Tolya Titaev has been an instrumental figure in connecting the growing Russian skate scene with the rest of the world. He runs his brand Paccbet [known in english as Rassvet] with Gosha Rubchinskiy, which serves as a vehicle to share footage and product straight from the best skaters of Russia’s scene. He also owns Oktyabr Skateshop in Moscow, one of Russia’s most well-known skate shops, which stocks the best brands from America and Europe’s skate scenes.
He’s a bit of a cultural mediator, connecting Russia with the rest of the world through skating.
We got a chance to sit down with Tolya and discuss his trajectory and long-term goals for bringing Russia into the global sphere after years of being disconnected from traditional western skate culture.
What’s the backstory of your brand Paccbet?
Well, I had been skating for a while and I had sponsors but felt strange. I didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere. Then I met Gosha [Rubchinsky] and found out that he was making a brand. So at some point, I realized that we needed to make our own skate brand. I felt that I would only be happy if I can do what I’d like. I will not ride on something that does not suit me or that I do not want to support.
One of my main goals was to make sure that if someone thinks about skateboarding in Russia, they immediately think about us. Now, we are known worldwide. We made a skate brand that is selling everywhere and everyone knows that this is a brand from Russia.
How would you compare skating America and Russia?
Right now, I think, Moscow is the best city for skateboarding, given that none of our population has a clue what skateboarding is and there is a lot of space. Everyone knows Barcelona and everyone skates in Paris, but nothing special happens there. We have a little more permissiveness than in America. Here you skate in certain areas and you realize that people just do not understand what you are doing. They think that you are doing some kind of devilry.
That you’re breaking the asphalt.
Yes! But on the other hand, it’s cool that a lot of people don’t understand what we’re doing at all. Many, of course, threaten to call the cops, but this makes no sense. The police have changed in this regard — a lot of young guys work there, who already know what skateboarding is. If they come, then they leave because they understand it’s nonsense. A lot of them will say, “Wait until these people leave and ride on.” We have a police station near the subway station in Taganka and they are generally the coolest dudes. If one of them somehow sees this interview – respect to you! There is a manual pad at the entrance and a little cube on top that we skate. Atlantic Drift and Bobby DeKeyzer skated there and they were never kicked out. Once they came out to us and said, “Guys, the bosses have arrived, come back in an hour, when the check is over.”
And in Russia, the most important thing is… [looks at the recorder and starts talking louder] The most important thing is that we don’t have a good indoor skatepark, [screams] where you can skate in winter! This is the first drawback. We have no second drawback!
How do the Russian skaters and young people view Americans? How will it feel for an American skater to visit?
I have no idea, but I think they’re just interested in the way the American kids live. I think it will be very interesting to visit here. At the same time, it might be a little difficult, since most of the people here don’t speak English. It also depends on where you’re hanging out and with who. Judging by the reaction of the Americans who have been here, I can say they were very pleased. You can ask Cambryan [Sedlick] about it.
When did you start skating?
At the age of 11, and at 14 I got my first sponsors. There was an online contest on the skateboarding.ru forum, where you could win a year’s sponsorship from Jart. At that time I was shooting photos with Zhenya Bobkov and he did an interview with me for skateboarding.ru. He told me that he’d help get me on DC and the same day that I won the Jart contest, I got an email from DC saying that I could come to the store and get shoes.
Do you have any nostalgia for the old Moscow? Your latest clothing seems very connected to the aesthetics of local skateboarding at that time.
Yes, of course! You often reminisce about how it was before and look back at the history, the style, the city. Every day at 2:00 I used to leave school and run to Park Pobedy to skate. This place had a special community and life. Park Pobedy was abandoned a long time ago and recently it was restored. Since then, Blondey McCoy and the Cons team have already skated there and Atlantic Drift seem to have a video from there, too. What used to be a place for Moscow skaters to hang out has become part of the world’s skate culture! It’s funny to remember how the cops used to kick us out from there.
What are the biggest differences between old Moscow and new Moscow?
They are two different cities – before the reconstruction and what we have now! Before reconstruction, no one worried about the state of the streets or about the renovation. It was all like the Soviet Union, or even worse, the post-Soviet Union.
But now, the city is being renovated every year, more young people are involved in the creation of projects, and the city is taking on a completely different look. Spots are everywhere. You don’t need to go scouting for spots, they are just everywhere. Sometimes we forget where we started our day because of the number of spots we’ve been going through.
Being that you want to represent skateboarding in Russia, did any of the locals hate on what you’re doing?
Oh god! I constantly come across these people and just don’t listen to them anymore. It’s envy.
Recently, we met a little boy whom I wanted to sponsor. He told me that it was his dream to be a part of the Paccbet team. So, we gave him some stuff, including Oktyabr skateshop T-shirts. He told me the dudes who had given him a couple of boards before we did told him not to wear Oktyabr shirts. It’s not even another brand, it’s our skate shop! The dudes hate competitors so much that they forbade the little boy to wear the clothes he likes. His mother had just bought him almost the entire new collection of shirts before that. He was a little scared and said that now he didn’t know what to do and I told him “Man, now you are skating for Paccbet, you can do whatever you want.”
There were a lot of bad things said, but I try to take them lightly and not take them seriously. If you take that stuff too seriously, then you can just sit at home and do nothing so that no one scolds you.
I remember a bunch of comments under a documentary you were in. Russian guys said nobody wears Paccbet in Russia because it is too expensive. Can you explain where the prices comes from?
In the beginning, we had typical clothes and the cost was fair. We also made the second collection on Gildan, for which we were actually criticized a lot online. But it was just me trying to make the brand more accessible. Then, Paccbet started to be produced by Comme Des Garcons using Gildan to save money. People didn’t even care that almost every skate brand uses Gildan.
Then I thought, “Okay, if we don’t make Gildan anymore, then we will sew them ourselves.” So we scored with the third and fourth collections and made it without thinking about the price. Only this time, had we looked, we would’ve realized that it was too expensive for people.
Now, we are trying to fix this and make the brand more accessible, but not like last time. It is not easy because it costs a lot of money and time to change a manufacturer. We are already trying to do everything possible to maintain quality with our manufacturers.
As far as I know, you wanted to be an international brand. Wouldn’t it have been easier to choose an English brand name?
Well, then it would turn out like what everyone else is already doing. We are Russians, so it should be in Russian, right? We knew that Рассвет sounds and looks great and that’s it. The rest did not bother us. We even made an inside joke out of it. Since people had been pronouncing the brand Paccbet, which is ПАККБЕТ in Russian, we based some pieces in a collection on it. But, now we began to write it in English and everyone knows that it is Rassvet. It’s better than being called Dawn or Sunrise just to fit in.
Is Paccbet more of a fashion brand than a skate brand?
Oh no. Gosha helps me with the designs and picks some ideas and Comme Des Garcons only produces it. When you start doing something, you don’t have a fixed idea with a specific framework and a 20-year business plan. Only with time do you realize that you did something wrong, maybe. But this season people will see our work more as skaters.
Gosha had a lot of collaborations with big brands before Paccbet. Do you have any plans for big collabs?
There are plans. In the fashion world, collaborations are very helpful in increasing brand awareness, but we have given ourselves the task of making a brand strong without resorting to collaborations.
We did a collaboration with Carhartt, which helped us a lot. Carhartt was happy, we were happy, and people still tell me that it is their best pair of pants or the best T-shirt, although there was nothing really special there. Moving forward we want to build a team for each collection, not just just the three of us – me, Gosha, and our graphic designer.
In general, we have plans, but we do not want to have 5-6 collaborations a year. Now there are too many of them, and people are beginning to forget what a collection from the brand is in a classic way. “If it’s a collab, then I’ll buy it, and if it’s not a collab, then I don’t care about it” — that’s what customers in the store have told me. It seems to me that the brand is forgotten and in fact, its idea is very much blurred.
How does your skateshop Oktyabr, differ from other shops?
Our goal was to make a skate shop that people know, if they come to Moscow, they can go there to meet someone and find out what spots there are and what to do in the city. It is supposed to be a place where there is all the best for the Russian people. In other skate shops in Russia, they don’t have the brands that we are selling.
We just want to give Russian people the opportunity to come and see, for example, Fucking Awesome in real life, and not wait for it in the mail for two weeks or even a month. We had the connections and contacts to make it all happen here. And also give the opportunity to some small Russian brands or our friends to sell things and make some small collabs. Show and teach people global skateboarding, not just local. Oktyabr is a platform with which you can present a video, a zine, or even a single T-shirt. If someone comes and offers us something and we think it’s cool, we’ll be happy to help.
How do you balance working with Paccbet and working with Oktyabr?
This is the question I get asked most frequently [laughs]. To be honest, it’s hard. From the beginning, it was a very heavy load and the most difficult thing was to prioritize things. Of course, like everyone, sometimes I just really wanted to go skate. But with work on both sides, I had to make a choice, and of course, sometimes the wrong decisions were made. Everyone knows the feeling when you really want to go skate and you just can’t deal with it.
Currently, I’m coming to some kind of balance. Work is in the foreground and then I allocate time for myself. For example, before a trip, I’ll prepare a plan in advance and assign tasks to my partners. But still, there are moments when you think, well, I’m going to burn out [laughs].
You sponsor a lot of talented guys through your shop, how did you find them?
When we opened, I set the goal that we should promote and raise the young generation with the right ideology and understanding of skateboarding. You see a little boy at a spot and notice that he skates well and feels the board so you give him some boards. After that, you see that he starts to progress. If a person has passion, then it must be supported. Kids need support and direction.
I just want to give these guys the opportunities I didn’t have. There was nobody saying, “Dude, come on, here’s a cameraman, here’s a photographer, go shoot. We need material in two weeks.” I was told, “Well, we are shooting a video and it will be released in a year…” After that, no one called me or said anything to me. Our whole team hangs out, and in the summer we go to spots every day. We often start early because I have to work later, so there’s a lot of stuff coming out – something for Instagram, something for a video, something for a zine, and so on.
To the kids at at the shop, what is your role? Are you like a father, a friend, a leader?
Altogether, three in one. I am always here for them and try my best to sort things out. If they have problems in the family, with relationships, or they just need advice, I just try to somehow help and give them something useful. After all, the life of adolescents is difficult. We were all there, and at some moments the right impetus is needed to get on the right path.
During the preparation for this talk, I came across several of your interviews, and in one of them, you were asked where you see yourself in five years. You evaded the question, but do you have any idea now?
I don’t know, I’d like to continue doing what I’m doing now. I would like to open my own McDonald’s or something like that [laughs].
Now it is difficult to figure it out, because already now there are a bunch of plans, among which it is necessary to choose which of them I will implement in the near future. If you give me ten of my clones, I’ll probably be able to handle it all faster, but for now, I have to choose.
Plus, Oktyabr is already working almost autonomously, and with Paccbet we are in the right direction. At some point, I will need to switch my attention to something, when everything will be able to function without me. It seems to me that every time you do something, you need to take a back seat and let other people express themselves.
I’d like to end this interview with the questions that seem to most interest the American audience. How much cocaine did you do to be so thin and do you have any familial ties with Vladimir Putin?
Well, I don’t know if I’m thin because of the cocaine or because of my nerves, but since September 27 of 2019, I’ve been sober.
And I have no family ties with Putin. Thank god!
Do you ever say “I must break you” before focusing your skateboard?
[Laughs] No, not really. Is that from some meme about Russians? I might scream something like “Blyat” or “Suka!”