Dirk Oelmann has been a staple of the European and global rollerblading scene rollerblading scene for more than we can remember, doing design work for Be-Mag, 4X4, Nimh, Ignition and Hedonskate in the past. These days, Dirk’s in the fashion industry, but still hasn’t lost his connections to blading. Also, he does in fact still skate. We hit him up to hear what he’s been up to and to see how his experiences from the rollerblading industry transcended into his new companies EDO GOODS and Blank Garment.
Words: Josip Jagić
Photography: Courtesy of Dirk Oelmann
I’m quite impressed that you chose to get in the fashion industry through a fabric company, I’m guessing it’s a niche not explored by many. How did you decide on that?
Blank Garment isn´t really a fabric company. We started as a „white-label producer“ with a collection of basic garments. Then we offered the whole production service, including print, stitching, all kind of trimmings etc. to b2b customers. Now we do more and more design, consulting and product development for other brands. In addition to this, our clients can still buy (as b2b partner) our basics like t-shirts, sweatshirt, hoodies, etc.
What we do isn’t really a classic niche either. Our competitors are big international brands like Continental Clothing, Stanley & Stella or American Apparel and there are more and more young design agencies poping up. But so far we grow, we learn, we revise our business model year by year and we are improving our concept step by step. I think the niche we found is urban streetwear and street fashion. I believe we are one of the most authentic agencies in this sector in Germany, because this is our base, our roots, this is where we come from and where I see the connection to skating.
Is it difficult to find clients and buyers?
Actually it has never been difficult to find b2b clients, we had the luck that probably half of our clients approached us through facebook, instagram and recommendation. Or even better – starting long term business relationships with clients like Barboza Sport during a surf trip in Portugal. I think that’s the nicest way to find friends and clients.
In general it is much more difficult to find trustworthy production partners. We had some really hard times with our last partner in Poland. Luckily we quit working with them and at the same time we could add another great partner in Turkey for our network. Now everything is going very smooth.
You have a big history in rollerblading product development and design. How did working in such a small industry influence your development as a businessman and creative? From my perspective, rollerblading will keep you on your toes, making you concentrate on the small stuff and somehow forget the big picture. In business, the big picture and ambition are what drives growth in many, if not most industries?
Wow, that’s a really interesting point of view and yes I agree, but I see it in a positive way. I think you need to learn to have both, passion for details and the big picture. Both is important and you need to control every part of your business. When you grow too fast with too little experience and not being ready with the details you make a lot of mistakes and might loose a lot.
After a few years of self employment and now working together with my girlfriend as an agency, I learned to make bigger plans. Anyhow it is very important to have small daily targets which are easy to achieve.
What I learned from rollerblading is to stand up when you fall and try again, but if you try too hard you hurt your self. I also believe that businesses or economy is not made to grow endlessly. My target was never to become the biggest player on the market. I find more freedom and joy in the idea of doing a good, fair, sustainable business which is limited in growth. I prefer to have less things then everything. I don´t need a car, me and my girlfriend prefere to bike. I don´t need a house and I don´t need a big LED TV. Elisa and me prefer good food and well made products. I´d rather support my friends or local brands and buy products from them instead of supporting big global brands, just because it is easy.
If this is the resume, being happy about the small things in life, supporting your local dealer, then I am super happy about rollerblading teaching me those values.
With you having worked for Be-Mag, Vicious, 4X4, Nimh, Ignition and Hedonskate, how do you feel about the current state of rollerblading? On the one hand, it’s more diverse and exciting than it was for years, and on the other, it’s like we’re growing creatively and differentiating within ourselves, not expanding into other cultures? I believe.
(I’m lying here though, Michael Stein is one of the most known rollerbladers now, for his work on the Stranger Things soundtrack.)
Also, why do you think there’s no more clothing companies? There was a distinct time in rollerblading, and I think it was the few years before the collapse of Rat Tail ,that the fashions in rollerblading were diverse and exciting… we’ve had Rat Tail brands that shared a similar esthetic but were still standalone, and we had Ucon and some others…
First of all the whole fashion industry is in a serious crisis. It’s changing rapidly, everyone is copying each other and fast fashion companies dominate and ruin the market. They produce cheap, good and extremely fast. There is so much competition and it’s extremely hard to find your market. On the other hand there are many young creative brands who have found their niche and they target their fans on FB and intagram and youtube very well.
I guess the problem for rollerblading is that it is almost too small and too diverse. One is rock´n roll, the next is fashionable skater and the other is brit-rock or maybe rap inspired…there is no rollerblade look anymore (I personally think that’s good), so it’s hard for a rollerblading brand to find it’s visual identity and to find enough buyers to make a living.
How is it that we didn’t inherit at least a stronger visual language from that time? Only The Blackjack Project has it’s own direction it’s going in now, with Brigade coming in second?
I guess the sport is simply too small and has to little financial power to support more then the brands we have right now. So every clothing brand which started as a rollerblade brand and has ambitions to grow as a brand necessarily needs to find other customers outside of the rollerblade world. Like Ucon did, at some point they had to leave rollerblading. I think no brand will survive if it just focuses on rollerblading. For me thats totally ok.
A lot of rollerbladers, such as yourself, went into other venues, and Berlin is specific for rollerbladers working different creative industries and making their names known. Who are those people and what do they do? Drop some names, we want to know.
Well that’s exactly the point, that we simply don´t know about those people. It happens so many times to me, that I met someone at a party and we start talking and then it turns out that he used to skate. My former flat mate is Techno DJ now and he used to skate in Paris. His French friends moved also to Berlin and do big electro parties over here. All of them used to skate. Then I met a rollerblader at the bowl in Berlin who was my age and it turned out that he is running a super successful start up…so many guys have the same background and it’s a pity that we don´t know how much creative stuff successfull people rollerblade created.
Along with your core business, you’ve recently launched EDOgoods. You say it’s not strictly rollerblading related, but it’s not unrelated, as you still rollerblade and it’s a part of who you are. With EDO as a creative outlet for you as a designer, what do you look for in EDO, what do you hope to make of it?
My girlfriend and I started EDO a year ago, because we had the chance to use some leftover materials from our fabric supplier. We thought it would be a pity to trash all this nice material. Beside our work for other brands we saw the chance to create our own brand for our creative output. With EDO we want to work as free as possible and try new stuff. This year we got inspired by a japanese poem „Eine Gruppe Sommerbäume. Ein Streifen Meer. Ein blasser Abendmond“ from Kobori Enshû. Based on that Haiku we created the hole design concept like the logo, the „water“ all over print and we decided to work with harmonic color combinations instead of black and white logo print designs. But our next collection might look completely differently. We don´t want to limit our creativity, we just want to do what we like to do. No seasons, no pressure, no deadlines.
And you still skate.
Yes I skate since 1994.
Who with and where?
With David Voges, Bart Laubsch, Dominik Wagner, Karsten Boysen, from time to time with Jonas, Gideon, Jurek.
Does your body punish you for falling?
Since i had a few knee surgeries, on both knees, I was mainly skating bowl the last 2-3 years. But a bowl clip would be way to boring so I decided to film some streetspots in my neighborhood and it was a lot of fun to go back to street.
Don’t forget to grab an item from the EDO webshop and use be_edo_feb for a blader discount.
And now check out Dirk skating.