Familia was founded back in 2004 by Johannesburg skateboarders Gavin Morgan and Adrian Day. Feeling disconnected and uninspired by existing local board brands and the scene in general, the pair scraped together a bit of money and decided to start their own. Familia has always held the importance of style and the relevance of aesthetic in high regard. The team has always been compromised of unique individuals who make the most of their urban surroundings, thinking skateboarders rather than skate park robots. Familia’s ‘Bang Chong’ video (released in 2007) was South Africa’s first full-length skateboard company video. Gavin and Adrian regard skateboarding as art and Familia is a creative outlet enabling the exploration of this concept, on and off the board. The board graphics are somewhat iconic in the local skate scene, choosing to work with select artists and producing thought-provoking series. Animal rights, consumerism and the human condition are just some of the themes regularly challenged. A part-time labour of love rather than a full-time occupation, today Familia is only available in select stores within South Africa and in the UK, where Gavin (who runs the brand individually) currently resides. – Luke Jackson
INTERVIEW: RICK DE LA RAY
PHOTOGRAPHY: JONATHAN PINKHARD
Familia skateboards started 10 years ago, what was the initial plan of action and concept behind the company?
Adrian and i were riding for different local board companies. The more we talked about it, the more we realised we weren’t really into what these companies were producing. We didn’t really fit in, with the ideas and influences we had. So it came to the point where we were just going to do our own thing. It’s going to look like this and we’ve got these ideas. When we started working on our first graphics, the ideas and influences started to come through.
Over the last 10 years you have never had any pro or ‘signature’ boards, despite the fact that you have always had a steady team of solid riders. Is there a reason you chose not to bring out any pro boards?
Ideally, if we were to give someone a pro model then i’d like to know that the person has the opportunity to travel and survive from skateboarding. A royalty from board sales isn’t going to cover it alone, so there needs to be other sponsors and opportunities involved. It’s a number of different factors and they’re different for each person. It’s something that could still happen.
From the start, the company had a very strong design and artistic ethic to the brand. How many different artists have contributed to the graphics?
There’s been quite a few now. I think the first person to do graphics for us was our friend andrew butcher. He did the ‘facade series’ and that was really cool. He actually drew those on glass with a special pen in order to give the lines this liquid kind of feel. Steak has done a couple of series with us. One of them came about when we just started going through one of his sketchbooks and choosing bits we liked. The ‘luxury series’ with shehzad ahmad had this very direct ‘animal rights’ theme. Tahiti pehrson who just recently had an exhibition in south africa, simon weller who photographed the ‘barbershops and salons series’ and susie wright who does some very intricate illustration – ‘suzy q and the owls series’.
Despite many online video clips, it’s been quite a few years since familia released their first full length team video. There was a rumour that you guys were going hit a siberian railway tour a few years back… when do you reckon we can expect another full team video?
We’re working on a full team video. I’m really excited to see full parts from these guys. They’re some of my favourite skateboarders. Yann will be over here in london at the end of august, to film. Witherup has burnt his party candle out and is ‘on it’ at the moment. Steph has had a couple ankle teaks but otherwise he’s been getting stuff. Loucas has been filming in sa. I’d like to have it done by next year.
Familia is based in england now – do you still consider it to be a south african company after being away for so many years?
Familia is always going to be from johannesburg but whether it’s south african or english, i don’t know.
You guys recently had a south african tour over here, why did you choose to come back home rather than spend the capital on a european tour, where the spots are amazing?
Yann and Loucas now live in cape town and we hadn’t been back to sa in years. It was a good opportunity for us to go back and at the same time get everyone on the team together. We travelled from johannesburg to cape town. It was rad going back. Library gardens in johannesburg is ‘going off’ nowadays. The scene there is so good. The drive from durban to port elizabeth was such an adventure, stopping at all these random but really beautiful places. Cape town was good and on one of the days luke jackson took us to boulders beach and cape point. That was an epic day.
How did you come to the decision to use the work of Roger Ballen for your 10-year anniversary board series?
I watched ‘asylum of the birds’ and randomly emailed him, not expecting a response. His art director marguerite got back to me and said they were interested. We had a few skype conversations and it moved from there. I think the artworks in the series work well together and seem to tell some kind of story.
“ I have been shooting black and white film for nearly fifty years now. I believe I am part of the last generation that will grow up with this media. Black and White is a very minimalist art form and unlike color photographs does not pretend to mimic the world in a manner similar to the way the human eye might perceive. Black and White is essentially an abstract way to interpret and transform what one might refer to as reality. My purpose in taking photographs over the past forty years has ultimately been about defining myself.It has been fundamentally a psychological and existential journey.If an artist is one who spends his life trying to define his being, I guess I would have to call myself
Roger Ballen is world famous for his photography but instead you chose to use his artworks for the series. What made you choose the latter rather than the photographic images?
I looked around on the web and found that roger Ballen had done artwork for surfboards. I thought that something similar would work well for skateboards and we went with that. The artwork that i used for the skateboards worked so easily as graphics and you get to see a different realm of his work. It makes the skateboards more unique.
What was his initial reaction towards having his work printed on the bottom of a skateboard?
They seemed pretty excited to try something new. In my first email i said to him that his artwork was going to be skated and destroyed. I think it’s quite a nice thing that the work has this limited life span.
Are you bringing any of the graphics out on shirts or will it only be a limited series of boards?
I wanted to be very specific with these graphics and represent roger Ballen’s work as best as i could, so i thought it was best to just stick with the boards.
How many series of boards do you bring out a year and how big is the print run normally?
It varies from year to year but it’s limited. For this ‘roger Ballen series’ i produced one hundred of each graphic.
When you initially started the company, did you ever expect it to have such a long run, especially with there being so many board companies out there?
No, not really. A lot of time has passed and it’s gone quick. I mean some days i hate it and others, the opposite. It’s given me some good opportunities to work with talented people and make some cool things
Do you consider Familia to have somewhat of a ‘cult’ following around the world? It seems like a certain type of individual within skateboarding chooses to support your company?
Ha ha I’m not sure if it has a cult following. It’s cool if it does.
What do you see as the key element to the company, what has made it last for so long now?
For me, it’s having an idea and having the platform to bring it to life. To possibly make something that someone can look at and not be sure about it. Do you like it or not? There’s so much generic work out there that you can easily be fooled into thinking you like because you’ve seen it so much. Also, the people involved, they’ve been a massive part of it.
If you had the chance to allow the company to grow into something much bigger with huge financial backing, would you take the leap or do you prefer it growing at its own pace?
I’d take the money and run! Yeah why not, as long as i didn’t need to compromise on any of my ideas or produce some shit to make a quick buck, I’d be down.
Is it a full-time job running Familia or do you have any other line of work that you keep yourself busy with?
It takes quite a bit of work but over the years I’ve managed to balance it with other jobs. Over the last couple of years I’ve been doing art work for Nike town and all the other Nike stores across the UK. It’s pretty ‘full on’ but I’ve learn t so much. Over the years I’ve learn t how to fit Familia in with other things. It would be amazing doing it full-time but I’m also happy to have other experiences.
Which five songs would best describe the spirit of Familia?
INFO: FAMILIA SKATEBOARDS