One of the realest brands in an increasingly surreal skateboard world, Boston’s RAW, aka Ready Amongst Willing, has been holding down pure East Coast skateboarding since 2006. With two retail stores, one in Somerville, MA and another in Putman, CT, an international distro list, and well-known supporters from Jereme Rogers to Donnis, RAW is a modern day independent success story. Yet between the lines exists a struggle to always remain humble and true to their roots even in the face of increasing notoriety. As the first in a new series from Radcollector and Green Label, we present RAW: an interview with founders Steve Costello and Kevin Susienka.
An analogy I've heard is that RAW is like Supreme without the hype. Would you say that is at all accurate?
SC: People are going to talk, analyze and explain things however they see fit, aren't they? I don't know anybody over at Supreme, but I'm guessing that they're working hard, not hyping hard.
How do you manage the brand's popularity and growth without letting it fall victim to hype?
KS: You have to pull the reigns at some points in time, and by that, I mean you have to sacrifice revenue by not making as many units in order to ensure that the right amount of the right people get those units.
SC: The way I see it, hype is more of a reaction to what someone does. We control the type of reaction we receive by controlling our content.
Along those lines, although RAW is distributed internationally, it feels like a local brand. How have you maintained that feel and was that always part of the plan?
SC: I think geography has more to do with this feeling than any type of master plan we could ever concoct.
KS: This brand is our story. It is a reflection of who we are, not what we think people want us to be. If that comes off to people outside of our circle as "feeling like a local brand," then that is awesome. I wouldn't say that result was our goal from day one, but we definitely wanted people who support our brand to feel a bit like they are set apart from their peers.
When you begin to design a collection or release, what is the process like? Is there a set of themes you adhere to or is each a blank canvas?
SC: We've had a pretty solid formula since the middle of 2007, and we've continually implemented it.
When you work with artists, do you commission them to interpret certain themes or do you give them full creative license? Can you talk about a couple of your artist collaborations and how they came about?
KS: Both. At this point, Jonah Miller has full creative license with RAW because that is how he operates. Very often, he sends us ideas that are so close to complete, it would be insulting in our minds to even change the slightest detail. Brett Desrosiers is the same way. He'll bring us a pile of drawings that are already done and we have to narrow down the final picks together. For Tim McAuliffe and Mykim Dang, it is easier to give them themes to run with because on a day-to-day basis, they both work in environments where they take direction and execute what becomes a final product. To me, we need both types of artists involved in our brand because they all keep the presentation of our brand where it needs to be.
SC: These four people are solid individuals.
If you were asked to explain RAW's mission, what would you say?
KS: Our mission is illustrated in everything we have produced over the past seven years. A glance through our archives, especially pieces marked with phrases such as "Loyalty Over Royalty," "God Bless Skateboarding," and "You're Either In Or You're Out" will make our intentions pretty clear to anyone.
SC: RAW's mission is to bring the right people together. Assemble and conquer.
What are your favorite RAW releases to date?
SC: I have to say our recent FISHSCALE project is my favorite release so far. It's simple and complete. I like it that way.
KS: Going back a bit further, I really enjoyed the first project we did with Matt Tanner. It was a collection of firsts. First custom camper cap, first skateboard series, first release party. That was a great process with a solid outcome, and to top it all off, Tanner is a rad individual that should have had that type of shine a decade before he did.
Talk about your team, who's on it and why?
SC: We’ve got a tight crew and they know why they're a part of the program. "You're either in or you’re out."
KS: In the very near future, you will see what that crew is capable of.
What is wrong with skateboarding today?
SC: Nothing at all. Focus on the right examples of it and the rest just fades away.
KS: Nothing is wrong with skateboarding today. Some of the people in it are just herbs, I guess.
SC: Oh, and the list goes on and on. (Laughs)
What is right with skateboarding today?
KS: Everything is right with skateboarding when you've done it for as long as I have.
SC: Boston's version. I'm a fan of the Dimestore Crew's take on skateboarding. I'd also like to mention Quartersnacks as well. Don't know them, but I dig their website.
What are your plans for 2014?
KS: We are going to pull the reigns. Rather than exploit our capabilities, the collections we release are going to get so tight, it is going to be very difficult for our supporters to choose the best way to represent our brand.
SC: Limited access. We are going to take this brand back to 2006 when we personally knew everyone who was rocking a piece of our work, except this time around, we won't know all of them.