The WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO FRANCO SHADE? Joe Navran Interview
aaron feinberg, antenna magazine, arlo, arlo eisenberg, fashion, franco shade, francoshade, fresh, frsh, gost, gostbrand, joe navran, rachard johnson, streetwear, thisisfrsh
Franco Shade grew consistently as a legit streetwear label with a big following for several years until, with a cryptic post on their website back in September 2009, Franco was no more. While the messageboards have been churning out their typical drama, Navran has been relatively quiet on the whole thing. We asked Joe for the scoop, now 6 months after-the-fact, and he was gracious enough to do this recent phone interview with us...
by: Ben Murphy, Be-Mag Online Editor-In-Chief
Rollerblading has many legends and, love him or hate him, it’s safe to say that Joe Navran
is one of them. Navran’s work on F.O.R. and the early USD team videos is classic as he uniquely captured the progression of rollerblading at the time. After getting away from videos, Navran went on to create the streetwear company FRANCO SHADE
Franco Shade had a big following and grew consistently as a legit streetwear label for several years until, with a cryptic post on their website back in September 2009
, Franco was no more.
While the messageboards have been churning out their typical drama, Navran has been relatively quiet on the whole thing. We asked Joe for the scoop, now 6 months after-the-fact, and he was gracious enough to do this recent phone interview with us. Enjoy! -BThe Franco Shade crewWELL, I GUESS THE BIGGEST QUESTION THAT’S BEEN ON EVERYONE’S MIND IS “WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO FRANCO SHADE?”
Yeah. I’ll try my best to lay out the history and than how things happened…
Franco Shade really started as a side project to my videos and rollerblading. Back in 2002 there really just wasn’t any money in videos anymore. Part of that was that we were starting to get these crazy cease-and-desist letters from record company lawyers to not use their label’s music in an unlicensed way. Music was such a big part of editing for me that not having the that freedom to edit to the music I wanted was really sucking the life out of the process for me.
So, that, and the advent of YouTube and Vimeo and the fact that every major video was pirated online so quickly meant that there really just wasn’t money in making videos. I don’t begrudge anyone posting stuff online; and I’m glad kids are excited about rolling and want to share that, but the unfortunate reality was that it just didn’t pay the bills anymore.
As I moved forward after doing videos, I got more interested in fashion and somewhere around 2005 got more interested in streetwear and connected with a lot of good folks out in Cali. So, I started to have this idea of meshing rollerlading with a streetwear line and came up with the concept for Franco Shade. Playing poker on the circuit was really the big money maker for me and I’m lucky that I made a good amount of money from that which allowed me to fund the Franco Shade.
As I got into it and got to know people and shops, etc. I started learning about a lot of the crazy biases within the streetwear industry. Skateboarding, with all due respect because they’ve paid their dues, had really penetrated a lot into the streetwear industry as, basically, a way to expand their brands and make more money.
So, unfortunately, the best way to break Franco into the market was to not hype up the rollerblading piece as much. So we moved forward with a streetwear-focused brand and started getting into shops and than as folks came to the Franco office and hung out they were exposed to rollerblading. But the harsh reality was that at the time if we’d walked into shops selling our goods as rollerbladers, no one would have taken it seriously. So than we eventually did the Rachard ad in Antenna Magazine
and slowly started to hint at and promote more and more rolling stuff. Once folks knew that Franco was a legit label, which it was by then, folks were cool with the rolling piece.Franco Shade, Rachard Johnson ad, Antenna Magazine
We continued to slowly, deliberately introduce more of the rolling aspect by adding videos to the site last year; and the site traffic just kept growing so we kept pushing it more and more. And than I connected with the Chicago guys and kept promoting rollerblading through that connection...
But that wasn’t why Franco Shade died and went out of business.
One of the big reasons is that the economy got really bad. And I know everyone has been saying that and using it as an excuse, but it really is true. Streetwear doesn’t have nearly as much money as we make people think we have and there were literally shops just going out of business left and right. Folks we'd done business with for years just closing their doors. So we couldn’t collect what they owed us and than we couldn’t pay for our lines, etc. It was a totally vicious cycle.
So that was a huge, huge reason.
The other reason is that we brought Arlo on board and than all the things that transpired from there. Let me clarify that I’ve known Arlo for years and we’re still good friends, so there’s no bad blood there. But he was working as a designer for Paul Frank making a very legit salary and he has a kid and a mortgage and the only way to bring him on board (he was already responsible for 90% of our artwork so it made sense) was to make him a reasonable offer. So, we found a way to make it work, but it was a big sacrifice. He was working for a $40+ million company and here we were, a little company trying to make it month to month, trying to bring him on board.
Not a whole lot of people know this, but I never once took a paycheck from Franco. It was me making a conscious decision that we’d keep pushing Franco and one day it would blow up and at that point it would be worth the sacrifice.
So, back to Arlo. We brought Arlo on to focus on all the artwork and design. In the rollerblading world since it’s so small, you can get away with just showing folks your new line or maybe one season ahead, but in the streetwear and fashion world everyone is working at least a year ahead. So these boutique shops and retailers just won’t take you seriously if you can’t show them your upcoming lines and where you’re headed with your brand. We always pushed Arlo to get way ahead on the artwork, but he’d end up picking up slack on the distribution and every other detail that goes into an operation and than we just couldn’t get ahead on the artwork which really ended up costing us accounts and business.
The other thing is that Arlo’s work really evolved. He loved this gost/knives logo and so the look of our brand really started changing. The stores had loved what the Franco brand had been, but they didn’t really “get” where Arlo was taking things and it confused a lot of shops who ended up cancelling accounts. The reality is that Arlo wanted to be a brand company with more of a focus on artwork and I wanted a true clothing company with hands on every detail.
So Franco Shade was essentially starting to become Arlo’s artwork on T-Shirts, and shops didn’t want that. And his ideas and my ideas really weren’t meshing. Arlo is a great artist, but his knowledge is in art and rollerblading, not in streetwear. There are lots of rumors that just Arlo left us on his own, but the truth is that we all sat down as a group and made the decision to part ways so that Franco could be what it needed to be and Arlo could pursue what he wanted to do.
And at that meeting I told him that he could have the Gost brand; we weren’t going to be using it. So he’s kind of just run with that and turned it into what Gost
Classic Franco Shade, Aaron Feinberg ad
ARE YOU INVOLVED IN GOST IN ANY WAY OR IS IT TOTALLY ARLO’S THING WITH A LIFE OF ITS OWN?
No, I’m not involved in Gost at all. Not financially, not anything. Obviously Arlo has taken a lot of the same approaches as we did for Franco (like site design, etc.), but at the end of the day it was Arlo’s art and Gost is his. SO HOW ARE YOU AND ARLO NOW?
We really haven’t talked much since this all went down, but it’s not intentional. He’s really focused on doing Gost and doing his thing right now, and I’m really focused on not doing anything right now. The last 12 years have been a lot of hard work and my brain is fried… I really just need to rest for awhile. So I’ve just been traveling, playing poker on the circuit. Working on a new personal website. Also been talking with a lot of guys here and there and starting to work on some videos again to post online. And than maybe down the line I’ll want to tackle another clothing line because I really love the streetwear thing... but we’ll see. SO, YOU AND ARLO PARTED WAYS; WHAT HAPPENED NEXT? THAT WASN’T THE END OF FRANCO SHADE RIGHT THERE…
Yeah, that wasn’t the end; we brought in some new designers to help us get back on track and the new line was so good, but by then shops were getting confused with the whole “is it Franco? Is it Gost? We can’t tell…” thing. And even though we’d also picked up some new sales staff with a lot of good connections there were bigger problems.
The bigger problem was that, because of the economy taking such a hit, shops couldn’t pay us and, in turn, we just couldn’t pay for the new fall line that we had all lined up. And things just fell out from there. It’s unfortunate and it sucks, but it’s just the hand that was dealt… it wasn’t that we really did anything wrong, it’s just the timing of it all.
Classic Franco Shade ad
...ONE LAST QUESTION; YOU’VE ALWAYS BEEN PRETTY OUTSPOKEN ABOUT ROLLERBLADING; WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON ROLLING RIGHT NOW?
The folks involved in rollerblading right now are the best people for it because they’re the folks who are doing it for nothing. They’re clearly not doing it for the money. When I came into the sport in the late 90’s there was a lot of money; just an insane amount of money. Now? Not so much... You hear about folks getting paid $300/month for being a pro and… that doesn’t even pay your rent. The norm now, and it’s insane, is that most rollerbladers and people in the industry have day jobs and do rollerblading on the side. So the folks who are in the industry right now take this seriously and do it because they love it. But the money will come back. Rolling is progressing so much right now and it’s only a matter of time before it hits the spotlight again. And when that happens the folks who are paying their dues now will see the fruits of their labor and, really, they’ll deserve every penny of it.
So, I’m really excited for rollerblading! I’m still watching a lot of edits and one of the biggest things I’m just blown away by now is how cheaply kids can get such great video and editing equipment (like HD equipment that wasn’t even invented yet back when I was doing videos); and than how quickly things are edited and posted online. It’s really changed how rolling can be exposed and that’s a positive thing!COOL; WELL, THANKS SO MUCH FOR TAKING THE TIME TO DO THIS. REALLY APPRECIATED! WHATEVER YOU HAVE IN THE WORKS IN THE FUTURE, YOU KNOW HOW TO GET A HOLD OF US…
Yeah, sorry it was such a long, rambling explanation, but thanks for tracking me down and we’ll be in touch…
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