There’s these brands you might’ve never heard, or have been infatuated with ever since you got wind of them. Then there’s a little known brand out of Washington DC, so yeah, not the powder filled state, whose been attracting our attention for a while now. Not through any amazing webisodes or other form of online presence, no, this goes a little beyond those common undertakings. Without inflated hype this brand manages to place itself in the top-segment of American snowboard brands and that’s something we can only admire. The punkrock vibe and supporting of grassroots events such as the recent Jingle Jam at Yawgoo Valley only adds to this. We figured it’d be time for all of you to find out as well what this brand is about, so we talked to the brain behind Monument; David Tran. The following is a loosely conducted interview with a man who brings a unique flavor to the table.
When was the first time a Monument board saw the day of light?
This was back in February 2002. I had come up with the idea back in November of 2001, and had contacted a buddy of mine by the name of Ron Thompson for the design of our first deck. We contacted a small factory in California, put a few orders together for a sample run, and got a shipment of 25 decks or something like that by February 2002.
How was that experience, going from having the idea to actually producing a board and holding it in your hands?
Well I had run an online snowboard shop for a few years and wanted to do my own brand. I was actually interviewing a Lib Tech skater for my shop site when we started chatting about our area, and how I should do something similar to Capital Skateboards – but different for snowboards and skateboards. I was going to do skate decks, clothing, and snowboards (as Monument) but only focused on snowboarding at the time. My friend Ron worked for a small boutique design firm in Norfolk, VA and seeing his design on our first board was pretty awesome. The colors really popped, seeing the name on the base was cool. Holding it in my hands staring at the graphic, wondering if it was a photo or a painting and thinking; this is my brand. We were all excited to see the finished product for sure.
We didn’t know much about the process, i.e., the different materials for the core, base, sidewalls
That obviously came later, but to hold that first deck in your hand, and get a shipment of them was pretty liberating.
Well, it all starts with talking to the factory about what they can do. The different weights of fiberglass, adding carbon fiber and the different patterns, different base materials, sidewall materials, what kind of cured cores they offer, the topsheet materials. We were using their open molds at the time, but we were fine with that. We were building decks that had stiffer tails, and used several carbon fiber patterns to get the right torsion, at the beginning. You ride the decks and see if it’s too damn stiff, and make some adjustments. It’s all trial and error. We’ve only used three factories to date. One was in California, and then there was a snafu with getting decks, so I rushed to get a huge order made by December by an overseas factory. That was a huge mistake, because some of those boards were delamming, if you hit the park. It goes to show you that you should definitely test your boards before you make a huge batch of them. I was stuck with those decks and didn’t sell them after I ran into some issues. The next season, we found the factory that we are currently working with now. I stay in close contact with our snowboard engineer at that factory; luckily he’s American, so it’s easy to talk to him. We talk about all sorts of stuff, from industry stuff to tech stuff, and you go off off what he’s telling you works and doesn’t work; while pushing some of your own ideas as well.
From it’s inception it seems Monument has always been more about creating one of a kind artpieces than mass producing, how do you go about getting the artists you dig involved?
Well, to stand out, you really want your deck to be different from the rest. A lot of the times, it’s just a graphic that targets a certain demographic. For our stuff, you poke around the art scene, and ask around, and see what you like on top of that. Then you ask them and hopefully they’ll say yes! Like anything else, it all depends on who’s in charge of your art direction; the vision of your brand. It seems like a lot of brands change their “branding” each year to cater to the trends instead of trying to create their own trends. I know for a fact that our brand has come up in a lot of corporate meetings from other companies in years’ past in regards to what we’re doing as a brand. What we’re doing doesn’t make a lot of money compared to the different brands; but it does make us stand out and get us press in realms outside the snow industry.
Do the artists get complete creative freedom when it comes to designing a board?
Yes. Well, the only guidelines are, no snow-themed designs. No snow, no mountains. There are no restrictions. We’ve had every human body part on the snowboard, and I think every curse word. We don’t tell them to put our logo on there, or anything, it’s only if they want to.
Yeah I remember seeing boards with ‘fuck art let’s fuck’ and ‘fuck love’ in capital letters on the base, what was up with that?
If you look up Raif Adelberg, you’d totally understand. We picked him as an artist, what snowboard company picks a fashion designer/artist to design for them? We didn’t do it for shock value, we did it for art, for the sake of our Artist Project. Personally, I didn’t think any shop would pick it up and they didn’t. But we got so much requests for the deck from so many people.. And we didn’t have enough because we were forecasting off of what the shops ordered. The shops buy based on the demographic. They saw this and were like no way. We were going to black bag like a porn mag and have it sit in a shop; but shops didn’t want to have anything to do with it. Raif even handmade two snowboard bags as a prototype with like real feathers on it that were badass; but I think those cost more than the snowboards. We debated on whether to have a contest or not to see if folks would get kicked out of resorts or not, for riding this deck.
I have to admit I didn’t look him up before asking the question but that would’ve been a revolutionary contest, what did you have in mind for the prizes?
We were going to reimburse the folks for their lift tickets if they had a picture of them riding their deck (preferably a method), and them getting booted via video or something.
That would’ve been so legit. I remember seeing the amazing Jake riding this Maya Hayuk board back in ’08 and every-time I saw that board dangling from the lift or come by when we were cruising I thought, damn that’s the sickest board. Do you happen to know which legendary Jake I am talking about?
Which legendary Jake? Jake the Snake Roberts?
I guess that was a fairly silly question but I figured perhaps you did, I wonder how that dude is doing though, sorry I’m floating off-topic here. I don’t even know his full name, just amazing Jake from Summit County, always keeping it trill.
AHHHH, if I saw his face I might recognize him. I’m so bad with names, but I always remember faces.
That Maya board is still one of my favorites to this day.
She had that designed for a wood installation, and spent time to clean up the graphic so it would look good on a board, and custom designed the base.
That’s such an amazing board.
Got that sweet cunnilingus going on but yeah, back to now. I noticed there’s a new board in the 13/14 line-up, the Tragedy which has a wizard standing up to the forces of Evil depicted on it, what’s the DL on this board (and it’s graphic)?
Zé Burnay is a Portugese artist, and I loved his artwork when I saw it. He custom-designed this graphic and it’s just what he had in mind for a graphic for a deck. He’s always designing something with wild monsters and demons or something, and it’s not just any demon, it’s a Zé Burnay demon. He also does some comics stuff as well over there, and I saw a few pieces of his work and told him to do whatever. I fell in love with this graphic.
When I started Monument, I wanted to be sure that our boards were affordable in addition to being competitive on the quality in relation to the price. Luckily we work with a boutique factory that really focuses on quality as opposed to quantity. We could charge more for sure. We’d also price ourselves out for a brand that doesn’t advertise in the magazines/videos/online or sponsor big name riders, or huge staff of folks. Our manufacturing and product quality far exceeds our expectations, and having a good quality product for what we sell them makes us really competitive. But we’re also competing with shop reps that are hooked up on other companies’ stuff that try to upsell our product even though a buyer came into the store specifically looking for our product. A shop got mad because our stuff wasn’t selling, but it was thanks to a bunch of reps trying to tell folks that they could get “better stuff” by paying more (on stuff they were getting flow from). We had a guy go in to check out stuff, and that’s exactly what happened. We just need to do more demos so folks can ride the decks and see how good they ride and how well they are manufactured.
Our Memento Mori deck in years past has been compared to a Burton stick that costs nearly double. We are trying to stay competitive but we can’t compete with the suicide pricing some of these other companies are doing with their super mass quantity pricing.
So you had to send somebody in undercover to find out a bunch of reps were badmouthing your gear, is that correct?
No, one of my guys was just checking out a shop, to see how our boards were doing/looking, when a shop kid came up to him and started asking questions, so he played along and said, I was looking for a Monument. Right away, the shop kid tried to upsell him on a more expensive deck, that wasn’t ours.
Aha, I get it now, so the reps would be flowing these shopkids to push their (more expensive) product?
Any company will flow guys that are either trendsetters, or influencers; it’s a no brainer. It’s all part of the game, you want shop kids to be on your side as a brand, and however it’s done, via marketing, good relationships, or just swag, it’s how it all goes. If I worked in a shop part time, I’m going to push Monument stuff over anything else. It’s all part of any industry, but the shop can’t complain that our stuff isn’t selling if someone is going in there asking for stuff, only to be upsold by a shop kid that’s diehard for another brand.
Indeed, that would be backwards. I’ve worked in a skate-snow shop for years myself and was always more inclined to get people out the door with the brands I favored myself.
It’s just funny how we sell out of a majority of our shops, and there are like a shop or two that don’t sell any.
If we had the marketing budget like the other guys, it’d be a totally different story.
So you don’t really spend much on marketing and the likes, what kind of actions do you take to get Monument out there? Any top secret plans for this season you want us to be the first to know?
We’re working on a few things. We’re planning on doing more demos and getting more folks to ride the decks. That’s the biggest thing. If you saw our deck in a mag, you wouldn’t know what brand it was, unless you were in the know. That’s one of the drawbacks about not bastardizing our product with our logo all over the base or topsheet. People will look at it and be like that’s cool, and have no way to look up the brand unless they knew who Monument already was. We could spend all the money in the world, but if you don’t create that demand for the brand, it’s all worthless. So we’re working on creating that demand through a couple different channels. But the biggest thing is getting more folks to demo the decks.
How about Monument’s team, who’s on right now? (Ed. note: this was asked when Monument’s site only consisted temporarily of a webshop.)
Krister Ralles, Brendan Hart, and we got some new guys on board.
We got some old shreds like Jeremy Cline and Shane Flood.
I saw Krister’s part in Ground Control, so heavy.
Krister is awesome.
The first time I met him, he had a cast on his arm with a bunch of our other team guys at the time, and told me, “I’ll get you some shots.” and was really confident about it.
This was years ago. The guy has such a good heart and a good work ethic.
Damn, that’s some dedication.
Well yeah, I didn’t take him all that serious because we were all pounding Coors Light, late at night.
But Connor Stohlgren has a great eye for talent, and picked a lot of great riders to ride for us.
Yep bartalk usually shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but he made it happen.
Yeah, the guy knows what he’s doing that’s for sure.
Alright Dave, I think that’s it. Thank you so much for you time, any last words?
Thanks Lenn! As far as last words, support your local shop!
Sadly enough there’s no local shop in Europe which carries Monument so if you feel like getting one of these unique pieces, head over to their website and make yourself happy: http://www.mnmnt.com