Gilbert Crockett has an interesting perspective on skating - one informed by being immersed in every aspect of it, coupled with the raw talent that he’s molded into his own style. Crockett also has a unique relationship with Chad Bowers, the founder of his board sponsor, Quasi Skateboards. As much as it’s a brand, Quasi feels like a collective informed equally by the personalities that comprise it. It’s an evolving friendship and a liquid platform for ideas. Now, that may just sound like a sponsor to some, but in 2020 that synergy and transparency are often lost, or even ignored, for business plans and spreadsheet collabs.
In speaking to Crockett, and dissecting his approach to skating, you get the feeling that he was the kid who enjoyed taking his toys apart and putting them back together, rather than just playing with them. Based in Richmond, Virginia, where he operates a vintage store and brand under the name Cee Blues, there’s an earnestness to how he pursues things. Some people and brands like to tell you their “story” and root it in something to use as a marketing tool. Gilbert Crockett does the opposite. He puts everything out there and if you’re down, you’re down, but each thing, from clothing design to trick selection, is thought out and intentional. With the recently released Quasi x Vans Crockett High Pro on the shelves, I wanted to dig deeper than the inspiration behind a sneaker, a video part, or a graphic and instead learn about his process, passion for vintage, and his overall point of view.
You're headed to Washington, D.C. right now?
Yeah, I'm driving up there for the day to go skate a lot. I mean, I've been kind of confined to Richmond but I've been skating a lot of ways. I feel pretty fortunate compared to a lot of people but the motivation is definitely hard. I think not travelling makes it even harder because I'm staring at the same spot that I've lived around my whole life.
"An outfit can make or break a clip, a skater or a video part"
You had a video interview talking about how skating and clothing go hand-in-hand. I thought that was super interesting, could we talk about that a little bit more because some people may automatically have a reaction like 'Fuck that! Skating isn't a fashion,' but it's 100% true.
I think clothing matters a lot and it gives you energy, motivation, inspiration or whatever. If you put on clothes that you're stoked on, leave the house to go skate and look down - you’re looking at your pants and your shoes and if you don't have your shit feeling good then you're going to be bummed on your day. You're not going to be stoked to film. You're not going to want to do your best. You're gonna be like, ‘Man, I feel like shit - this sucks.’
All those people that are saying ‘clothes don't matter'. They just wear Dickies and Carhartt! There's a reason that they're wearing Dickies and Carhartt, and it's not just because it's cheap. It's because it's the look of the working man, the blue-collar look and they think ‘this is really affordable and it makes sense for my budget to buy this type of clothing’. But, at the end of the day, you're still curating a fit that was inspired by someone else - you saw it somewhere else. It didn’t just come out of nowhere. That's always my reply to people that want to argue the other side of it. An outfit can make or break a clip, a skater or a video part. If the skater comes on the screen and looks wack, it’s easy to think ‘I don't care about them,’ they may have good style but they look stupid on the board because of what they're wearing - it’s hard to be stoked on that.
I’m always drawn to skaters who are thoughtful in how they present themselves even if it’s not ‘my style’. When did you start to be more aware of that and maybe not just putting on whatever was in the box that showed up at your doorstep?
I've always been super obsessed with clothing but I didn't really get into vintage until I quit Black Box, Fallen, and Mystery. I moved home and was switching it up. I had been through a lot of phases and been into different styles of clothing over the years - baggy or tight, all of the above. I remember being in New York City on a Vans trip, I was cruising down the street and I passed a Double RL store. I'd never heard of the brand and I thought it was a vintage store because you know, that's kind of their thing, making clothes that look like they're vintage. I was tripping out and I went in there all excited and just nerded out on their clothes. That got me really into, I guess, the vintage style of clothing.
Eventually, I got out of the Double RL thing and realized that they're just pulling from old clothing. That led me to find out that pretty much everything in fashion - whether you're talking high fashion, skate fashion or whatever - it all comes from vintage, every detail, you know. People are just constantly reinventing styles and patterns and details that have been around for so long. So that's kind of how I got led into the vintage world. I'm not really into Double RL at all, since it’s made in China and everything is $300. I don't really support that, but I appreciate that they did such a good job of bringing that vintage style to the world, so I was able to learn from it, you know.
Was there anyone you met or any websites you were obsessed with? Anything that opened you up to the story, and how vintage is more than just how stores curate it?
Yeah, there's this website that used to be pretty updated pre-Instagram called vintageworkwear.com. It's still up, you can go look through a lot of the old archives on there. That was one when I was definitely, you know, early days of internet nerdy when it was so easy. I’d be looking up vintage on the internet and I would always end up on that website. I also think a lot of a lot of my obsession with this type of stuff is from my mom, she's obsessed with antiques and collecting. I’m really obsessed with the character of old shit.
The world unlocked when I started becoming aware of vintage clothing, it's a lot like skating in a sense. At first, I was naive, I thought if you buy something from Goodwill that you’re cheating the people who can’t afford new clothes. But someone explained to me that the clothing component to those non-profits is to generate money to create jobs and employ people, as much as it is to sell affordable clothes. Then they explained how most of those organizations sell the good donated pieces to picking centers where vintage buyers come in and get them, so they never hit the racks. The whole system was so interesting to me. It was like record collecting, suddenly you realize there are all these gems out there waiting to be found in stores you drove by hundreds of times and never went into.
"If it's not before 1980 then it's not vintage"
With the internet, and the popularity of vintage clothing more generally, has it become more difficult to source stuff?
It’s harder now but you can still find good things on the internet. I’ve been all over the place for the last year and I haven't had time to go out looking for vintage that much. We buy a lot from estate sales and from vintage wholesalers - that’s kind of how we stock our store a lot of the time. We go thrifting and shit too when we have time, but I've kind of been stepping back a little bit, especially because I spend money on making shit now and I can't be just hoarding all this expensive vintage and then spending money to try to recreate it. At the same time, I’m wearing a jacket right now that I found in an antique mall for 20 or 30 bucks and it's from the 1940s at least, it might even be earlier. There are things where I've just been at the right place at the right time, you get a deal and somehow it's exactly what you wanted but you didn't know it beforehand.
Being able to travel so much for skating you're ending up in places you never would have been in, have you ever found anything on a tour and tripped out?
Nothing too psycho, but I found a 1940's Hawaiian shirt. I think we were in Massachusetts doing a demo, I walked into a vintage store and it was super cheap - a couple of bucks for a really nice old Hawaiian, which I was juiced on. I don't think I'm in the field enough to be digging up gold.
I wanted your opinion on this, and I’m not trying to be a snob, but there’s a lot of trends in both vintage and skating, and I don’t really consider a shittily made pair of pants from the ‘90s as really 'vintage'.
I see both sides of it, but I'm with you. I'm on the side where the word vintage has a personal meaning to me. If it's not before 1980 then it's not vintage. At the same time, I do appreciate that Levi's was making all their shit in the USA in the ‘90s, like a lot of brands were. If you’re talking about looking 'quote-unquote' vintage and it’s made overseas, I'm not really buying it. If you're talking vintage ‘90s and it's a pair of Levi's and it's made in the USA, then damn that's cool. That it's not something you can get on the internet and find, and it's not going to be as expensive as a pair of 1940s jeans that are made in the USA, which is more what I'd be looking for. I used to be way more turned off by the ‘90s thing but I've been with my girlfriend for five years now and she's really into buying and selling ‘90s and wearing it. I see the other side of it a little bit more now than I used to.
Since you make your own Cee Blues pants - do you ever think about how they’ll last and maybe in 30 years will be something that's considered 'vintage'?
Fuck yeah, that’s a dream! If I could blast forward into the future, whether I'm around on Earth anymore or not, but if I could see somebody picking through a Goodwill rack and they find a pair of my jeans and they're like, "Whoa, what the fuck? This is insane," or they just knew what they were, that's so cool to me. That's the whole idea - going back to the way things were made at one point in this country when it was actual quality over quantity.
"I'm not a high fashion brand. I'm making things that are very simple and have been made the way pants have been made for hundreds of years"
I always think about that since the ‘80s, people in New York City have been swapping each other’s clothes around. That vintage leather jacket someone just bought was probably owned by someone who was doing coke when they saw the Talking Heads at CBGB in the ‘70s.
[laughs] That’s something I've been attracted to. If I go out and buy a new pair of jeans and I've spent a decent chunk of money on them, because to me that's what a decent pair of jeans in this day and age costs, then I go out to dinner and spill spaghetti sauce on them, I’d be so bummed. But, if I'd a bought a vintage pair of jeans that were already stained up and fucking bled on, or whatever happened to them, I wouldn't really care as much about fucking them up. I would get more relaxed in the clothes because I don't have to worry about keeping them brand new, you know.
[laughs] I’m the same way. I still have the poor kid mentality that when I buy something expensive, I’m immediately worried about fucking it up and then I end up not wearing it as much as old shit. To that point about price, can you talk about the process of making pants and how the price point is set - the whole ecosystem of what you’re doing - because I think a lot of people just react to the price tag and not what went into making it?
Yeah, I was actually going to bring that up if you didn’t. It’s almost a frustration for me daily. I’ve put some stuff on the internet for sale and nowhere in the description does it say anything about skateboarding. Of course, I'm a skateboarder, so that's what I do for a living. That's why a lot of people are looking at my page anyway, I understand that, but what I’m doing isn’t a skate brand. I’m not telling people to skate in these pants. If they want to skate in them, that’s up to them.
The price I come up with is based on how much money I put into one pair of pants, that's usually over a hundred dollars for me because I'm a small fish. I'm not making a lot of stuff. I'm doing small quantity stuff made in the U.S. so I have to pay more. I have to pay for someone to cut, hem and sew all the details and to deliver it. It’s not a cheap thing at all for me to do and people want to get on the internet and be like, ‘$250 for a fucking pair of jeans. How's the skater supposed to afford this?’
There's a lot of different levels of income in skateboarding and I get that. If I could sell them for as cheap as a pair of Levi's I would do. People perhaps don't understand that American production is a positive thing. This isn't even about supporting my brand, I just want people to understand that if you go out and you support American made clothing or brands that are producing different types of products in the U.S., you’re stimulating our own economy and you're stimulating that whole industry. Which in turn, if more and more and more people supported made in USA goods, it would bring the costs down to get those things made. There would be more job opportunities for people to be sewing for a living in the U.S.
I always think about how I convey that message to people about my stuff without saying ‘buy my shit!’ you know, that's not the best message. I just want people to understand that I'm not a high fashion brand. I'm making things that are very simple and have been made the way pants have been made for hundreds of years. It’s nothing new, it's just quality and you have to pay for quality.
I’ve had this conversation with other people before who make things. It's a risk to realize the only way you can make something the way you want is at a higher price point, and people will come down on you. But the same people will pay $300 for sneakers that are marked up a ton and cost little to make.
Oh yeah, and they won't blink. I was kind of thinking about that type of thing the other day because of the same issue. People talking about, ‘$250 is psycho for a pair of jeans’ and I think about this way: how much does an ounce of weed cost? That’s more than my jeans. How much does it cost to buy some skate shoes you tear up in a week? If you're on the streets every day and you’re getting it, you're going to pay $70-$100 on shoes and burn them in a week. Everyone’s brain is telling them that a pair of shoes, a pair of pants, a jacket and a t-shirt should all be really, really cheap and people want to pay about the same price for each one of those garments.
Skateboarders are notoriously brutal because the prices of products we buy rarely go up.
It really doesn't make any sense at all. Dude, the fucking value of the dollar since the beginning of skateboarding is so much lower. I don't understand, skating is in such a weird vacuum.
Right. And people have talked about it before. If every brand decided to sell boards for $70 - that would be the new standard - and there might be more money for pros to be able to have a sustainable career. But it wouldn't stop a brand from undercutting everyone as a business strategy, and then it falls apart. Instead, skate brands operate more like record labels, down to the royalty structure. Most bands can’t make a living, just like a lot of skaters without other income, but they’re still making great art. But then if you start to talk about unions? That’s a deep hole. I don't think anyone wants all that structure in skating.
Yeah. They just want it to be the wild west.
And now boards can’t be made (post-Covid-19 supply chain issue) and everyone is tripping out. I saw that Robbie Gangemi is bringing back Vehicle and making recycled boards. If that works, he cracked the code and could change everything.
We were just talking about this the other day. There are generally two big woodshops in skating, they're both maxed out and they're not accepting new accounts right now. I was talking to Jeremy Tubbs, who's the Quasi team manager asking, “What if these shops just shut the fucking doors. Everybody's screwed. What do you do then?’
It’s pretty insane that skateboarding seems so much bigger now than ever before, I can't even go down the fucking street in Richmond without seeing a whole crew of skaters. It's exploding right now and you know, there's just two wood shops and they're not even in this country.
I think in the immediate future, you’re gonna see a lot of people hitting up these board hoarders for old decks to skate.
[laughs] We’re in a board shortage right now, I actually have some still so I'm good, but during the first board shortage of Corona, I was skating older boards from old stacks. I skated this Quasi deck from a few years ago and it was so hard. I don’t know if it got harder just sitting around but when it hit me it felt a metal board or something. It was almost too much.
Completely unrelated but I really liked how you changed the color-blocking on the Quasi x Vans Gilbert Crockett High Pro and it really transformed the shoe. How did that all come about?
I just randomly sent out a text - those shoes weren’t really supposed to be in the line. I texted Neal Shoemaker, the Head Footwear Designer at Vans, and said, ‘What if we turn the 2 into a high top?” he was down, so I drew a simple sketch and he was stoked on it.
Vans had just taken a high-top out on the line, so there was room to put one in. I went in to start the conversation and to work on some early details and they had this shoe Taka Hayashi designed, (Head of Design, Vans Vault). He had made a Skate Hi with a webbing stripe, kind of similar to mine on the high. It was in a different place but I was just really into that idea. I’m into vintage basketball sneakers from the ‘30s and ‘40s. A lot of the sneakers then had stripes that are similar to the ones on the high. They even had a similar stripe on World War II sneakers that they would give out to the troops to wear.
I’m always pulling from old sportswear and I kind of like the idea of adding a sporty looking stripe to it. I don't know, it was just right place right time and it slipped into the line. They didn't have money behind it for marketing and pushing it, which I was kind of stressed on and I think that's one of the reasons that I tried to push it so hard on the internet myself, on Instagram and stuff, which I think helped. Normally that shoe would have been done a year in advance with the promotion already planned.
"People don't want those old brands that have had the same logo for 20 years. Young people just don't care"
It definitely worked. The last thing I wanted to ask about was Quasi. I think what’s really unique about the brand is that it’s a really diverse team. None of the riders are really alike, but the brand feels very cohesive without being “one thing.” Maybe that’s a Chad (Bowers) question but I wanted to get your take on it.
So, I don’t own any part of Quasi but prior to starting it we had all been let go from the Workshop. Whatever corporate investors who own 51% decided one day, they called us and said no more skate team and we were gone. I went six months without a sponsor, maybe more, we were filming Propeller and I would talk to Chad all the time on the phone and at this point, it wasn’t Quasi or Mother, it was just a conversation. The common thread of every conversation was that, over a long period of time, he and I had the same vision to make something that's not one thing or the other, you know, something ever-changing and not stuck ever.
I think that skating changed a lot over the last 18 years, as far as what's possible and what the future is going to look like. Unfortunately, people don't want those old brands that have had the same logo for 20 years. Young people just don't care. The world has changed and things need to be different now. I think that’s why it (Quasi) works. There are all these people on the team, and as you said, one person isn’t like the other, and Chad’s not like any of us. He has a very unique brain for design and he can keep it fresh. He also has a good vision as far as who should be on the team, what that person brings to the table. It's got to bring some flavor. We’re on the same page, we want to see something new.
I hate when you see a brand or a skater and you're like, ‘Oh god dude, you guys are just copying the other guys you know.’ Almost everyone is guilty of that and it's just a bummer. I can't stand it when I see a lack of originality when I'm looking at a skater, a brand or really anything: art, music and so on. I want to see your soul. I don't want to see you copying someone else. That's one thing about skating and other industries and cultures, they just feed off ripping each other off all the time and it's gross.
I, for one, hate repetition. I hate it. If I have to go out and do the same trick every day I'm gonna hate skating, you know, fucking hate it. If I have to go wear the same clothes every day and have the same logo on the bottom of my board, I’m going to be so fucking bitter about it. You got to switch it up. I think skating is so similar to music and art and you have to treat it that way. Whatever, you can make fun of me all you want for saying it's an expression or it's an art form, but it really is because the feeling that you get from skating is not the feeling you get from making a basketball shot.
We have this special thing and, when you're making a brand, you have to really consider that this is a special sacred thing. You gotta share that message with your community… your audience. They don't want to buy something that's just a logo slapped on something. They want to buy something special.
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