A Supernatural History
Growing up in Minneapolis in the late 90's, it was impossible to ignore the influence of Supernatural Clothing. All the cool kids wore it, their team was amazing, and the brand showed what some serious hustle can accomplish over a short time. Here's the brand's history in the words of company's former figurehead and co-founder, Rob Sissi:
Basically, I owe it to Joe from Fobia and my dad for helping me get the brand started. Joe pushed me to get it all going, he knew me from always kicking it at the shop and he knew I wanted to start a brand. My dad helped me out with the connections, he was in the clothing game for like 20 years, all he ever told me was ‘Don’t get into the clothing business’, so naturally that’s what I ended up doing. A lot of the stuff was made over in Honduras, which helped me set up. I’d get to go check it out, see all the production lines. It was definitely a cool experience.
It started out around 1998. I had Todd Bratrud do the art and logos on some blank t-shirts my dad kicked me down, they were really good quality - I just wanted something that showed real quality. A lot of the skate brands at the time, there might have been a few exceptions, but they were generally shit, they weren’t made well. That was kinda my whole thing, and having connections with production gave us a leg up to stand for that at least a little bit.
The original team was made up of people on Roots & Fobia, it was just everybody I was usually out skating with. I wasn’t just some dude behind a desk trying to figure out who to put on & represent my brand. We would do local demos but it was just like, getting van and going to Duluth. Word would spread because we had dudes like Steve Nesser, Seth McCallum, Emeric Pratt, and Clint Peterson who were all starting to blow up a little bit.
I decided to really make a run for it after travelling out to San Diego a lot to skate. San Diego was kind of the Mecca of that era, I’d go out there whenever I could to skate with Darren Navarette and Wayne Zerr, both of them moved out there from Minnesota. We got to meet a grip of different people through them. Steve Olson lived just up the street from those guys so I got to know him through the years, we would always see him and skate with him. He knew about Supernatural and at some point knew that we wanted him on, but he had been riding for TSA, which at the time was a pretty big clothing company. I was surprised when he just hit me up randomly like “Hey man, I’m down to do it.”
How it happened with Ricky Oyola was different. We were just at a trade show, I was with my friend Pooh. We saw Ricky Oyola and he was just like ‘Hey man, what’s up?.’, you know, introduced ourselves. Pooh was just like 'You should ride for him!'. he completely put me on the spot, but but Ricky looked at the supply lines of what we were doing and he was into it. At that time we were about a year into it. We started running ads, going to all the trade shows and getting a little more serious.
In 2000 we went on tour. We had had the idea of doing tour anyway, and it was pretty sick once we got Rick & Steve to have them along on it. That cast (Elijah Collard, Ricky Oyola, Steve Olson, Seth McCallum, Chad Benson, Neal Erickson, Emeric Pratt and Ryan Hansen) made for some interesting scenes. We went to Minneapolis, Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago and Iowa.
I’m sure a lot of people have heard this Steve Olson story, but for those who haven’t: There’s this rail downtown Chicago on Michigan Ave. It’s a triple kick rail with a kink at the end and it rainbows in all sorts of ways. Steve had been eyeing it up from his hotel room for a few days, and as we were on our way to a demo and he said “Okay, I want to do it.” Basically, Steve was trying to boardslide this rail, and every time he’s trying it he’s waxing his board, which is sketchy to begin with. Add to that, every time he bails on it, he’s running down the rail like a ninja, literally tip toeing down the rail. He’s getting closer and closer to the end, sliding it. He got to the end on one try and hit his back on the kink at the end, it was bad. He fell to the ground and curled into the fetal position, in my mind I’m like 'Dude’s down. This is not a good thing.' Just then, as Steve was on is back, he put his hands together in a praying motion. From there, the only way I could describe it is that he busted into a windmill, and started moving his feet faster and faster. He sprung up, popped to his feet, got up and waxed his board again, ran up the stairs and did it next try.
We were all like 'Holy shit dude! What just happened?'. It was quiet in the van on the way to the demo, no one could really believe what they had just seen. I was like 'Hey Steve, are you okay? It looked like you got took out on that rail pretty hard.'. He was like 'Yeah man, I’m good. I did, but I just channeled energy into my body and healed myself. I knew I would make it the next try.' It was a pretty special moment for those of us who were in his company at the time. He’s a pretty legendary guy.
After the tour, thing were going great. I wouldn’t say that business doubled overnight or anything like that, but it definitely helped business to have the dudes out in peoples’ areas. Unfortunately, we had to shut down around that time.
Simply put, the birth of my first child, my daughter changed things. Up until then, it was all good with the brand. We would have good months where I could make some money. But we’d have bad months, where I’d still have to pay everybody but I couldn’t always pay myself. I made a promise to myself that if I couldn’t have a solid income at all times I’d have to do something else. Up until that point, the company was my baby, but having a child flips your perspective on that stuff.
It wasn’t like the company was in peril or like we needed to end it, but at the same time I needed to start to look out for myself a little bit more. I had some opportunities arise that helped put my in a little bit more stable of a position.
As far as lessons go, I learned a lot through doing Supernatural. I learned that it comes down to product, storytelling and marketing. Those are the three basic ingredients you need in any type of company, especially in skateboarding. For us, the product was always consistent but it’s hard to see it when you’re in it how important the artists we worked with and the consistency of the messaging were. You can’t really deviate from the plan, you kinda have to stay the course. It’s hard enough to get kids’ attention.