An Interview with Mike Gigante and Steve Fletschinger of The Northern Co.
Earlier this month The Northern Company was added to the family of companies available in Palomino. Here's an interview with the two men behind the company, Mike Gigante and Steve Fletschinger, about the beginnings of the company, giving Nate Jones a guest board, the importance of their videos, and much more.
How did the two of you meet and what brought about the decision to start The Northern Co.?
Steve: Jesus. I’d seen Mike before at this god awful local spot, but we never talked. Probably around 2006? I started going to this indoor park and Mike and his friends were there. After a few sessions of us being the only groups there we started to chat and we started skating together.
Mike: Steve was in the older crowd so I knew of him but not really him personally. We finally ended up all going skating together at some point and got to talking, turned out we had similar interest and views of skating. We have been buds ever since.
Im not sure if it was a much a decision as we weren’t interested in anything we were seeing in skateboarding and locally our scene was dying. Less and less people skating every year, shops closing etc. We would always talk about how bummed we were on skating at the moment, then one day Steve called me up and said basically he had this crazy idea that we make our own company where we can push the skating we would want to see. He said he would take care of all the hard stuff and I could come up with the look, feel and name of the brand. I was like sure, haha!
What were you both doing prior to starting the company? Do you both still work full time jobs?
Steve: Just working. I just was getting through scheduling issues of having a second child so I hadn't been skating much. Ha yes! Full time job. Northern pays no bills.
Mike: I worked and still work for a tech company (that will go nameless for the moment) and have been there for about six years at this point. Yes I still work my full time job. Gotta pay those bills! We don’t take anything from Northern, it is still so new we put everything in to keep it growing.
How are the responsibilities split between the two of you, who does what?
Steve: I got the hard part. Mike gets the glory work. I handle the books, shop contacts, shipping, and tell Mike every idea he has is not good :)
Mike: Steve definitely has the more business side of the job. I get to art direct, which is making sure the overall look and feel of Northern is consistent. We work with all different artists that we have met naturally through skateboarding. That being said I make sure that Steve is aware and into everything we put out. If Steve isn’t into it, its back to the drawing board. Its good to have checks and balances.
How hard have you found it to spread the word and awareness of TNC? Have you experienced difficulties getting shops to take the risk of stocking your products?
Mike: With social media being the way it is today its surprisingly not as difficult as you would think to spread awareness, but I guess there could always be more exposure. We knew that we wouldn’t have money to run ads in major magazines and had to believe that there were other ways to reach people. We started this off being totally ok if only 10 people ever saw it and maybe it got them psyched to do something. Its amazing too that all of these independent skate sites and media are flourishing and really open to all new things, it has been refreshing to see that there are people in skateboarding now that are open to new and different stuff. Shops are hit or miss, Steve could probably speak more to that but I do think that once shops take a look at what we are trying to do they are into it.
Steve: Ya, spreading the word doesn't seem hard, it's getting people to look and listen, if that makes sense. There is so much out there in the way of new content, brands, etc. It's hard to decipher which brands are not just a ploy for some friends to get cheap boards, and which are really backing skateboarding and the riders.
As far as shops, you pick up one and lose one. Some areas respond well, some have no clue, or need for small companies. There are so many small brands that are bad and I really think some shops are turned off before they even check what we are about. On the flip side some awesome shops will hit us up and I had no idea that shop existed. 35th Ave in Washington is an example. Dave there is a great dude and wanted the brand. It's times like that when doing this makes me happy
The artwork has a naturalist feel to it, with heavy nods to your country's past. From where do you draw the inspiration, and who produces the graphics?
Steve: Graphics are Mike's thing. He can take this one. I did however take the photo for our first graphic, The Axe. In the basement of my job! I'll claim that one.
Mike: I appreciate that, thats the feel I’ve been attempting to go for.This is actually a pretty tough question because its hard to explain what I have kicking around in my head, but I have been always been fascinated by our past and interested in anything that involves exploring new places and ideas. The relation of exploring the world and new ideas and how that relates to skating is what inspires the feel of Northern. I am also a fan of American film and photography so that is also where I look to for ideas as well. As said before we work with artists/photographers that we feel align with what we want Northern to look like. It might be different from how other companies do it but we usually get the raw art and then Steph (my girlfriend) and I will create the concept/graphic itself. We produce it but its a community effort from the artists and us.
How did the Nate Jones guest board come about?
Steve: It was always in our minds, but we had no way to contact him. After the Chrome Ball interview we emailed Eric (who runs Chrome Ball) to relay our message. After a week we got an email from Nate asking if it we were still into it.
Mike: It's pretty unreal how that came about. Steve and I were so bummed when he kind of just disappeared and when we read what happened we felt like we wanted to at least try and offer him a way back into skateboarding. I totally cold emailed Eric and he put me through to Nate. I thought he wouldn’t even answer and then we finally heard back and he was into it. It was an amazing moment for us and we wanted to make sure it went right. It couldn’t have gone better, the whole process of coming up with the graphics all the way to finally meeting Nate was a blast ! In our opinion he should always have his name on a board.
You have such a sick team, how did you go about choosing who you wanted to ride for, and represent your company?
Mike: We are pretty picky when it comes to who we want on, but all I'll say is it somehow worked out naturally and I couldn’t be happier. Steve I think has got this one, the only person I spoke to about getting on was Bryan. I would like to thank Ray (co-ownwer of Prize Fighter Cutlery wheels) though for getting our feet in the door.
Steve: When we first started a year and a half ago we had the idea of not having a team at all, but wanted Mike Lent included. After we had realized we had a good thing going, and a small demand, we decided to put Mike on the team. We wanted to grow the team but it was hard to get people interested in a brand they never heard of. Jesse Narvaez's “Rasa Libre" part was one that I always watched and wondered what he was up to. My friend Ray at Prize Fighter Cutlery said he could get me a number and in ten minutes I had it. I shot Jesse a text and he was down. After a few days he asked if we would hook up his friend Bryan. I asked, "Bryan who?". He said Botelho. That was one of Mikes favorites so it was a no brainer. Later on, Ray suggested I flow his friend Matt from Florida. I told Ray we were stretched thin. Then Live Skateboard Media has an article and the photo is Matt town doing a kickflip while Claw (Colin Read) films him. The form on the kickflip was so insane I shot Matt a text and asked if he wanted boards. He called me and we talked. Two months later he give us a part he filmed with Claw. We had to put him on. Tobin (Valverde) is Jesse and Bryan's friend. Mike skated with him and said we had to put him on. Done!
Do you consider your riders' personalities and image important to the success of the company as a whole?
Mike: I think we consciously choose people who are interesting on a board and bring something different. I'm sure Steve will have a good one for this. I was actually talking to Steve about this yesterday though, how the personalities define someones skating style which is what interests me way more then just the tricks. I think some of that is lost in skating today. Steve: I’m sure cohesion is good for stability. Images are what sells, right?
You have three pro riders, each with their own boards. Can you explain the benefits you feel being a pro rider for a small company brings, and what you feel you bring to the progression of TNC by having these guys with their names on the bottom of your boards?
Steve: I think the benefit to riding for a small brand is you know your representing something purely for the love. Our pros get royalties, but they have to work jobs to live. I hope I can speak for them and say they can sleep at night knowing they have a cool board sponsor. I think having pros helps us show we want to help support skaters and give back to skating, if that makes sense. We aren't some logo brand that hoards all the profits (or lack thereof).
Mike: They get their voice heard when it comes to ideas and projects to work on, it feels more like a family than a corporation. They don’t get forced to do uncomfortable ads or corny stuff that unfortunately runs rampant in skateboarding today. They aren’t buying private jets with the paychecks thats for sure.
You have worked with Zach Chamberlin and Colin Read on video projects for TNC in the past, you obviously care very much about how your riders and the company are portrayed through this medium. Can you talk a little about how you have approached visually representing on screen your riders and your company.
Mike: I'll let Steve take this one. He’s the video master. Zach and Colin are amazing though.
Steve: Our edits have been the part I'm personally proudest of. Zach and Colin are masters of their craft. They both made awesome edits off of their interpretation of our brand. Having their name on our edits was huge to me. I'm a big video guy. Just the fact that we were able to get more footage of our guys out so I can watch it to get siked to skate, that makes me happy.
How is the scene in Long Island? Do you feel it often gets overlooked due to it being so close to NYC, and if so is this a good thing or a bad thing?
Mike: Steve still lives there so he can give a better perspective on it, but it was dying, as said earlier, and hopefully Northern helped bring it back to life a little. We have good history of skaters from there. Pappalardo, Gino, Gerwer, but its been dead for a bit. NYC is the mecca clearly. Maybe “Thumbs" crew is gonna bring it back.
Steve: Long Island scene is bad still but it was worse. Thats where the motivation to start TNC came from. Show kids there is more than berrics styled skate parks to ride your board at. I'm thankful NYC is 40 minutes in a car from me. I can drive in three times a week at night and keep my sanity. I like skating and not driving around. You can't do that on the island. There are some cool people out on the island, don't get me wrong.These guys called Thumbs have really helped me keep my sanity.
What else in skateboarding has interested you recently?
Mike: Not much, There are some companies out there doing whatever they want and doing it well so that keeps me psyched. Lately as corny as it sounds I've been going back to watching "A Visual Sound" over and over. Oh and honestly, that "Eleventh Hour" is on repeat as well.The soundtrack is too good.
Steve: My good friend Ryan Flores is just wrapping up his video "Bluetower". I helped film a few clips for it. I'm so siked some Long Islanders are doing something that is going to be cool. Ryan is a master with the VX and will be working on some stuff with us after his video is done.
Finally, what is next for The Northern Co.?
Steve: Colton’s edit? Portland trip?
Mike: We got a little "Treat" coming out before the end of the year and some other tricks up our sleeves that we will keep there for a moment. Surprises are good.
Take a look at the first range of boards and clothing stocked in Palomino here.
Photo credits in order of appearance:
Jesse Narvaez, car ride, by Tim Dodson.
Matt Town, b/s nosegrind, by Mike Heikkila.
Toby Valverde, f/s noseslide, by Tim Dodson.
Bryan Botelho, ollie, by Tim Dodson.
Jesse Narvaez, slappy f/s noseslide by Ben Kilpatrick.
Mike Lent, f/s ollie, by Chris Gurinisky.