Having prowess over a skateboard doesn’t exactly equate to job offers pouring in when creating a resume. For skateboarders that are fortunate to have the skill set and luck to become professional skaters, there is a life span that goes hand in hand with physical health and level of performance. Working in the industry may be the imaginary safety net for those that need an out at the end of their skateboarding careers. But without a bit of foresight and planning, this can be a potential pitfall if that option isn’t there. On the other hand, it can also be seen as a roadmap when having and cultivating other interests along the way. The behavior skill set of persistence and critical thinking in skating can be used in other facets of life, such as the problem solving necessary in other career fields. While Robert Lim may tell you that his current position as head designer for a New York City clothing company was not part of some grand plan, below is an example of applying the perception of the world that comes with skating towards other parts of his life.
– George Chen
We’re gonna do this a bit differently. Let’s start from the middle. Ten years ago, you moved from the west coast to New York. Why was this?
I really wanted to give skateboarding a try and simultaneously figure out my life within a creative field.
Was the plan to skate and turn pro? Have a different scenery from the California backdrop?
Yes. I went through some personal shit that put me in a weird spot mentally and skateboarding in the mid 2000’s was changing a lot. I just lost my direction with it. New York City just seemed like it still had a lot of those original elements of skateboarding that I missed.
How were you getting by at the time?
It was a struggle. I had a tutoring gig where I was going into the projects giving English and Math lessons to kids. In the daytime, I was working freelance with “Cool Calm Pete” just doing whatever graphic design work he gave me to do. That was pretty fun because he worked with Undefeated, ANYthing, and Ubiq at the time.
What was your background in design at that time? Were you self-taught or had you taken any classes?
My background was originally architecture, but after one summer of internship, I realized that I did not have the attention span for it. So with the little time in college I attended, I took all sketching classes with a typography class (that I dropped after 2 weeks), and a color and design class.
I know that at some point in time you were working at Zoo. How did this come about? How did skating for 5boro fit?
The tutoring gig was too sketchy sometimes and I knew that it wasn’t something I wanted to do long term. Working with Pete was awesome, but he really didn’t need me there. So, I called (Mark) Nardelli while I was skating by myself at the globe in Flushing one night. Nar at the time was the Brand Director at Zoo while he was also the Creative Director for 5Boro, so it seemed to be an easy fit internally. But I got on 5Boro almost a year before working for Zoo.
What were you doing at Zoo?
At first anything that Nardelli needed me to do, I did it. But then I settled into working with the marketing team on print/web and catalogue stuff for a while. However, it got to a point where I was only working on clipping and touching photos. It became so thoughtless that I randomly reached out to the product design team and started working on hats and knits. Shortly after, I worked on a small capsule collection.
Going back a bit, who were you riding for in California? Is that where you started skating?
Just when I discovered skating in Houston, my dad decided to move the family out to California. I was 13 when I got out there and saw Virtual Reality. It was like seeing porn for the first time. But I had my share of free loading. My first sponsor was Rhythm Skateboards. It was my senior year in high school and I got a call from Mirko Magnum. Then, Alphanumeric was really dope and so was LRG. Meeting Alyasha (Owerka-Moore) and then Jonas (Bevacqua) RIP, I think was what made me want to stick to design. Getting exposed to Alphanumeric and LRG’s behind the scenes was where that connection got made from just drawing/conceptualizing things to a tangible product and how that all worked.
While you were skating, were you thinking about life after? Did you pursue higher education?
I think I always thought about life after skating and that’s what made me a bit conservative about the way I thought about skating. But I did the opposite of pursuing higher education because I started traveling right after high school early and always thought I’d go back to finish college. I also had no money and a sister to take care of because my parents split when I was around 15. My sister and I lived with my grandmother in Glendale, CA until I was old enough to move out on our own. My late teens and early twenties was a lot of “should have, could have” situations.
You’ve released your share of footage, and have clearly had the moments where you were going for it and putting your body on the line. Do people still bring up D7 to you?
Haha, yeah I think people care more now then back when I did it. I do appreciate the love though.
Was the amount of stress put on your body a big factor of what lead you to explore other opportunities? Or was there a point when you thought about going the route of Scott Johnston and stepping away gracefully?
It’s funny you bring up Scott Johnston because I didn’t know of his story until way later, but it gave me inspiration nonetheless. But before SJ, I always thought it was sick that Alphonzo Rawls was already on that path. But for me, I was always interested in how things were made.
Do you think there is a point when people should step away, that may be holding onto a skateboard career? Is that a pitfull in the industry? That the act doesn’t necessarily set you up for another career path?
For me, skateboarding has been the best framework or entity that has existed in my life. But you should have other interests and I think skateboarding allows that. I think the more I had outside interests, the better I contributed to skateboarding. I’ll admit that I wasn’t always true to myself in that regard, but at some point I realized that I had been missing out on so much. So I do think that hanging on can keep you from your true potential.
A revolving theme of this site is working in the skateboard industry. You currently are the head designer at the clothing brand Saturdays. When you were working in the industry at Zoo, would you say that was a good transition to other opportunities?
Zoo York was a great place to cut your teeth. Since the brand was owned by Ecko then later by Iconix, it taught me a lot. I ended up at Li & Fung and was exposed to a lot of household name fashion brands and also a lot of dying brands.
For those that aren’t familiar, what is Li & Fung? Is that where you learned certain facets of garment construction?
Li & Fung is the largest apparel mega-supplier that produces something like one of every 5 pieces of clothing in the entire world. But as horrible as that sounds, I was able to get a lot of exposure to how a garment is technically put together. There was a sample room on my floor and I would give the ladies old samples as payment and started making some personal pieces. Although I might have had understanding of how garments were made, I had never gone through the full process myself with my own hands before. I started with rub-offs and learned how to make patterns and cut fabric. I figured out how to control fits and how to use certain sewing techniques, etc. That was the real hands on experience and it wasn’t just assumptions and concepts in my head any longer.
How would you compare that to working with a skate company?
It is too difficult to compare that in words because it is exactly the same, but completely different. Sorry that sounds so abstract. In my head, I’ve always had an area where there was a separation of fashion and skateboarding. But they have parallels and they do affect each other. It is an oxymoron as well. It’s always been a conflict in my head, but also made so much sense together. In the 90’s when we were all about Nautica, Polo, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, etc. that is the best way I can explain it.
For people that maybe skipped out on college while pursuing professional skateboard careers, would you say that finding a job in the industry is a good way to leverage into other career fields?
Sure. There doesn’t really seem to be a real rhyme or reason sometimes. It may not work for everyone, but skateboarding led me to learning how to create concepts to tangible things. Again, I don’t want to sound so cliché, but all the skills that I have learned came from how I broke down skateboarding and how I was involved in that culture. Learning how to create paper patterns or what types of stitches need to go where or creating moods to develop direction – all of these and in between designing and problem solving all came from participating in skateboarding. However, I think developing your taste and your palate is separate and that’s what makes you different.
Does it just boil down to the relationships you make when you skate to find a way into the industry?
You know, I’m not too good at this actually. I’m definitely not out every night hustling to know everyone I can to network. I just like people or don’t. But on the flipside, I do want to work with people that I do like. I really do like the owners of Saturdays. So it can boil down to relationships, but just because you have a relationship, that doesn’t mean you are owed anything.
Do you still find time to skate? What part of your life still involves skateboarding?
Yeah I really try to. I’m not up to speed on skateboarding like I used to be, but I still see spots all the time. I don’t think that will ever go away. I still get inspired by going out and skating and being out in a different perspective than shopping around or walking through the city.
Let’s rewind back. Was there a point in your life when the often mentally consuming skating clashed with familial career guidance?
Now you’re asking me real questions haha! Being Korean, I grew up pretty traditionally up until my parents split up when I was about 15. My father was not happy with me skateboarding. So I had 2 completes sometimes. One at a friend’s house, and one that I was allowed to use on the weekends. It was the same with my guitar. He would take that away until the weekend. My parents didn’t necessarily want me to be a lawyer or a doctor, but they definitely didn’t have plans for their son to be rolling around on cement.
Any thoughts on the state of where you see the industry? With big business determining if you can make a living off of skating?
It’s so weird now. I don’t want to sound old, but there is definitely a huge divide in the industry. It’s like the Jason Lee character in Almost Famous where he says something along the lines of it’s about the lifestyle and the music and not about the money…but some money would be nice.
If you were to do one thing differently on your pathway to your current position, any advice you would give to your former self?
Maybe a few less wifebeaters.
That about wraps this up. Closing question – one flatground trick you’re still working on at TF West?
Damn, back 3’s on flat are a bitch.
Thank you, Rob.