Recently we stopped into one of our favorite stores, Kingswell, to chat with owner DJ Chavez to get his perspective onskate culture in America and find out what his goal was in opening his skate-inspired store.
Labeling Men: Has the style of skating always gone hand-in-hand with you, or did you grow into loving skate wear?
DJ Chavez: I grew up in it through the ‘80s and ‘90s, watching the culture of it adapt into itself. Skating itself is an art, not just a sport. As any art is, it’s a bunch of eclectic individuals making shit up as they go along. I think that fashion and skateboarding have always gone hand-in-hand because it’s such an individual thing. Skateboarders looked outside the box and as they grew up, were able to create clothing companies, make it into different categories that everybody was into. I'm a firm believer that skateboarding, in a fashion sense, has been one of the most heavily bitten fashions in the world. It has been on the forefront of its own fashion and everybody else has kind of taken it on. They are just smart enough and old enough now to sell it!
LM: Is there anything about this particular location [Los Feliz, Los Angeles] that made you choose it?
D.C: Every part of SoCal, almost every neighborhood, had skateboard streetwear, besides Los Feliz, until now. I just love this neighborhood; it’s a very “Mom & Pop” neighborhood. I love that every shop is its own thing, not mixed with big branded stores. Those were the kinds of neighborhoods I wanted to be a part of. There were only three places I'd open up a store in the city [LA], and Los Feliz was on the very top. Basically, being in Los Feliz, we were doing our own thing, not being saturated by people around all doing the same shit.
LM: Has owning a store always been a goal of yours?
D.C: It’s always something that is in your head as a kid in a shop; it was always a part of my day-to-day routine in Albuquerque. For no reason to go to, just a rad place to be, where everybody converges. If you don't have anything to do, you could go to the shop and find something to do. But, it’s not like something that I always "wanted to do.” I would have rather someone handed me a shit load of money. It’s a lot of work, but it is a shop that is stuff that is based out of my head and what I'm into. When you own it you realize how much work you have to do, and fun have doing it.
LM: Was the tattoo parlor added on after the fact?
D.C: No, it was always part of what we were going to do. We didn't know how big or small it was going to be; we didn't know if we were going to have a smaller retail side and a larger tattoo side. Basically, it was figuring out the space and what we were going to do with it. But, it was a definite that we were going to have a tattoo shop. I think that the way it evolved was a rad little speakeasy spot, like that secret thing. When you come into the store you can't see it, but you can hear it, that distinct sound. People are like, "Are you getting a tattoo right now?” Also, the [tattoo] artists we have are both skaters that are sick at what they do.
LM: What are some of your favorite brands in the store?
D.C: Top 3? Everything, all of it! When you're buying for a store, you have to pull yourself from what you think is essentially awesome. I wear all black pretty much everyday, but I can't do an all black store. I really wish I could, but I can't. Not everybody wants to dress like I dress. [You have to] follow what is going on in the future, have a little bit of something for everybody. The one thing I do not do is buy shit because it sells for everybody else. That's the stuff I stay away from; that's why you won't see a lot of brands in this store. I want to be surrounded by stuff that I think is really cool, even if I wouldn't wear it. I like working with smaller brands on the pure fact that I would like to see us be a success as a store, with these smaller brands, and grow with them as we grow. And in five years when everybody is trying to get that brand in and they are only selling in my store, people will ask why they treat me so good, I’ll say, “because I took a fucking chance in the beginning, instead of shutting them down.” Everything is a risk in retail. If you don't back the small dude with the rad idea…
LM: Can you tell us what these patches are?
D.C: These patches are done by "Dirty Needle Embroidery.” They are handmade, like tattooing in thread. The wood and earrings that I have are done by "Sippy Wood.” They are recycled and broken skateboards that he turns into rad stuff: rings, earrings, children’s toys. It’s just cool to see a skateboard live its full life. The wallets are done by a friend of mine, Thomas, [the company is] called “Wounded Knee.” He got into a crazy accident, died and revived, missing a kneecap, so that was a side project for him. I make sure to support friends who are doing cool stuff with recycled stuff; it’s all art.
LM: Do you notice a camaraderie in the skateboard world with brands and with helping each other out in general?
D.C.: I grew up as a skateboarder in a small town. I grew up through the ‘80s and ‘90s, where skateboarding wasn't cool. I'd hear every day, "Skateboarders suck!" I think that every skater that grew up then, especially street skateboarders, didn't have anybody but the dudes that rode skateboards. Everybody thought skateboarders were outcasts; we were. I had friends whose parents wouldn't let them hang out with me because I was a skateboarder. Come now and skateboarding is fucking cool; everybody thinks it is. It’s televised on fucking FOX. The kids now, they don't understand that the culture back then was us, and only for us. So if you saw a dude with a skateboard, didn't matter what kind of person that person was, you were fucking friends immediately. Didn't matter if he was into hip-hop and you were into punk rock, you guys were fucking boys because you rode skateboards. They didn't hate on each other. The camaraderie is because there are only so many of us; we keep it so tight. The companies I grew up with were small companies. I had the magazine, so I thought they were massive, they seemed like a big thing. But if you go to the warehouses of these companies you think are huge, these people are riding their boards in their teeny warehouses. The people who owned their companies targeted their friends, people that they rode with. It’s not big business for us, it’s family.
For latest skatewear and casual street trends, stop in to Kingswell! Also make sure to check in for their monthly art shows + sponsored parties! Located at 4651 Kingswell Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90027