Over the last few years, it’s felt as though you can’t go a week without being introduced to a new board company – which is kind of shocking because running a board brand seems like a logistical nightmare. Most of them eventually fade off into the board brand graveyard just as quickly as they were introduced.
The brands that actually stand the test of time usually stick around because they either serve a purpose in their community, their design and graphics stand out from the rest, or the founder is someone worth talking about.
That’s why we were all ears when our Aussie correspondent, Josh Sabini, told us he was going to interview with the founder of Pearls Skateboards, Tobi Stanley. Pearls checks off all three of those boxes and Tobi herself is a multifaceted designer with a strong eye for fashion. We’re not saying it’s a foolproof formula, but she’s already off to a flying start.
With all the production problems at the moment, why do you think the world needs another board company?
It probably doesn’t [laughs].
So what inspired starting Pearls Skateboards?
I’ve been sewing since I was a kid, I’ve been screen printing for eight years, and I had been skating for a long time as well. At some point, it made sense to just combine all the things I like. I went and studied graphic design and then started the brand.
The original username of the Pearls Instagram was @pearls_hardware, were you taking notes on how Bronze did it?
Uh, yeah, pretty much [laughs]. I was pretty much just doing the Bronze gimmick. I wanted to keep it in skateboarding but I just didn’t want it to be “Pearls Clothing” and have nothing to do with skateboarding. I changed the Instagram name pretty quickly, but the email had hardware on it and I realized after everyone has that as my contact, so I’ve had to keep that.
Where did the name Pearls come from?
I was just always wearing pearls at the time. I also like the idea that it is a little bit feminine. I couldn’t pick a name for so long and eventually I was just like, “Pick something!” Also, I liked the letters, they are fun to work with. Since the day I called it Pearls, I haven’t worn a pearl necklace [laughs].
What do you think the importance of having a local brand is for the community?
Smaller brands aren’t really doing this for the money, so they do have more freedom in the way of designs. Therefore, it allows them to propel the ideas of the community and can be used as a platform to show what is going on in the scene. On top of that, there is always a strong push for local brands from all the shops here.
Having a strong community helps me with confidence so much. A lot of the time, if I’m unsure about stuff, I’ll come up with some drafts, and then I’ll take it to the friends in our group and get their feedback and everything. It means so much to hear their opinions. I honestly think I’d be scared 90% of the time if I didn’t have that support from my friends.
I’ve seen people wearing Pearls T-shirts all over the world, from Japan to Canada. How’d these people get hyped on your work?
We’ve met a lot of international crews that come through Melbourne, and we just skated and hung out with them. Shari White came here to film the Portal to Melbourne clip and we all just became friends. Then when Shari came on the Vans trip while they were filming for Credits, and we took them around to spots. That was when I was first starting up so I had only printed like 30 Pearls shirts, and a lot of the people on the trip bought a tee. I was just like, “Man, they don’t even know this brand, It is so sick that they’re just down to support.” It’s been like that the whole way through.
Shari has also helped me so much. I’ll talk to her and ask her advice now and again and she’ll just be like, “Go for it, pick up the camera and do it yourself.” Her confidence gives me the confidence to where I’m just like, “Alright, well, if she believes me, I’ll just do it.” Also having someone like her in the industry accepting of me and supporting me makes me feel like less of an intruder, in a way.
Is there any money in a board company?
No, I don’t think there’s much money at all in a small company. You pretty much do it for the love. I haven’t touched a cent of the profit of Pearls. It just goes back into cash flow for the business. Cut and sews are always big investments, trips for the team, and obviously paying filmers and photographers and everything. There’s no money but there are some amazing moments, like being so blessed to go on trips, they are the best.
What do you do for work?
I am the manager of a screen-printing company full time, and I do Pearls on top of that. But I kind of do Pearls during work hours because my boss is really great. So that’s pretty good.
I was a printer here for four years and now I manage the company – I’m the client liaison to be proper. I book all the jobs, do all the invoicing, the scheduling, all the artwork, the color separations. I do every press check and do all the shipping and stuff to get it back out. I pretty much run the office and then watch over the workshop and make sure everything is running smoothly.
“I don’t think there’s much money at all in a small company.
You pretty much do it for the love.”
Do they allow you to print the Pearls’ clothing and boards there?
I print all the clothing there. It’s super good that we get to print it during business hours so, I don’t have to do it after hours, that would be ridiculous. It’s super handy, especially knowing all the printing techniques and specialty inks that no one would know unless you’re in the industry.
For example, next season we’re doing a pocket print on a zip-up hoodie and that would be hard on something that’s pre-made, but I figured out a way I can get away with it for this time. As for the colors, I’ll pick the Pantones, and even still I’ll be over the top about trying to make it perfect [laughs].
And I don’t do the boards at my workshop. I leave that to the DSM woodshop because that’s what they specialize in.
The crew set up a little surprise party for you when the boards arrived. Did you know about that?
No, I didn’t know! I was filming some skate clips earlier that day on someone else’s phone and notifications for a group chat kept coming up. I was like, “What the fuck? I’m not involved in this group chat, dickheads. How are they not involving me in something that they’re doing?” And then it happened and I worked out what was going on [laughs]. It was really cool, they are amazing friends! But actually, the whole thing was all over the joint. I was going camping, so they canceled it and then I canceled the camping trip to get some assets for the board release the following week. It was all kind of last-minute, but it was so much fun.
“I was like, ‘What the fuck? I’m not involved in this group chat, dickheads. How are they not involving me in something that they’re doing?'”
You mentioned that before you started Pearls, you studied fashion design and graphic design, right?
Yeah, I have a bachelor’s degree in fashion design, majoring in fashion and textiles. I did that for three years after high school. After that, I got a diploma in graphic design because I knew I wanted to start a brand and I knew I needed that to make graphics for t-shirts.
I went to RMIT in Melbourne for a year to study that just basically to learn the skills rather than the idea of conceptualizing a design because I feel like I’d already learned that with my other degree.
Do you think studying graphic design helped with doing designs?
I think it’s the most important part to make a skate company. If you’re making a fashion brand you don’t need it, but if you’re making a skate brand it’s all graphics. It would be ridiculously hard to not have studied graphic design or not know the programs super well and be able to run a skate brand.
“It would be ridiculously hard to not have studied graphic design or not know the programs super well and be able to run a skate brand.”
Where did the inspiration for the Pearls logo come from?
The OG basic logo is just a super basic ‘90s style logo, which is what I wanted. It’s nothing too loud, just something simple. Then the new logo, the one I use a lot now and is on the boards, came from a uni project I had to do when I was studying graphic design. I did my project on Aldo Novarese. He invented the Euro-style font and I fell in love with it.
I messed with the font for the Pearls logo – it’s a free download font which is a no-no in graphic design. I made it wider and then sheered it by 15% to make it italic myself, and that’s also one of the biggest no-nos of graphic design. Don’t fuck with a font. It’s already made the way it’s meant to be for a reason. So, I did all the things that I wasn’t meant to [laughs].
What is your dream collab in skating and out of skating?
I’d love to work with Pass~Port, it would be sick to do an Aussie collab.
I’d also say, Miu Miu. It’s the youthful version of Prada and I just like the design team there. They’re almost winning my favorite collection every season.
Where does your appreciation for high-end fashion come into the design process?
Pretty much every season I look at the Vogue collections runway, which is usually the spring/summer or autumn/winter. It’s an all-in-one magazine that does all the designers, Paris and Milan and everywhere, for that season. It showcases all the top designers and their collections. I’ll always run through that before I start the season.
Other than that, do you get inspiration from any other places?
I always go through any books I’ve gotten from the thrift store since the last season. Generally, make a trip to the library, check out any art books that I want to have a look at. I’ve also got about 500 old magazines that I have been collecting for the last 10 years, like The Face, Dazed and Confused, and i-D.
I’ve also got a whole heap of Big Brother magazines as well; I look through them to get inspired too. Then I try and find some initial ideas from all that and start drafting on my computer or with materials or paint, and then I mix and match the ideas. I usually come up with around 70 or 80 designs. Pull it down to 10 that I think have a chance, then refine those more. And then I pick four or five at the end for that range.
What else have you been doing in your free time?
Well, right now, I’m really obsessed with remote control things. I play with cars, planes, and boats. I just got a speed boat, so I’m going to make some jumps for it. It flips back over when you capsize. It goes 25 miles an hour. Not kilometers. Miles an hour [laughs]. I’ve also been fishing a lot lately and I got a surfboard for Christmas. I’ve been going surfing with Adelaide Norris and Sheridan Lee, trying to learn it again. I haven’t surfed since I was a kid. And then obviously filming, or learning to film, every weekend.
I got a harp too. A friend got me a hire harp as a gift. I can’t afford a harp, they’re around $8,000 for a decent one. I used to play the harp a few years ago, but I’m learning again. It’s so much fun. This is why I have no time.
When did you learn how to play the harp?
When I was like 21 or 22, I started and I did it for two and a half years, but then I broke my hand and I was too poor to afford to keep paying the rent. So, I had to give it back. It’s only recently that I’ve been like, “With a great gift, I’m getting back into this.”
You can play anything, the worst song, and it sounds beautiful even if you’re really shit at it. It’s really relaxing and even when you’re playing it. You can play any song, and it sounds beautiful. I just learned Lil Peep’s “Star Shopping” [laughs]. I also liked the idea that it’s the most highly paid person in an orchestra, even though I’m never going to be in an orchestra [laughs].
Does it get tiring to just be labeled as a “diverse” board company and not just a board company?
Yeah, I can’t wait until we get to the point where it’s just a board company.