I’ve known Eli Reed for almost the entire time I’ve lived in New York. He’s always had an unmistakable confidence and ambition about him. The difference between Eli and a lot of people you’ll meet is, when he makes a seemingly outlandish claim (“I’m going to start my own brand called Eli Reed” or “I’m going to film a skate video in the Playboy mansion”), he actually does it.
As soon as this site launched, I knew I had to interview him. From starting his namesake brand and Rihanna wearing his shirts, to soberness and the importance of patience, Eli drops some real gems in here.
I remember about 4 or 5 years ago we were in Vegas for a tradeshow and you were talking about launching your own brand. When you told people that, did they take you seriously?
I’m not really sure what people thought. I try not to focus on what other people think. I know that people around me thought it was sick.
What made you want to start it?
I just had a lot of ideas to make things I didn’t see out there. Also, I wanted to have something creative to do when I wasn’t skating. Nick Diamond thought it would be a great idea to brand my name and really pushed me to do it.
When you say you had ideas for stuff that you didn’t see out there, are you saying you saw an opportunity in the market place? Or was starting the brand more of a creative outlet.
It was more creative. More about the design and enjoying the creative process and making shit than thinking about the business.
You have a strong relationship with the guys at Supreme. When you first started you made tee shirts only and sold them exclusively to Supreme, correct?
Yeah, at first I was selling to Supreme only. I started with tees because that’s the easiest thing to get made.
Did you design them by yourself?
I design most all of the shirts, but always pull things from friends and fam. Jamie Story has done a few graphics for me in the past.
Where is the stuff made?
The brand is available in Opening Ceremony. How did that come about?
When I started selling socks, I hit them up and had a friend that worked there copied me on an email with the Men’s buyer. He said they wouldn’t take one sock design, but if I had more they would. So the next season, I had three good socks out and he ordered all three. The socks speared me in there and have done well ever since.
The product has everything from naked girls to middle fingers to MLK. Where does your design inspiration come from?
It comes from so many different things I’m into. Women tend to inspire me, so I end up having a lot of naked women on my shirts. Really inspiration comes from everywhere for me. Going to museums and art galleries I get inspired by a bunch of artists. Also, a main source of inspiration for me is vintage clothes. A lot of designers look at vintage pieces and flip em and put their own twist on it.
The reach of the brand has extended beyond skateboarding. Have you seen anyone wearing the product that surprised you?
Well, Rihanna wore a shirt, so….
Does that make you happy when you see that? When you see the brand drawing attention from outside of skateboarding?
I’m down for Rihanna, so I was happy to see her in it. I would just say that the brand draws attention on its own. You can’t really control who gets their hands on it. But for me, it makes me happy when I see people enjoying skating and enjoying the brand in general.
Are you planning to keep it in a super limited amount of stores, or are you looking to open up the distribution a bit?
We shall see.
Is your brand a sign of the times? Someone wanting to express themselves through a brand and being able to use modern technology to design it, get it made and promote it.
I guess so, but I feel it’s more of your own will power. Even back in the day, like mom-and-pop shops, it was just people who were willing to do their own thing and go for it. I can go both ways. Technology definitely makes it easier. You can do things now you couldn’t do years ago. But you still have to be the type of person to make shit happen. The tools are all there, but you have to be willing to use them.
How do you manage to balance running the brand and maintaining your career as a pro skateboarder? What’s your day like?
Right now, I usually wake up, get coffee, answer emails and handle brand stuff in the day. Then I go skate and film at night, because it’s too hot to skate in New York in the day during summer. We’re working on a video of all night stuff for Cons.
Overall, I’m always skating no matter what. There’s always time to do whatever you want if you make it. I think being sober helps a lot, too.
How long have you been sober for?
Why did you decide to stop drinking?
It’s just better for me. I think not drinking can help anyone feel more solid. It can help you be more productive. I’ve got a lot of things I’m working on and a lot of things I want to do. There are things I still want to accomplish. Drinking wasn’t helping that.
Well, you’re doing really well for yourself: pro board with Organika, your brand is killing it, you just came off a big domestic tour with Cons. But a few years back things were different: you were in between board sponsors, no more Dew checks, you were partying more. At that time, were you concerned about your future in skating?
Honestly, I wasn’t really worried. I know what I’m capable of. I just stayed true to my craft and myself. I kept focused and persistent with my skating. I was already doing my brand, so I focused on that, too. Even without a board sponsor, I was putting out parts. Maybe from the outside it might have looked different, but I was still skating and trying to seize the moment.
Right now I’m happier than ever. Maybe Mountain Dew and WESC weren’t really me, you know? I think it’s all for the better. I just did the Dew thing because Paul hit me up about it and I love Paul. But right now, I couldn’t be happier.
I’ve known you for years now and you’ve always been a super grateful person. Do you think having gratitude is essential to someone’s success?
I don’t know. There are so many arrogant assholes out there that are super successful. I just do what works for me. Put out good energy, work hard and do my thing. I want to be successful my way and that’s not being an asshole. I’m really, really grateful and stoked where I’m at. Things are going good, but I’m not complacent either. I want to keep it going and keep growing.
What advice would you give someone wanting to work in the skateboard industry or start his or her own brand?
If that’s what you want to do, then do it. Don’t let anything or anyone hold you back from your dreams. Fuck what other people think. Just do what makes you happy.
Also, everything takes time. Patience is key for anything: skating, starting a business, whatever. You need to take your time and master your craft. Even if it doesn’t work out right away or for your first season, you will be learning the entire time. You never know, you could take what you learned and kill it on your second season. Or, your first idea may not work out at all, but it might lead you to another idea that does work. I would just say, even if something doesn’t seem like it’s working out, you’re probably right where you need to be. Patience and persistence are key.
Great advice. What’s next for you and the brand?
Fall ‘15 line and my first video parts for the brand.
Thank you, Eli.
Nah, thank you.