Stefan Brandow isn’t afraid to speak his mind and call it like it is – even if that means ruffling a few feathers.
If you don’t recognise the name Stefan Brandow, you have clearly overlooked the 56 edits online edits he has created, or featured in, over the last four years, but there is a distinct possibility that you have worn one of his logos. The 24-year-old has leant his graphic design expertise to numerous brands including Havok, Con Artist, Scribe, Bulletprufe Denim and Southern Scum. That’s right, without even realising, you have a small piece of Brandow hanging up in your closet. In addition to being a prolific filmer and designer, he is also a pretty gifted blader. At least, Bulletprufe Denim and M1 certainly seem to think so, as they have added the North Carolina resident to their respective amateur team rosters.
Going past his obvious creative talents and ability of blades, Stefan Brandow is an absolute pleasure to talk to. It is refreshing to speak to someone in rollerblading that doesn’t circle around a topic or maintain a diplomatic attitude for the sake of keeping the peace, no sir. Brandow will happily call out anyone that he believes is in dire need of being put in their place. During the following discussion, his main grievance lies with the rollerblading industry. In particular, the companies that currently dominate the sport and dictate how it is seen by the general public. Regardless of whether or not Brandow has a valid point, it is difficult to fault his conviction. The drifter explains why he believes rollerblading has become “a stagnant industry” and tells us about his journey from growing up in New York to currently living in North Carolina.
Wheel Scene: Okay, let’s start with the basics. How old are you and where are you from?
Stefan Brandow: I’m 24-years-young and born in a tiny town in the western part of New York state. I went to college in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and currently reside in Raleigh, North Carolina.
You recently moved to North Carolina, is that right? What are you doing there?
After I graduated from college in Pittsburgh I worked for a year, but decided it wasn’t where I wanted to be at the time. I tried moving home to New York for a while, but that wasn’t working either. When I left Pittsburgh my girlfriend had moved to Charlotte to be with her family. I decided to move to Charlotte with her and figure out where we wanted to go and ended up in Raleigh.
What did you study in college?
I went to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh for Graphic Design. I loved going to that school!
What are you doing with yourself these days?
Funny you ask; as of yesterday quite a few things have really changed for me. Right now, I’m looking into where I’m going to be living next, whether that is here in Raleigh or somewhere else – I haven’t decided. Nothing has really gone my way since moving to North Carolina and things have got worse and worse to the point where it’s time for a big change. I just haven’t had the time to really decide what that is yet. I know for sure I’m trying to film another DVD this year, as well as do more design work for blading and scooting companies.
Tell us a little about your work with blading and scooting companies.
A buddy of mine from California, Bill Hedrick, got into a scootering brand with a good friend of his that is a huge pro out there and I’ve been their whole art department. We sold out of the first line in three days. Their industry is a lot larger, obviously, so things move at a quicker pace.
… and blading?
As far as blading work goes, I’ve been working with Dan Fabiano at Scribe/Con Artist for a while, doing their tee’s and wheel designs. I did a few tee designs for my great friend Chad Anthony and his brand Southern Scum. It is looking like I’m going to be doing their whole next line. I have been doing a lot of work with Bulletprufe Denim on designs, as well as helping redesign a new pro model jean we have coming out in a few months. I did the last Havok line before they went under, too.
It sounds like you could quite easily start your own brand.
I’ve always wanted to start my own brand, just never had the money. I can’t count the number of people have told me that I need to. I am hoping I can finally get that going this year.
So, at the moment, are you looking for a job or hoping to do more freelance work?
It’s really going to depend on what happens with my living situation. If I stay in Raleigh I’ll probably just keep doing freelance and work part-time wherever I can make money. If I happen to move somewhere I definitely wouldn’t mind finding something full-time. My big thing is being able to have creative freedom. I don’t want to work somewhere doing design work I don’t enjoy doing.
That’s fair enough. What is the blading scene like in Raleigh compared to Pittsburgh?
Spot wise, it’s extremely different. Pittsburgh is an old factory town. The city and spots are gritty, rugged and raw. Raleigh has more of a neighbourhood feel to it. It has three of the biggest colleges in the United States all within 20 minutes of each other, as well as a tonne of other smaller colleges and schools, so that is what mostly gets skated. Not only was Pittsburgh quite a bit larger, but its downtown area is very tight and all the buildings are very close to each other. Raleigh is very spread out and there are a bunch of other smaller cities close to it. Every rolleblader is different, so any city you go to there’s going to be different personalities and skating styles, so you can’t compare the two cities there.
It sounds great. What is it about Raleigh that you are not enjoying at the moment?
It’s not necessarily the city itself, it’s a wonderful place: Clean, great spots and great people. Businessweek actually voted Raleigh America’s Best City. I have just had the worst luck since moving to North Carolina. In all facets of life, nothing has gone my way. I can’t stay unhappy so I’m going to make whatever changes it may take to make things better and that may mean moving somewhere else. I’d love to travel and skate as much as possible before I’m too old and have to get a “real job”, so I have a feeling that’s what is going to happen.
Worst luck is pretty vague!
Things with my girlfriend and I went south. The current job I’m at is quite terrible and doesn’t make me enough money to make rent some months, even with freelance work. The act of rollerblading itself hasn’t been bad lately, but all the things that can come along with being involved in the industry have made it very frustrating. All the plans I had have gone down the drain and I’ve gotten in a rut. It’s been very upsetting. I used to never compromise when it came to the things I wanted to do, and unfortunately I have let that slide. I don’t want to have to live day to day anymore. I want to be excited about the things I’m doing and follow my dreams.
So, who are your sponsors and how did you get hooked up with them?
Right now, I’m riding for Bulletprufe and M1. My good friend Casey came to me when I moved to Charlotte and told me an old school dude from the area was looking to start a jean company and might need design work. I obviously jumped at the chance as it sounded like a cool venture; making jeans that were truly made for skating. After a while of doing work and testing the jeans, he asked if I wanted to join the team. It’s taken a lot of a work and I still don’t think we’re at the point we want to be, but it’s growing day by day.
How did you get hooked up with M1?
I’ve been friends with Ed at M1 for quite a while. He and I had talked about a flow spot a few years back, but it just never happened. I stopped skating for a little while when moving from New York to North Carolina and quit riding for all the companies I was with at the time. After I got back into it, Ed asked me if I wanted to be on the am team for M1. I had been skating the wheels long before he and I had been friends so I was obviously down, plus they had a lot of great ideas for future projects I wanted to be involved with. Will, Wally and Ed are all stand-up guys who I fully support.
What do you think about the current state of the sport?
I think the sport is at the craziest level it’s ever been at. There’s so many different styles of rollerblading that people push so far beyond expectations, and it’s really, really set us apart from other action sports.
…and the industry?
As far as the industry goes, I think it’s an absolute fucking joke. There are only a handful of companies that I feel are doing things right. There’s a big difference between taking things seriously, and being professional. There’s also a big difference between being real and blindly hating. Blading companies need to start being more professional and rollerbladers need to start being more real. I understand that things will get better as more money comes into the sport, but when is that money coming and where is it going to come from? I know a lot of people have different feelings and ideas on this, but I feel like companies are more worried about their current image instead of getting blading to the outside eye and new rollerbladers. We’ve been such a stagnant industry for years. We’re only going to grow by going out of our way and getting kids on blades. If that means giving them some blades, giving them some old DVDs and mags and taking a few hours out of your week to shred with them, then it needs to happen! No outsider is going to come to rollerblading and give us our shot. We have to bust our asses and go out of our way to show people what we’re doing and how amazing it is.
Words: Louis Flood Photos: Jacob Maine
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