In Josh Stewart’s Static II, German Nieves has a line at City Hall in Philly with three of the most gangster switch mongo pushes you will ever see. The tricks are sick and all, but the pushes steal the show. German’s skating has always stood out to me. The trick choice, spot selection, clothes he wore and how he wore them: it was easy to see that a lot of thought went into the things he did. So, it wasn’t surprising when late last year, German launched his own brand and it possessed the same attention to detail that his skating always did.
I got a chance to sit with German to talk about starting his brand, Paterson League, why it’s different and what keeps him up at night.
Do you realize you might go down as having some of the most gangster pushes in a line ever? And that’s crazy considering who else needs to be mentioned in this category.
Gangster pushes? I never realized I had a gangster push haha. But skating to me is all about the way you do it. And man, sometimes the push means a bit more than the tricks themselves. It might be the time period I grew up skating in. But when Wade DesArmo mentioned that I had the most gangster push in that interview, I was definitely psyched and surprised. He’s one of my favorites for sure. This was around the time he put out that Top Dollar part. That part shits on most skaters’ video parts today.
Wade is one of a kind. Did the excitement around skater-owned, independent brands play into why you launched Paterson League now?
Well, honestly the way Paterson started was I just wanted to make something. A few of my friends had brands and I was like “I can do something, too”. It took me a while to feel confident enough to start the brand. I honestly did it as a thing to have fun with, but I really want to take it to a point where I can make a solid living off of it.
What eventually gave you the confidence to start it?
Really it was just deciding on the name. That’s been the biggest challenge for me in starting the brand. I kind of knew I was always going to have a brand called Paterson, but I was intimidated to call it that. I was self conscious about it. I thought people wouldn’t get it, like “Paterson doesn’t have palm trees.” I had people tell me it sounds too long. But the name is the truest thing I could have called it. It’s where I’m from. It’s me. Once I decided on the name, it was on.
You had to listen to yourself. Other than being the city where you’re from, what does the name mean to you?
Paterson as a name reminded me of one of those heritage brands like Rawlings, Spalding or Wilson. The brand is inspired by sports, fashion and skateboarding. It’s a reflection of me and my influences. Skating definitely isn’t a sport, but it is sporty. The league part is for whoever is down for the brand: whoever is down for the league. I came up with the tag line: “Made For Play.” It’s sporty to me and it’s different.
So you don’t live off of the brand?
No, I have a day job building sets for production companies. So, I really have two jobs: building sets and building the brand. I lose some sleep, but it’s really exciting to watch the brand grow. I get so psyched when I call a shop I want to be in and they want the brand.
How many shops are you in?
About 20 in the US and a couple international. There’s no rush.
When did you start working on the brand and when did it officially launch?
I officially started it Fall of 2014. I made a bucket hat with some fabric I found at a fabric store that I really liked. Then I made a five panel cap as a collaboration with my friend Ron who has a hat brand called Leroy Jenkins. Then I was like “I gotta make this thing happen if I want it.” Now I’m going for it 120 percent. This collection that’s out now, Spring/Summer 2015 is our first collection.
How did you get that first bucket hat made?
My neighbor Ron with the headwear brand invited me to the factory one day and I decided I would try and make my own hat. In skateboarding, you’re always meeting people and networking, so you’re gonna end up meeting someone that can help you get your shit made.
How does Paterson League differentiate itself from all the other skate brands out there?
Well, Paterson isn’t a brand that’s going to follow the same process a lot of other skate brands follow. Paterson is skater owned, but doesn’t have a skate team, yet anyway. We have skateboards, but the brand is also very sporty and speaks to that lifestyle. I’m very influenced by tennis at the moment. It’s something I got into a couple years ago and it’s just as hard as skating and fun as hell. I want to fuse skating and tennis and fashion and lifesyle. I want people to be able to get dirty skating in it, or just look clean and chill in it, or go play tennis in it. The vibe and aesthetic of the brand are very different than anything out there right now.
Will you put together a skate team?
I feel that I don’t need one just yet. I do have some people in mind, but I don’t have the budget to hook these guys up and I want to be fair. I make very little runs of stuff. I want people to want it. Like I said, I don’t want to go that same cookie cutter way of having a “skate team”. But I have a couple dudes in mind that I’ll be working with and we’ll see where the chips fall.
You were sponsored for years yourself. How does it feel to be running your own brand and have complete control of your own image now?
It’s the best. When I was sponsored, I was always on my own shit. I used to get boxes and spray paint boards or trade them in at shops. I would go on tour and be doing demos in different brands’ shirts! Free stuff is never as good as the stuff you work for and buy, because most of the time the free stuff isn’t really what you want. I always wanted the newest shit. I wanted to wear polo jackets and shell toe Adidas. My mom could never afford that stuff, so I had to figure out ways to get it when I could. I think that’s what made me always want nicer stuff when I got older. I think that’s why Paterson looks the way it does.
In addition to being a sponsored skateboarder, you also held down a couple jobs in the industry; first at a skate shop and then running the skate team and marketing at 10 Deep. Has this experience, working on both the retail and brand side, influenced how you go about running Paterson?
I learned a lot working for them and I met tons of great people in that time. I left 10 Deep to work for J. Crew, which is another great brand. But I got really burnt on working with those people. I felt they had no aspiration. I felt stale. I thought in order to make Paterson work I had to leave that environment. Everything I learned from working with them definitely has given me crazy vision though. I learned about knowing the consumer. Knowing your consumer goes into every aspect of how your brand operates. Take the palm tree tee for example. I know someone that likes Ralph and J. Crew is going to like it, but so is a skater and so is a girl. If you know your consumer you know how to speak to them and appeal to them.
What is your retail strategy?
My strategy is to sell to the stores that are excited about it and that sell brands that I respect and aspire to be like. Most of my retailers do sell skateboards of course. I just want to keep the integrity of the brand.
Also, I want to be on calendar. We are working on our Spring/Summer 2016 line to show at Agenda New York in a few weeks. I want buyers to take us seriously as a real brand.
From a marketing perspective, I feel like you’re letting the product speak for itself and there’s a lot of thought and care that goes into the product and the creative.
Well, I want everything about the brand to have a high level feel. It’s just tees and stuff, but the feel of the brand is elevated and rich and quality. Everything is thought out and I don’t make a lot of it. Because of that, it sells out, which I’m super grateful for.
If someone wants to start their own brand what would you tell them?
I would say, have fun, be focused in your approach and foresee where you want to take it in the future. This shit doesn’t happen over night. You’re not going to sleep, because you’re gonna have two jobs: one to pay the bills and your brand. But it’s so exciting, too. Shit keeps me up at night. I sit in bed thinking about my dreams and goals: my goals for the next day and the day after that and years in the future. I think about being able to live off the brand and being able to take care of my family off the brand. A brand showcases who you are, so you end up putting everything into it.
Here’s my “Start Your Own Brand or Business 101” by Big Germ hahaa.
1. Find something you’re genuinely passionate about.
2. Know who your customer is.
3. Figure out what you want out of starting your own brand. What’s your end goal?
4. Get all that legal shit taken care of. Pick your name, get it trademarked and start a business account.
5. Have fun with it, but keep progressing.
6. Surround yourself with people you aspire to be like (or people who are just positive and cool to be around. You’ll be surprised at the people who’ll distract you and/or hate on you for doing what you want.)
7. When you make your first money from your company, take your family out to dinner and let them know that you took them out with the bread you earned from your business. Your family can be your strongest supporters.