Zoo York Brand Manager Ben Oleynik skating the streets of NYC.
By Kailee Bradstreet
Celebrating two decades in the skateboarding scene, Zoo York is one of the most iconically recognized East Coast skate brands, boasting a team of athletes such as Chaz Ortiz, Kevin Taylor, Aaron Suski, Brandon Westgate, Forrest Kirby, and Ron Deily. The brand, which has been through some major milestones in its 20 years in existence, started off in 1993 as a grassroots effort by three NYC skateboarders Rodney Smith, Eli Gessner and Adam Schatz and has since evolved into a globally distributed company since it was acquired by Iconix in 2011.
Despite its growth, the brand has managed to maintain its core East Coast roots, and still have loyal support from its Zoo Crew, which includes original NYC graffiti artists, designers, musicians, BMX riders, and skateboarders. That connection to its community has been key to maintaining the authenticity behind the products, according to Brand Manager and Team Manager Ben Oleynik.
“I see the brand doing what it’s always done: celebrating East Coast skateboarding and the wider culture around it,” says Oleynik. “We work hard every day to create content, products, and initiatives that are culturally relevant and meaningful for our retailers, our customers, and the skate community in general. We continue to grow and strengthen our partnerships on a global level. It’s a really exciting time for the brand.”
This September, the brand also unveiled its new Zoo York Kings collection, which is meant to pay tribute each season to a “King of New York” skateboarding, with the inaugural line honoring the Harold Hunter Foundation. A portion of the proceeds from this limited edition board and T-shirt offering goes directly to the non-profit organization.
Transworld Business caught up with Oleynik to learn more about Zoo York’s plan for the future, the roll out of its Zoo York Kings collection, and the brand’s goals and strategies to continue supporting skateboarding on the East Coast.
First of all, congratulations on your 20th anniversary. Give us some of the big moments, films, decisions, etc, over the last 20 years that have shaped the brand.
Thank you. Growing up I was a huge fan of ZOO, so I know the videos played a major role in shaping the brand and people’s connection to it. There’s nothing like East Coast skating and the ZOO videos that RB (Umali) made always showcased that. Mixtape dropped in 1998 and 15 years later people are still talking about it and the impact it had.
Product-wise, it was a major decision to keep manufacturing of our hardgoods in Long Island with Chapman Skateboards. They’ve made our boards since day one, and the consistent high quality of our boards is something our retailers, team and customers really appreciate.
The transition to Iconix in 2011 was huge. It’s allowed us to stay true to the brand’s roots, while scaling up to a larger audience. We’ve been able to draw more attention to East Coast skateboarding through major initiatives that would have never been possible before Iconix, like our ZOO YORK Takes Yankee Stadium video.
What were the original goals for the brand? Where are you at with those and what are you setting your sites on for the next few years?
From day one, ZOO has showcased and celebrated the amazing culture in New York and on the East Coast. It embodies that DIY spirit and is a fixture of the scene here. We put kids on from over here. We support the events, media and retailers over here. We partner with the Harold Hunter Foundation and Stoked Mentoring each year. We collaborate with East Coast artists, photographers and musicians. The brand symbolizes that you don’t have to move away from the East. You can stay here, contribute to and support your own scene. Help it grow and define yourself. That’s a very powerful and important message that ZOO represents. It’s something we will continue to honor.
You guys have held the banner of the East Coast scene for years. Where do you see the right side scene these days and how is that zone’s health these days?
The East has become more influential than ever. It’s thriving. The entire industry has seen a serious growth in skateparks and skatepark clips and major contests. All those things are great and serve their purpose. However, I think it also causes people to thirst for raw street skating even more. That shines more light on the East because it’s the epitome of raw street skating.
More and more companies are popping up over here. You’re seeing more and more brands and filmmakers releasing NYC-focused videos and articles. There’s collaboration, there’s competition. It’s all healthy and it’s great to be a part of it.
You just released a new collection/segmentation called ZOO YORK KINGS – tell us about that?
It’s a premium apparel and hardgoods line available only at skate shops. It celebrates the roots of ZOO YORK and the various KINGS who have come from the East. The product is designed, manufactured and sold by Chapman. They have done an amazing job and we are extremely excited about it. Over the last few years, we have released small product capsules exclusively for skate shops, but KINGS will be ongoing. Each season we will honor a different KING with a collab as part of the overall collection.
Who are you collaborating with first?
The Harold Hunter Foundation, honoring and celebrating Harold. Alex Corporan linked us up with photographer Matthew Salacsue, also a native New Yorker, who had shot some amazing photos of Harold and it went from there. A portion of the proceeds from the collab is going to the foundation and we are always honored to work with them.
Give us an idea of how many shops will be stocking it, who they are, and why you’re working with those shops?
The collection will be available in skate shops across the country and worldwide. Core shops and their customers truly understand and appreciate the history, nuances and meanings within this space. We wanted to offer product that really resonates with them. This collection isn’t just a celebration of the brand’s history. It’s also a thank you to all those people and shops that supported the brand for the last 20 years.
What’s your take on the current state of specialty skate retail and how do programs like this help them?
Ask anyone in specialty and they’ll tell you it’s tough. They need programs that have compelling product and real marketing support. We listen to what the shops are saying. We are committed to them. If the product is special and the messaging is authentic, it will drive demand and give these shops another point of differentiation.
What will you be doing on the marketing front to drive skaters to these shops?
The marketing around the collection will speak directly to skaters. This collection is for them. We’ve got some heavily plans that will be rolling out in the next month. I think a lot of people are going to be pleasantly surprised. If you were at the Agenda shows, you got an idea of what I’m talking about.
Time for a team update. You guys have some sick new Ams on the squad. Give us the low down.
The Ams are Dave Willis and Kevin Tierney from New York and Travis Glover from Atlanta. They’ve been flow for years and were officially added to the squad early last year. We have a diverse pro team with Chaz, Westgate, FORE, Suski, Ron and KT, and the Ams complement it well.
The East is known for the unique styles and personalities that come from here and the Ams definitely embody that. They are great kids and really stand out. Dave and Kevin are true New Yorkers. They always have ten different hustles on the go, but still manage to handle everything. Travis brings that laid back Southern cadence wherever he goes. One minute he’s sleeping in the van, next minute he’s jumping down something crazy. We have a big project in the works with these three right now.
ZOO YORK has such a rich history. So many amazing talents and amazing people have been a part of the brand over the years. As we celebrate our 20-year anniversary and the launch of our KINGS line we’d like to sincerely thank everyone who’s been a part of the brand and supported us along the way. Here’s to 20 more years and beyond.