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Jason Filipow and Mike Vallely :: By The Sword Skateboards

Jason Filipow and Mike Vallely :: By The Sword Skateboards

Words: Maurice Pendarvis

Photos: Bobby Hundreds

How did you guys meet?

Jason-I’ve known about Mike ever since he appeared on the cover of Thrasher magazine, and that was the summer of ’86, I think, and he was relative unknown and for Thrasher to put an unknown on the cover was unheard of and from that moment on I was a Mike V. fan. I think it was because, here was this East Coast kid that was inventing his own brand of skateboarding that didn’t depend on the West Coast model of backyard pools and vert ramps-skateboarding could be in your driveway-it could be in the parking lot at the local shopping mart-it could be curbs, walls, and that really resonated with me and mirrored my own suburban skateboarding environment that I had at that time.

I’ve always followed Mike’s career but when he started doing the documentary series called Drive that really resonated with me again, and I thought that was such an amazing way to have positive a impact, not only as a pro skateboarder but also as someone that is kind of like an ambassador for the sport. Having the willingness to travel to the more neglected parts of the country and skate with kids that didn’t have the glamorous skate scenes, and that real one on one interaction at a local, very grass-roots level and make sure the kids were stoked on skating, and they didn’t make any limitations or rules for themselves in terms of what they could do with their own scene or what the could achieve on skateboard. So after I saw that I think I just blindly sent Mike a email and said that I think the message you’re putting out there is one that is really valuable and I was really inspired by it.

Mike-When Jason reached out to me it was 2006 and that time I was going heavy into doing music. I had broken my ankle pretty severely and my skating.well, my skating was never put on hold or anything like that or I never moved away from it but I needed some way to continue to stay active in a intense way, and I’ve been pursuing music, and it just happened to line up that I broke my ankle and things in my band really started moving and there was lot of interest in what we were doing with the band.

At that point, Jason was reaching out to me, and he came at me from the angle of wanting to help the band as far as doing a logo, and bringing some creative elements into what we were doing with our music and it was just great timing and a great way to reach out too. He came at me kind of testifying, which can put you off sometimes but it was in a way that was very comfortable for me; and also bringing his skills to the table, and his passion and his desire to get involved, and not just involved with what I’m doing but to collectively do something cool together and that became the revolution of the logo. That’s where things sort of kicked-off.

I think we developed a pretty instantaneous relationship, a lot of it was on the phone or via email but a connection was made and we became sounding boards for each other as far as ideas, thoughts and influences and feelings and what not. Throughout those few years, from then and now, we started talking about collectively working together on doing a skate brand. Now, we didn’t quite know it was going to become this or it would actually evolve, we didn’t have a plan of action but it all came together pretty quick but we’ve been talking about it long enough that it was completely out of the blue.

When did By The Sword finally manifest itself into an actual brand?

Mike– I think a year ago. It started with the name, which is pretty relevant, because suddenly this phrase or this name came into my head.By The Sword, and it became apparent to me that’s how I’ve been living my life, and basically what I am as a skateboarder. It really came to me from people saying things to me like, ‘Hey man, that’s not worth it’ but maybe its worth to me. Whatever society’s standards or what people say, and I never really jived with that, and people have said stuff to me like, ‘Hey Mike, if you live by the’re going to die by the sword’ with a negative connotation attached to it.well at least I lived.

All these things that become catch phrases or mottos, I see what they’re saying but I try to turn it on its head a little bit. Its like, what if we just let Hitler run across Europe? There are certain times when action is justified-coming from a place of action-for me, I came across the phrase-I took it away from “live by the sword.die by the sword” to just “By The Sword,” to me that has a real positive connotation-it’s a statement of action, it’s a statement of living out loud all the time, one hundred percent. When you do that, you’re not concerned about winning or losing or a draw, it’s about the’re not worried about the results. That suddenly started speaking to me and it has some real balls as a brand.

Was it hard to leave the comfortable situation you were in at Element to start your own thing?

Mike-Comfortable in the sense that I made a great living? Comfortable in the sense that I had security? Comfortable in the sense that I didn’t have to worry about the business? They licensed my name, put it on skateboards and sold a ton of them and I did well from that. I had plenty of freedom but something about that act of just supply and demand just started to irritate me. I didn’t want to be involved with something.Element has great marketing initiatives-they do cool stuff-they are a cool brand.and I don’t want to sound like I’m bashing them-they are a cool brand but they’re just taking this conglomerate’s money and doing cool things with it because that’s what keeps the street credibility.

But was it you?

Mike-Parts of me were there but it wasn’t complete. We were hoping, myself and Element, to find that thing that made it me, which was a 7 year, ongoing thing. It was positive and productive or it felt that way.I think they were sincere in saying, Mike, we really want to work with you, what can we do? The problem is we never answered the question. As I go on with my life and career, its time for me to answer that question, I couldn’t wait anymore. At the same time the marketing team that I was working with, the skateboarders, I know they have the best intentions, so we were trying to answer the question together but there’s this big business hanging over it that is maybe standing in the way of us getting anything done. So I just decided that I couldn’t wait around anymore, this could go on but I need something more at this point.

So you quit everything?

Mike-Yeah, its pretty interesting how it went down. Jason and I were actually talking about developing something within Element. The conversation was, hey Mike, we know we understand we’re at a cross roads here, what do you want? But initially before that conversation happened I was saying this is what I want, and they were saying, its not going to happen. Then when I made it apparent I had one foot out the door, they were like ok, what do you want? Then we had a real conversation about what I want and it got down to lets do it.

But then I realized they’re not doing these thing because I earned them, deserved them or I achieved them, they’re only going to do it because they are afraid of losing me. And you know what? I don’t want it at that point. Like, if you came to me and said, man you been doing a stand-up job, we believe in you, man here it is, we’re into together and I’ll go to war with you all the way. But when I have to chase you down for it-it doesn’t mean the same. And then also understanding that 6 months prior I had a shoe contract that they just ripped up, so if they can do that who says they’re not going to tear that up in 3 months. I just said, I love you guys, you’re all good guys and I wish I could continue working with you but I can’t and it’s over-end of a season, beginning of a new one.

That had to be a little nerve wrecking in regards to just ending it that way

Mike-I mean look at the name of the brand, By The Sword, I have to do what I do. I’m just committed to walking my own path entirely. Whatever happens-good or bad-as a result of the decisions I make, those are the choices I make.It comes down to choice and I’d rather have a choice than to have someone else make a decision for me.

Jason, regarding the graphics, it feels like you just had a lot of fun. What were you looking to bring to the table?

What I’m trying to bring to the table for our brand is the ability to really push the limits the same way Mike has done for his career in skateboarding but also people’s own ideas of what a professional skateboarder is or what professional skateboarder does. I think I’m trying to reach that same level of commitment and intensity to what I’m doing with the brand visually. I’m trying to bring in an autobiographical element in terms of our first few products really speaking to this traditional cut and paste, DIY, punk flyer vibe. That’s the stuff that was very influential to me growing up as a kid and now as a “professional designer”. That stuff was designed out of necessity and there’s a certain sort of honesty and purity with a lot of that type of design and there’s a reason why it looks like it does. So, I’m trying to bring back a little bit of that grittiness to our products and the graphics that we are doing, and that of course expands into our stickers, apparel, the way the website is branded and all the different elements.

Will the “look” of the brand change yet keeping the same feel aesthetically?

Jason-Absolutely, just like skateboarding, it can never really be defined, its always evolving, its always changing but right now what it looks like is this nitty-gritty, cut and paste, analog-very much away from this digital thing-but a really organic vibe.

Did you experience any challenges that you did or did not expect?

Mike-I don’t feel like we’ve really had any challenges because we are not not striving for anything other than just creating this thing for the fun it, and the enjoyment of it, and letting our passion come through. So, we don’t have a real agenda.

Jason- I’m just really stoked on the one board we had, I still look at that thing and I still feel like, there it is man.

You guys seem excited about it?

Mike-Definitely excited, it feels good.we love skateboarding. My level of excitement from skateboarding has never diminished; it just feels good to be lined up, business wise, with something that’s just as exciting.

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