheets, saw them down, press them, glue them, cut them out… A lot of people don’t realize what it means to make a board. They should though, maybe they’d stop throwing it around all the time.

"On the one side, skateboarding wants to be in Vogue, wants to be Olympic, is being dictated by big footwear companies – sorry, but I think in times like these projects like Own are an essential thing."

Was it at some point a conscious decision to keep Own small in order to protect it?

Besides barely being able to make money off of making boards at all, it’s hopeless in the way we produce them. Of course it’s part of the game that if you make boards, you want them to be in some shops. That’s why they will be available at Arrow & Beast sooner or later. That could expand step by step to let’s say SHRN, Civilist, Lobby, etc. I don’t want to be in random shops. The Welthers’ [Andi and his brother Christian, editor’s note] experience comes in really handy when it comes to things like this.

What else would you like to do with Own?

It would be amazing to expand the production, for example, together with refugees, just to give them a job, even if it seems impossible in regards to the organizational aspects. Something like an adidas x Palace collab would be sweet, too.

You mean cooperating with adidas?

Let it be adidas or Hugo Boss or whatever, just something where you can tell the crew that they can quit their jobs because they are cashed out for the next five years, but that’s utopian. Probably we’d do it, but I would never say that I have to be able to live off of it. Then it would be a different struggle and maybe the joy would get lost. I’m not really a fan of collabs, haven’t done any yet, too, but when the result is good… But don’t get me wrong, that’s not our goal. I think that they need us more than we need them. But when you let someone in who spends a lot of money, you might reach a wider range of people, but at the same time it’s not your own thing anymore. I could see how this happened to Aveal, which a couple of friends started in their garage. They got bigger and bigger and at one point they were totally alienated. Then other people took over and I always knew that this is something that won’t happen to me.

Stjepan Lovric - 50-50 | Photo: Julian Häcker

Stjepan Rail

Stjepan Lovric - 50-50 | Photo: Julian Häcker

Do you have any local references since your video is named “Made in Germany”?

Nah, I see myself as cosmopolitan. “Made in Germany” originates from people not knowing that we make the boards ourselves.

There’s nothing characteristically Swabian in Own?

No, unless the refusal of compliance is something Swabian. I think regional references are awful. We rather look at how people in England or France are doing it.

Is that something you guys talk about, this field of tension between authenticity and the potential growth?

Not really. I never understood this whole thing about growth anyways. That’s one of the problems of our time. Everyone can make a board company. Everyone can just order boards. You just slap some graphic together, send it somewhere, and get the boards. This way every city has five companies and every shop produces its own line. This way the big board companies start to get into dire straits. That’s a problem to some extent. And we’re back at talking about culture. The factor of realness is really important to me und when it comes to growth, it’s important to us that we work with fairly produced products and short delivery channels, also concerning textiles.

Robin Wulf Feeblegrind Stuttgart1Gentsch

Robin Wulf – Feeble Grind | Photo: Thomas Gentsch

Lately a lot of small manufactures and craftsman traditions started to blossom again. Do you get more attention because of that?

No, but that’s mainly my fault, because I don’t peddle it around. I’m not the top networker either. When I went to the Bright Tradeshow, I was blown away because so many guys, for example the Lovenskate guys from England, knew who we were. I was also blown away by my last visit to the Lobby shop in Hamburg and that the guy running it also heard of Own and the new video. But you need to be stubborn in order to keep it your own thing and I’m really glad to not have done a lot of things. It’s kind of a German thing, too, that no company from Germany has made it elsewhere. We’ll just see how far the road will take us.

If you could choose, where would it take you?

I think it would be really sick to be perceived as a cool company in the rest of the world. But things never turn out the way you expected. You have to work on it consistently and don’t rest on things you’ve achieved. And that’s kind of Swabian again. [laughs] I just have to go out and film, otherwise there’d be something missing. And it’s priceless when people like Torsten Frank pay attention to every second of the video premiere and approach you in excitement afterwards. On the one side, skateboarding is trying to be suitable for the masses, wants to be in Vogue, wants to be Olympic, is being dictated by big footwear companies – sorry, but I think in times like these projects like Own are an essential thing. If I don’t stick to it, see ya. If I tell people this, they think I’m crazy, but that’s the way I see it.

But you have to be careful that Own won’t grow too much and you have to make boards day and night.

Nah, no way – getting a board will stay a very exclusive thing. Someone once told me that it’s harder to get an Own board than one from Supreme. [laughs] The brand gets bigger, but I don’t think that it will bring up the board sales. Jürgen Blümlein from the skateboard museum went to Russia with Lem and Mark Gonzales. And when Gonz saw Jürgen’s board in the trunk of their car and askeDick: “Whose board is this?” – then that’s another sweet moment. It’s being appreciated. I mean look at Robin’s Board – it was pretty much the board of the year. Orange, bam! There wasn’t one that could’ve kept up with it.

Sheehan Half Cap Farberoth

Sheehan Kneeland – Halfcab | Photo: Lars Roth