The history of Globe International reads like the plot of a movie that we’d like to watch. The CliffsNotes version: three bothers who are really into skateboarding but don’t want “real jobs” end up becoming the founders of one of the first and biggest skate/surf/street labels in Australia.
A guy called Jason Boulter just wrote a book called Unemployable that goes kinda like that. To celebrate its release, we hit up youngest brother and Globe CEO Matt Hill to talk about the unemployable/self-employed life him and his bros have made for themselves.
Can you explain why you settled on the title Unemployable?
Throughout the years one of us three brothers would periodically be asked, “What inspired us to start a skateboard business?” And we would half-jokingly respond, “We were basically unemployable so it was our only option.” The truth was we saw ourselves as unemployable in a more positive light in that we had aspirations to do something meaningful for ourselves, and different to the options we saw in front of us.
As the business grew we discovered tons more like-minded people with the same “unemployable” trait. And so many of those joined without formal training but they did have creative flair, ambition and work ethic that would not have been relevant in more traditional career paths. The company became a bit of a blank canvas and vehicle for those people to make their mark. As that expanded we realised this unemployable trait was the common theme for the diverse subcultures we operated in from skate to surf, street and even filmmaking.
You guys started skateboarding at such an early age. How did growing up in that scene shape you and what you wanted to do with the brand?
My brothers Peter and Stephen discovered skateboarding in their early teens — when I was five years old — and from that point on it was cemented in our household. It drove the influences in music, art, film and fashion at a pivotal time when the whole skate scene was underground but vibrant and finding an identity. At the same time it was a functional performance driven sport with equipment needs and technology developing.
The desire, particularly for my brothers, to skateboard at a time when there were no skate parks, no “industry” and a tiny scene generated amazing entrepreneurial behavior; [the desire] to create an environment they wanted to operate in. There was no master plan to create a brand, just a desire to keep skateboarding, be part of that culture and keep progressing. But after years of that experience you’ve absorbed so much creative and functional knowledge; when we came to start brands it just naturally came out in those brands and products.
What was your day-to-day life like in those early days when you were trying to get the brand off the ground?
Like all startup businesses it was fly-by-the-seat of your pants stuff. You make mistakes and learn from them, and hope you have enough ability, and good luck, to respond to those mistakes and still keep moving forward. It was literally doing everything. In those early days there was no distinction between skating, working and private life — it was just one massive existence.
What’s been the most surreal moment of your skateboarding career?
Seeing how large the whole skate scene has gotten and how it permeates all popular youth culture in so many ways. Also, how many people who came from skating have become influential and successful in the mainstream world in graphic art, film, acting or design. To think that grew from a time when we were growing up and you basically personally knew everyone in the entire country who called themselves skaters is amazing, and really special to have been part of that movement.
What’s been the biggest achievement of Globe as a brand?
Surviving! Our markets and tastes change and our challenge is to adapt, not sell out or lose our core principles and values and, most importantly, our culture. It’s not always easy and we certainly haven’t always got it right but we’re still here so we must have got it right more often than not.
How important is function versus style to the label?
Function is always the most important. We create products that embody the subculture they are directed toward whether it be skate, surf or street. Obviously at any point in our history from a style and fashion point of view those products need to be relevant and on point. However, at the end of the day you need to be able to do the activity those products align with to the highest level. If they don’t function we have no credibility. So the short answer is they must do both!
What was the process behind creating such iconic styles like the classic Globe skate shoe?
Like everything in our business it was organic. We don’t sit around with a corporate strategy and some market analysis. We see a need or demand in the market for something people, in this case skaters, are actually needing. No one was addressing the market for a true functional performance skate shoe at the time. It needed to be able to perform for modern street skating, handle impact and take a beating. All shoes skaters were using at the time were getting worn by default and mostly not specifically designed for skating. We saw the need because we, and others in the company, had the need as skaters. From there we decided to launch our own Globe skate shoes. We became part of a movement with some other companies around the same time, which really set skate shoes on a path to being a staple in the footwear world.
You were the first to bring that kind of style to Australia. Did that feel like a big deal at the time?
At the time it just seemed like a natural progression. I think retrospectively there’s always a danger that ego gets away from you and you suggest more significance or foresight to your behaviours. We just wanted to make shoes for guys we saw weren’t being catered to, and it wasn’t just in Australia but around the world. You start small with a couple of shoes, and hope it grows from there. At the time, not that many people probably even noticed — until it started growing!
Do you feel that brands like Globe and those skate styles of the late 80s/early 90s are becoming more popular again, and if so why?
Yes, we are seeing a push back to bigger chunkier skate shoes that were iconic in the 90s. I think like all things there is a fashion cycle that is inevitable. To that degree there is always a degree of good luck when your heritage is on trend. However, our goal is always to stay credible and not lose our roots so that we are in the right spot when that fashion wheel turns. After 20 plus years in shoes we have a wide range of styles and shoes but our true core will always be functional 90s skate shoes. It’s fun to see that coming back and people getting a buzz out of that styling.