EXCLUSIVE : KNOTORYUS TALKS TO LOCKWOOD OWNER SVEN AERTS ABOUT THE #LOCKWOODJANOSKI
(all images c/o Lockwood and DvL)
By now you probably know all about the imminent release of Belgium’s first official global Nike collaboration : the Lockwood x Nike SB Stefan Janoski.
If not, you can go back to when KNOTORYUS had the honour of being the first to drop the news worldwide and subsequently released the scoops on the black edition and the very limited white pack.
As promised, we now bring you our exclusive interview with Lockwood founder, skateboarder and firm community pillar Sven Aerts, who might be the furthest-removed- from-any-bullshit skater I have ever met. I also consider him to be somewhat of my personal wardrobe consultant, a job -which he is unaware of by the way- I would have never dreamt to outsource so close to home, since I’m really particular about taste levels. No offence.
Safe to say, I am a big fan of Sven and his entourage which includes first and foremost his gorgeous wife and Avenue founder Lina Fredriksson, their business partner Gert Kerkstoel and all of those dope in-store Lockwood Boys.
KNOTORYUS : Who were you as a twelve, thirteen year-old? Was that the age you started skateboarding?
Sven Aerts : I’m from Hoogstraten, a small town not that for from Antwerp. I grew up there and my wife and I just moved back with the kids. I started skating at thirteen. My dad’s a big horse fanatic, just like a lot of people from my dad’s side of the family. I was introduced to that world when I was six and started riding ponies. I did that until I was fifteen. But at a certain point a bunch of guys from my pony club started skateboarding. And I wanted to skateboard as well. My cousin – who lived next door – still had a skateboard from the seventies lying around. An old little Santa Cruz.
KNOTORYUS : Where did he get one of those?
Sven Aerts : I think it came all the way from America even. I’m not sure. But one of those was really hard to get. It was from the seventies or maybe early eighties. Initially, I wasn’t exactly stoked about it, it was a narrow little thing and everyone else had a ‘real’ skateboard. Back then, it was all about the wide skateboards. So in the beginning I wasn’t too stoked, but it did roll really well. I learned all the basics on that one. After a lot of pocket-money saving, I eventually bought a real skateboard.
KNOTORYUS : Your story is a bit different from some of the other guys coming up at that time. A lot of them would come from broken homes or were loners who opposed everything and started hanging out with each other.
Sven Aerts : Well, we weren’t. We were pony club boys who started skating. (laughs) We built a big ramp in someone’s backyard, which later moved to my parents’ yard.
KNOTORYUS : When did you notice that you were getting better?
Sven Aerts : My friends had owned their skateboards for a long time and I just had the little board, so I kind of trailed behind in the beginning. I really wanted to be good at it, though, and when I apply myself to something, I won’t stop until I get it right. I certainly wasn’t one of the better skaters at the beginning. When I bought my first skateboard, which was bigger and had more stability, I noticed that progress came fast and that I was getting the hang of it more easily than the rest.
KNOTORYUS : What was your first deck?
Sven Aerts : A Hosoi Hammerhead. A black one with Kingpin trucks.
KNOTORYUS : Why’d you pick that one? Were you doing research? Because in those days you’d have to go find those magazines at your friends’ place and those videos were super obscure.
Sven Aerts : Yeah, there weren’t any of those magazines around. My parents were regular folks, they didn’t have a lot of money. But one of the friends that I started out with had seen something on TV about skateboarding and recorded it -they had a VCR, we didn’t. So then we all went to his place to look at this cheesy documentary about skateboarding. We were like ‘woah!’. He’d also rented a video. It was one of the first Powell Peralta films called “Future Primitive”. I vividly remember seeing someone doing an ollie. We’d never seen that before, we went “how is this possible?!”. We’d just been going in circles all this time. (laughs) That was such a revelation. So then we’d all start practising. That was even before I had my good skateboard. My Santa Cruz had such a short little tail, you couldn’t really do ollies with those. But I just kept practicing. Of course it didn’t work. But then I got that good board and it all took off.
KNOTORYUS : So then you just got better and better and started dreaming of the pro-life.
Sven Aerts : In the beginning it was all just fun and games, but after a while I noticed that my pony-crew lost interest and they all started dropping out. Probably also because I was really going for it and making progress. So, by the time I was fifteen, I’d started going to other skate parks a bit more. You’d really have to go look for them because there weren’t a lot around in Belgium. I also made new friends who were skaters through school. They had heard about a skate park in Ostend, so we went out there. And on the way back I got to know Ivan Maes. Through him, I got good. He was really great and underrated as a skater, but the fact that he had skills helped me so much. For some people that doesn’t work, but I personally thrive by being around someone who is as good or even better than me. You push each other. So after I got to know him, we’d hang out more and skate even more. When we were about sixteen we travelled to London to skate and when I just turned eighteen we flew to The States.
KNOTORYUS : And once again, minds were blown?
Sven Aerts : Absolutely. We skated through downtown San Francisco, L.A., where the weather is always nice. And in New York, just before the time when you’d get chased away everywhere by the cops. It was absolute paradise. Ivan and I decided that we were going to move to America and live our dream of being pro skaters. We really had that talk. But for him it was complicated, he was eighteen and had just graduated high school. His dad and uncle wanted him to join the family business instead of going skateboarding in America. If he would have said yes, then I probably would’ve gone to the States. Not to make it in the big leagues per sé, but just to be able to skate freely and all day every day.
KNOTORYUS : So what happened after that?
Sven Aerts : We’d gotten to a higher level by then, solely by pushing each other and we got sponsored by a shop in Eindhoven. They’d organise events and competitions and asked us to skate for the store. So that’s what we did. It was good to know that someone saw our potential.
KNOTORYUS : Did you notice at the time that there was more to skateboarding? That there was a lifestyle, a whole world around skating – even outside of being pro – that you could make a living from? Or did that realisation come later on?
Sven Aerts : Applying myself academically wasn’t really my thing. I had tried a year at college, but skating was so ingrained in my daily routine that I couldn’t combine the two. But I didn’t just want to do nothing but skate either and I needed to have some sort of income. I really wanted to work in a skateboard store. I asked the store that was sponsoring me, but they were fully staffed. So I started thinking out loud with a friend about opening a store myself. I’ve always loved going to Antwerp to skate. So then that friend found a location in Antwerp and we decided to go for it. It wasn’t some big choice between becoming pro or not, it was a natural evolution for me to find that building for the first Lockwood.
KNOTORYUS : You once told me that back then you used to close the store in the middle of the day to go skating. How does that Sven Aerts compare to the one sitting before me?
Sven Aerts : It was completely different back then. I was 21 when I opened my first store. And in those days, if the weather was nice and the Antwerp guys were going out to skate, we’d just close the shop and go. Not that clients weren’t welcome, but it was so much more casual. I really wanted the store to succeed though and completely went for it, as I do. I still have a certain vision for the stores and myself. The big example as far as skate shops went back then, was FTC -which still exists. I had seen their San Francisco store, the most important pro’s from LA or NYC were also sponsored by them at the time. That’s how I wanted my store to be.
KNOTORYUS : In what way exactly? That everything needed to look premium? What was the difference between your vision and the stores that were already around over here?
Sven Aerts : Ride All Day and 1st8 were the only pure core skate shops around in Belgium at the time. There were a lot of stores that sold surf and snowboard gear along with skate stuff, but I always reckoned that you’re either a skate shop or you’re not. Skate gear only or I wasn’t doing it. That was the main thing that I wanted for the store. And then of course the choice of interior design. My first contact with Supreme in San Francisco was super chill and the shop was really cool. And at FTC, you could even trade your old deck for a set of wheels. But then at the Supreme store in New York they were so obnoxious, you couldn’t even touch a t-shirt. But I did always like the store’s interior. That really inspired me. So it all started in 1996 in the Jezusstraat in Antwerp, where I opened my first store. Then we moved to the Lange Klarenstraat, where we had three different locations for the store. And then in 2010 we moved to the Ijzerenwaag.
KNOTORYUS : It was around that time, just before the move to Ijzerenwaag, that I did a story on you and your wife Lina for a national newspaper and you both told me that it was a big dream of yours to one day have your own sneaker. Preferably a Nike. Was that something that you were already working on back then? How did you set everything in motion?
Sven Aerts : In 2002 or 2003 when Nike started the Nike SB subdivision, they really focused on England and The Netherlands. I think those were the first two countries, because its HQ was in Hilversum. And then Belgium being so close quickly became a part of it too. We were the first store in Belgium to carry the line, after quite some persuading and convincing from their part. I was pretty skeptical about it back then, because they were this huge corporation that wasn’t skater-owned.The first representative that they sent over wasn’t a skater either.
KNOTORYUS : Before that you only carried skater-owned brands.
Sven Aerts : Yes, most of those brands had gotten pretty big already because skateboarding was booming at that time. But when they started Nike SB and told me they would only be sold in skate stores, I decided to give it a go. It didn’t really sell well locally in the beginning, people didn’t think Nike belonged in a skate shop. Especially the real skaters. Other people, who weren’t core skaters, would understand the concept a bit better. But we had a lot of demand coming from other countries: Germany, Japan,… We didn’t have e-mail back then, so it involved a lot of phone calls (laughs). That was crazy, the beginning of Nike SB. They quickly started doing collabs, so we figured that it’d be really dope to collaborate with them one day.
KNOTORYUS : And here we are.
Sven Aerts : It all went pretty quickly. My business partner – besides Lina – Gert Kerkstoel, had worked for Nike. Since he became a partner in 2010, we figured that a collaboration should be a possibility. Gert said that everything would come about at the right time. Back then we figured we should immediately tap into his connections to make it happen, we were a bit impatient. Eventually it worked out much better this way. We just waited our turn and at the beginning of 2014, Gert suddenly found this his old pair of Nike SB’s in his attic. They had made that shoe especially for him when he was working at Nike. His colleagues used to call him ‘The Professor’, so they made this one-off black patent leather Nike SB for him. He always wants everything to be premium and perfectly executed, which works really well with my mindset. So they created that shoe for him back then. We’d already discussed a possible collab with Nike, the demand was there. So Gert figured – since this sample was already available – we could work a bit faster if we used this shoe as a jumping point. And everything went really quickly from there.
KNOTORYUS : This what I have been saying : you don’t seem to be hindered by your ego at all. I’m jealous – which is probably another petty feeling you are unfamiliar with.
Sven Aerts : I’m pretty modest, I don’t know… (shrugs)
KNOTORYUS : Someone else might have pushed a completely new thing that had been long brewing in their head, but you agreed to play with was already available and perfect it.
Sven Aerts : I have ideas and opinions on everything and I want to be heard, especially where the store is involved. But I also listen to the people around me. If one of the staff members has an idea, I love it when they pitch it to me. I much more prefer collaborating to stating that I’ll do it on my own.
This shoe is something that we have done together. For the redesign we got help from Kasper Coolens, someone we’ve known for a long time – a skater from the Ghent area – who has also worked for Avenue (the premium sneaker – Tier 0 in 2015, baby! – and apparel store owned by Sven’s wife Lina Fredriksson, ed.note).
KNOTORYUS : Tell me about these two final Lockwood x Nike SB Stefan Janoski packs.
Sven Aerts : I didn’t want an all-black shoe and the laser-cut aspect was an idea of mine. I had seen it before on a yellow Nike Dunk – not sure if it was an SB – that had black laser-cutting on it. I really liked that. That laser-cut part also came in later in the evolution of the shoe. So we already had the shoe and proposed the collaboration based on the sample to speed the process up. Normally with a collab there’s at least a year between the idea and the finished product. We just started talking at the beginning of the year, so normally this should have taken at least half a year longer to finish. Especially since samples have to go back and forth and of course because of planning constraints from Nike’s side, they have so many other projects going on. We were really lucky to have been able to collaborate in this way and still be able to completely do our thing. So, Kasper Coolens is the skater who used to work at Avenue. We were fortunate to have him work with us since he’s a friend of ours, but he also studied product development in Paris. Then he moved to London and now he designs for Stella McCartney’s accessory department. As you know, we have our own Lockwood apparel and the guy who always designs our collections is Tony Spackman. Unfortunately for us – but great for him, because he really deserves it – he went out to work for…
KNOTORYUS : Givenchy!
Sven Aerts : Exactly. So he really didn’t have the time to help us out. We were looking for someone and then Lina proposed Kasper. And he was immediately up for it. He came up with one of the two stripes and he thought the infra red sole was a great idea, which I agreed with.
KNOTORYUS : You know that the Louboutin comparison is going to happen.
Sven Aerts : Yeah, that kind of red was also an idea, but this infra red is more unexpected on such a classic design and a bit more sporty.
(Gert Kerkstoel, Sven and Lina’s business partner walks in.)
Gert Kerkstoel : That’s what skateboarding is about as well. Taking things out of context.
KNOTORYUS : You are going worldwide with the black pack, and the white edition will be sold where?
Gert Kerkstoel : We picked a handful of skate shops that are basically owned by friends and a few others will probably also get some. Normally these shoes wouldn’t end up in, say, Liverpool. But because Sven knows Dave Mackey really well, Lost Art will get them. I think about five or six stores will carry them. It has been a lot of fun, but we’ll also be glad it’s over.
Sven Aerts : Yeah, everything combined, it’s a bit much. (laughs)
KNOTORYUS : What I really focused on when we broke the news of this release here on KNOTORYUS, was the community aspect of Lockwood and Avenue. That’s what I’ve always loved about you and Lina. The way you foster the young people that work here, you skate with, … Has this always been important to you?
Sven Aerts : I think that’s always sort of been that way growing up, with my two sisters. We’ve always been a very tight-knit family.
KNOTORYUS : Are you the youngest?
Sven Aerts : I’m the middle child. We still have a very strong family bond. I think that has always – unconsciously – been important. In my pony club days, that group was always very close. And with me and Ivan, we’d head out to L.A. with six other dudes. I always had a gang. With the shop as well. When I told you about FTC, they had this team and I wanted the same. I wanted to sponsor people, not just for the sake of sponsoring, but to have that family-feel as well. Outside of the team we had when the store started out in ’97, ’98; there also was a natural crew growth around the store and those guys still skate to this day. They were a natural part of the shop. The same goes for the staff. In the beginning we started out with me and then I met Lina and she started working in the store. You grow and need more people to help out. We never interviewed the staff, certainly not at the beginning. Now it’s a bit different. But back then we’d just ask if they wanted to give it a try and work here.
KNOTORYUS : You seem very calm and disciplined, but I can imagine that this is not the same for all the young ones who work here. What do you expect from them? I have a feeling that you really let everyone be themselves, but that you clearly set boundaries.
Sven Aerts : I have to be honest, I think I’m far from the perfect boss. Or I don’t really see myself as the boss of the boys and girls that work in our stores. But like I said earlier, I have a very clear vision of what the store should be like and what is expected from everyone.
KNOTORYUS : Could you quickly elaborate on your vision?
Sven Aerts : For me it’s really important that what’s in store – I still mostly pick the brands myself – is presented in a certain way. I myself am not good at actually displaying the products, but Lina and Roxanna – who works with us as well- are. I have quite a shoe fetish, I also have quite the collection – certainly of SB’s- but the shoes in-store need to have their laces tied in a certain way. If that isn’t done the way I want it to, it irks me to no end. What’s also crucial – and that’s probably also because of my visit to Supreme in New York way back then – is customer service and friendliness. People need to feel comfortable coming into Lockwood. We expect that the store is tidied up, but customers come first. Don’t lose track of them, even if you’re working on something else. I’m not the kind of employer or boss who will tell you that you’ve done a certain thing wrong and show you how it’s done. But on the other hand, I sometimes wait too long to address a certain thing that I don’t like. I sometimes bottle things up. But eventually I try to make the issue clear in my own way, by having group meetings. I explain what I’d like the situation to be like. I’ve noticed that by giving the staff this kind of freedom that eventually it works really well.
KNOTORYUS : In the beginning you were the same age as everyone around you, but in the meantime almost half a generation has come between you all.
Sven Aerts : Dominique, don’t lie, it’s a full generation!
KNOTORYUS : I try to forget, though. Do you have the feeling that this keeps you young?
Sven Aerts : Definitely!
KNOTORYUS : The other thing that I really stressed in my previous piece is that the way you buy for Lockwood is really on point and it only seems to gets better.
Sven Aerts : Wow, you really think so?
KNOTORYUS : Yeah, if you look at a couple years ago – not that it was bad then – it feels like you take even more risks. You buy some difficult or unexpected pieces from new people. It excites me.
Sven Aerts : I’m very happy to hear that.
Because of the move here and the fact that Avenue is attached to Lockwood, it just works really well and we are doing better and better sales wise. I can sort of shuffle around the brands here and this is totally different from the Lockwood in the Lange Klarenstraat, a store that is also very important to me. That’s where it all sort of started and buying for that store is even easier. That’s core business and I still follow that side, I still check Thrasher and skate sites that are important to me. It depends on how much time I have, but I also really like to involve the guys in the store. I ask them what brands and collections they like. I ask them what pieces they dig from certain collections. I really listen to them.
Like I said, the store has been quite successful, but I’m not the kind of guy who buys a new car when they get a bit of money. Everything goes back into the business. I don’t necessarily invest in the interior, but if someone offers me a cool little brand that I like, I will take it on. Normally you’d tell them to wait and you see how the brand evolves. But I will try them out. If only two people buy their stuff, then that’s already something. I think that’s important.
KNOTORYUS : That’s why I love coming here and I pop by every time I’m in the neighbourhood. There’s always something dope to check out. And I am really jaded when it comes to clothing brands, but there’s a lot of secret “ooh-ing and aah-ing” going on in my head whenever I go through the Lockwood racks.
Sven Aerts : I really appreciate that!
KNOTORYUS : You were saying that you like to invest in new cool little brands, by taking them on. That is also giving back to your community. Is there a brand that you really like at the moment?
Sven Aerts : I’ve always been a big fan of Girl and Chocolate Skateboards… Those have always been top brands for me. But everything evolves and they’ve been sort of dabbling in the same area since the beginning. What I really like right now is Fucking Awesome and one of my favourite skaters, Gino Iannucci skates for them now…
KNOTORYUS : I love what Jason Dill and Anthony Van Engelen are doing with Fucking Awesome. I think it’s hilarious, but really gorgeous at the same time.
Sven Aerts : It’s fresh and on point. We carried Fucking Awesome when we started Avenue. It totally didn’t sell back then. It was way too pricey as well. But everything needs a little time, evidently.
KNOTORYUS : How is the Lockwood brand itself doing? What does the future hold?
Sven Aerts : The Lockwood brand also grew naturally, it came out of the same vision as Supreme and FTC – my big examples. Everyone from the team or guys close to the team wanted to have a Lockwood t-shirt printed and wear it. They’ve always worked and sold well. And now, since Gert has been involved and brought in new contacts, the collection has been growing steadily. Certainly now our Lockwood x Nike SB Stefan Janoski is coming out. Kasper has designed a really great collection around it as well..
KNOTORYUS : An additional collection of clothes?
Sven Aerts : Yes! There will be a t-shirt collection and six decks. All of them in the same vein.
KNOTORYUS : I quickly wanted to touch on Lockwood Skatecamp as well. How long have you been organising them?
Sven Aerts : I think 2014 was is the fifth edition. 2010 was the first year.
KNOTORYUS : And how did you start out doing them?
Sven Aerts : That also grew quite naturally. We already used to do little trips with the team. Then Gert came on board and I already knew Vincent Vos who manages the camps from when I was riding for Nike SB, and he was there too. We got to know each other by going on tour together and really hit it off. I don’t know if the idea came from Vincent or Gert, but the proposal of a skate camp was made. The idea was to have a five-day camp and instead of renting out a boy scouts building and installing a mini ramp or putting up a tent in a park, we’d take a bus to different cities in Belgium and Holland. When the weather’s bad we skate indoors. That way the kids who don’t have the means to travel around get to go to those places. If it had existed in my time, I definitely would have participated. It’s an amazing experience: having fifty boys and girls that all love skating and being on the road with them all day long and eating together in the evening. It’s like living the dream! The first year we tested it out it was all very small, we’d had the idea in May and made it happen in July. In about two months, we pulled it off with fifteen kids and it was super cool. Everyone who was there really liked it and now it has evolved. This summer we organised three different weeks for fifty kids each. By the end of April, every week was fully booked.
KNOTORYUS : I think that if we’d had a son, I would love for him to go. It’s only for boys, right?
Sven Aerts : No, it’s not. Girls are definitely welcome. We just haven’t had one enroll so far.
KNOTORYUS : You have three kids and three stores. How on earth do you do it?
Sven Aerts : You won’t hear me saying it’s easy. Having a family that you can count on is such a relief. My parents and my wife’s mother help out a lot. Because Lina and I are both involved in the business it helps because we know what’s needed to get everything done. But in the end it’s still quite a puzzle. The only thing that sort of suffers is my own spare time and skating itself. I’d like to be able to skate a bit more than I am able to right now. But on the other hand, it feels good to see guys like Steve Caballero who are almost fifty and still skate.
KNOTORYUS : Don’t the youngins in your crew challenge you a lot? “Yo, Sven, can you do this?”
Sven Aerts : I don’t get challenged that often, but we have done a shoot at KNS (Lockwood’s preferred skate spot in Antwerp) for this release and a few young kids came up to me and went: “Have you been skating a long time?” And I said: “Yeah, quite some time!” and they replied: “How old are you then?”. And I said: “Forty.” They thought that was super abnormal. (laughs)
KNOTORYUS : One last question. The last time I interviewed you, you said that designing a shoe was your dream. What’s the new dream?
Sven Aerts : I’d like to let the Lockwood brand grow a bit more. And a long-time dream has been to have a store abroad. That’d be amazing.
The concept that we have here – and which works well – is the brother and sister relationship between Lockwood and Avenue. I’ve always looked up to FTC and Supreme, but eventually we grew into something completely different.
KNOTORYUS : Which -and I love Supreme- is not a bad thing.
Sven Aerts : Not at all.
KNOTORYUS : I think the most difficult part is expanding and not losing yourself in that. And without getting an attitude. Everyone at every Supreme location has been treating us really well when we go there. But at the same time I see their staff snubbing other customers and I always think: “Come on, was that really necessary?”
Sven Aerts : It’s a skateboarder thing and it’s always been that way. I still notice it as well and it annoys me. Skateboarding is for everyone, you can’t claim it as your own. I’ve always felt that way, but there are still a lot of skaters who believe the opposite. A stupid example is skaters who claim spots. Bothers me to no end. We’ve had so many discussions with photographers or videographers who don’t want to disclose the locations of certain places, because they don’t want certain tricks to be performed there that are better than theirs.
I don’t care if someone wants to use my spot and perform a better trick than me. It just challenges me to go back there and do something more epic than what you just did.
KNOTORYUS : Perfect ending, Sven. Thanks so much.
The Lockwood x Nike SB Zoom Stefan Janoski will be released in carefully selected stores all over the world on December 20, 2014.