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Vivien Feil & Soy Panday – Magenta Interview

Out of their own Microcosme, as their first video was named, Vivien Feil and Soy Panday started Magenta in 2010 to make „worldwide connections“. Contact points are crews in New York, San Francicso, Japan or Australia and despite a rather refusing attitude in performance the tender plant rises above the french borders in the twinkling of an eye and belongs to those who bring Europe back onto the map and cater for a change in skateboarding.

This summer the company from Bordeaux celebrates its fifth birthday and we wanted to know how it feels when the humble plans you once made in your living room suddenly start attracting attention all over the world. Well, we called into that living room and found two gentlemen full of childish ease who have a rather easygoing view on the business side of skateboarding.

What was the reason to start Magenta? Was there something missing?
~ Soy: The reason was to do something. And it’s a fun thing to do. There wasn’t really something missing. Your point is always missing, cause it’s your point. But that doesn’t mean the world is missing it.
~ Vivien: I went to Asia for seven months to refresh and came back to see what’s possible. I’ve seen seven people die on a motorcycle in India, so everything is possible. I came back and asked Soy and my brother.
~ S: For me it was entirely my bad ankles. [laughs] I haven’t been able to skate as much as I wanted. That was a nice way to compensate it.

What did it need to start Magenta?
~ V: Some money of course and being able to solve problems. Whatever comes in your way, you have to deal with it.

Did you have a clear vision of where you wanna go with your company?
~ S: We actually had no idea if we would even manage to really start the production of the boards. We did the first two seasons in one production and didn’t know if we were alive after that. It’s funny to think back to that time when we were sitting in my room and talked about, if we should start a company and in which direction it should go?
~ V: If you make big plans you always end up subordinating everything else and try to force it into the big thing. You want to make it happen.
~ S: It’s a bit more freestyle over here.
~ V: With the time you get preorders and then you have to do it a little less freestyle, but when you do a skateboard company, what long term plans can you have? It changes so fast. When you have a skateboard company that lasted five years, that’s the longest plan you could have.

Vivien Feil – Crooked Grind

Vivien Feil – Crooked Grind

Is there a certain time span for a skate company? How long can a company be fresh and stay relevant?
~ S: It’s easier to be relevant when you are starting. You don’t think about it too much. You just do what you want to do and money doesn’t really come to your mind.
~ V: When you are doing something for a long time it gets normal. You get tired and you’re not really into it anymore, I guess. It’s just your job. But then you lose the magic about it. You have to care for it.
~ S: It’s pretty much the same for skateboarders as well. They are the most on point when they are completely unknown. That’s when you see the passion the most. The career or whatever you wanna call it takes it a bit away.
~ V: If you sell your passion you devalue it slowly. Nobody wants to see someone doing his job. So I guess in order to stay relevant you have to take yourself not too serious. And don’t think it’s your job or your career and worry about income or whatever. It’s a business of passion. Skateboarding is a passion. If it’s not passionate no one will care.

Was there a point when you realized that Magenta is getting big?
~ S: I guess when we were in Los Angeles on that trade show. I’ve never been to any skateboarding trade shows before. I’ve always been in my apartment working on stuff and had no idea what’s going on. And all of sudden we’ve been inside of this massive trade show with all these big companies, half of the dudes are millionaires and somehow they know your company and they know what you are doing. That was just a drastic change of your environment, from being in your apartment in Bordeaux where you just see your friends. We don’t sell big numbers of boards and we don’t make a lot of money. And then you go there and you just step into a completely different world and some millionaires are talking to you.
~ V: We always distributed the brand through Josh Stewart in the US. But it’s not like that we are in the mailorders there. That’s where the huge numbers are. Those are really big! Like 400 stores for some of them, mall style. Nothing compared to european mailorders. So in the US we only sell to core shops and in the most other countries as well. Germany is a bit different.

"Skateboarding is a passion. If it’s not passionate no one will care"

Recently I went to a skate shop and didn’t see any big US-brands on the wall, but only Polar, Palace, Magenta, brands like this. So it seems you have grown bigger than the „big players“.
~ S: The shop you went was probably a core shop, but there are not as many of them. It’s not the majority of shops. And the big US-companies sell to every shop in the US. Mailorders and everything. The big profit is there and this is what makes them rich. It’s bad for them not to be in those core european shops but their main concern is to be in CCS pretty much.

Are there certain regions in the world where Magenta is more successful than in others?
~ V: Japan, the US, UK. Germany were actually our first international distribution. Germany is doing good. That’s pretty much it. Australia is doing pretty good as well. A few to South America. And yeah France of course. Oh, we are actually doing pretty good. [laughs]

Ben Gore – Nosebonk

Ben Gore – Nosebonk

While the company was growing, were there some mistakes you made?
~ V: I prefer not to mention that. [laughs] Of course a lot went wrong. It depends what your goal is. If your goal is to make a lot of money, then there are bad business decisions. If your goal is to be completely true to yourself, there is some stuff you could have done better. Nothing is perfect. Nobody does not fuck up at some point. But you have to expect mistakes. There is a statistic which says, that three out of ten decisions you make are shitty. There is no way around it.

Was there a point where some investors wanted to get into Magenta?
~ V: Yeah, some people came but so far we haven’t even discussed it. We just said that we’re not into it. But it wasn’t a super serious offer like: „I’ll give you a million dollars.“
~ S: We’ve never sat on a table with a suitcase full of cash.

But did you refuse money where you could have made more?
~ V: Sure, we could be in the mall market where the real money in the US is. But we decided not to go there.
~ S: That’s formulated pretty funny. „That’s where the money is, so we decided not to go there.“ Smart guys! Really smart. [laughs]
~ V: It’s more complicated than that, because if you go there, they own your company. You get asked to produce this many things and if they back up then you’re dead.
~ S: You sell there as much as a the rest of your sales.
~ V: They can dictate you, that you have to do demos and so on. Everybody knows
~ S: If you taste too much money you gonna get too used to it. If you sell to them and they ask for something, you never gonna say no, because you made so much money. Sippin the champaign and shit… [laughs] You’re just like, these guys can do whatever they want. The human nature is pretty weak.

Soy, you told me in another interview, that you’re not really richer than you were at the start of Magenta. Where does all the money go? Because I think you guys make well profit.
~ V: Well, not very much. [laughs] You have to pay rent, pay trips, pay every contributer, pay the people for the website, the people who do the sales.
~ S: And the margins we make are really shit. Also because we make our boards in America and we wanted to choose that factory. You choose something for the qualitiy and our margins pretty much don’t exist.
~ V: Basically we try to do other stuff with the little money we can make. Make something more or doing another project. We’re definitely not sitting on a lot of cash. But this was never the goal.

Glen Fox – Backside Powerslide

Glen Fox – Backside Powerslide

Is Magenta meanwhile a full time job?
~ V: No, we both have another job as well. I’m team manager of adidas France.
~ S: And I work for the fashion week in Paris. That pays the rent. The rest of the time that we are not working, we are out skating.

How does a typical day at the office look like?
~ V: Today we went to eat on a roof. [laughs] This is where we usually dine. [Vivien shows an instagram picture] We have a friend who does the sales, so I usually do a lot of e-mails, do some video editing and then I come to Soy’s place.
~ S: I still work from my apartment mostly. Usually I’m either drawing board graphics or I’m working on catalogues or I’m trying to find ideas.
~ V: And then you go skate when you can go skate. There isn’t really a schedule. I got two kids, too, so usually that comes to it, as well.

But you don’t have to pack the boxes and do the shipping out of your office?
~ V: My brother takes care of the warehouse in Strasbourg. We just talk to shops and stuff through the office.

I mentioned that there are some worldwide successful euro brands nowadays. Why you think is there none from Germany?
~ S: Lousy Livin’ is pretty well known.

Yeah, but they are doing underwear. [laughing]
~ S: But that’s smart. Who doesn’t need underwear?

True, I wear some Lousy underwear right now.
~ V: Me too! Lousy Livin’ worldwide man! In general it’s pretty rare for a skateboard company to come out of Europe and be internationally known. Apart from France, Sweden and England there are no countries with more widely known skate brands. It’s probably gonna be easier for us in France because there were Cliché and Antiz before. A lot of other brands where you knew the people and they have already done it. Same with England. Heroin, they build a history before. Once you have a history, it is always easier to build on something.

"Of course people today are doing wallies at night and shit but 99% of them are still trying to prove some shit"

Polar has it’s DIY style, Palace has the VHS style and you guys came with this „anti-banger-skating“. Is it important to have your own corporate identity to be successful?
~ S: I think so… You definitely need something that people can recognize you for. As a skateboarder as well. If someone stands out, if you recognize someone just from the clothes or how they stand on the board, you can identify him in between a second. It’s gonna stay in your memory.
~ V: The filming style and all that is important, as well. You shouldn’t have only one style, but a general spirit, so people can actually know that it’s you.
~ S: If you start something, your outlook is different then the outlook of the majority, cause most people don’t start a company and then they wanna see through the eyes of the people who started the stuff. It’s a pretty rare point of view.

Isn’t there also a risk if you have a certain style? Cause the taste in skateboarding changes quickly and then the company could be gone.
~ V: I think the biggest risk is just that you lose your passion. If you’re not careful that your shit is not boring, then it turns to shit. So you gonna get stuck in the style and don’t have any ideas anymore.
~ S: If people don’t like it and don’t want that style it’s out of your reach. You’re not gonna change because of that.
~ V: We are coming from outside the skateboarding industry. Our outlook is not to look if people like it or not.
~ S: You can’t really look for others. Just because it’s impossible.
~ V: The people have all rights to say that they like this more or that. I’m not gonna like some crazy type of hammer where he’s almost killing himself because other people like it. I just plain don’t like it.
~ S: The stuff someone likes is always changing from time to time. People like baggy pants and then they like tight pants. It’s a little bit of a game. I still dress the same I did two years ago.
~ V: Of course people today are doing wallies at night and shit but 99% of them are still trying to prove some shit. To me that’s not even us. That’s not really what we are talking about. Just the form looks kinda the same. This are still people trying to prove themselves somehow. But you don’t have to prove anything. You don’t have to be the coolest and doing wallies. Even though it maybe looks the same but that’s not the spirit. Most people in skateboarding are trying to prove that they are better than some other guy. That’s still what I see a lot and now they prove it with wallies.

Jimmy Lannon – Nosewheeling

Jimmy Lannon – Nosewheeling

What do you think about having such a big impact in how skateaboarding looks today?
~ V: First of all, we don’t see it! We are in fucking France, we have no idea. [laughs]

But you see it in the videos… the Magenta style.
~ S: Ok, you can see it a little bit but you can’t realize it. It’s a bit strange. You see that some stuff is influenced by this or that. They have a little bit of Magenta, a little bit of Polar, a little bit of Palace and it gets a bit mixed up. Same for the graphics of the most companies. A little bit of Magenta, a little bit of Polar, a little bit of Palace. You can see that but at the same time you don’t really see it.

Which things from the last five years Magenta make you proud?
~ S: We did some good guest boards with guest artists.
~ V: But in general just the good times with meeting all the great people. Josh Stewart, Takahiro Morita, Ben Gore. And just finding ourselfes through the company in really interesting situations.
~ S: Yeah, all the people that have been motivated to come and advanced it.

After the five year celebration, whats planned?
~ S: Straight to the 6th year!
~ V: Six year celebration!

Besides that, what’s up next on your schedule?
~ V: We’re probably gonna do a video. Do we, hm?
~ S: Hmm.
~ V: And then we have other projects. We are working on some more clothing, better clothing. Good shit! And then we gonna go to Switzerland, to London, the UK, so we got a bunch of tours. Trying to skate, trying to make some nice videos.

Taking about filming videos. What obligations do Magenta teamriders have?
~ V: Well, not many. [laughs] Just do their thing, just skate. Just be passionate about skating and feel good on your skateboard. Do what they wanna do, when they pick up their skateboard. So no demos pretty much ever, so not many obligations. We support them to do their own thing. Go on trips and stuff. But it’s not like that we’re telling them to do this or that.
~ S: It’s also not like, get somewhere, get in the van and stuff.
~ V: Being a pro skater is not a real job. No companies these days gonna pay you millions when you do anything else than going to contests. If you don’t do contests and demos and stuff, no one is gonna pay you.
~ S: Be free and do what you want and usually that’s what these people wanna do, you know. Like Jimmy’s (Lannon) part in Headcleaner. He was passionate about it and wanted to do that, it came out of a project that is not even related to Magenta.
~ V: You like skateboarding at first when you’re young, where you don’t wanna have job. So it’s actually crazy that kids look up to guys who are actually in chains and are just employees. If a pro skater can’t be free in society who the fuck can. [laughs] It’s kinda about to keep that dream alive. That skaters are people that can do whatever the fuck we wanna do. Which is art…

"It’s kinda about to keep that dream alive. That skaters are people that can do whatever the fuck we wanna do"

You said, you don’t wanna go to the malls where the money is. And your teamriders, your employees so to say, can do whatever they want. That sounds like a pretty curious plan…
~ V: It’s a business plan where you are prepared to not make a lot of money. If you do a real business plan, you already know where you’re going because so many people have done it. So what’s the point of living when you already know where you’re going? What’s the point of re-living something what somebody has already done and you already see where it takes you? It wouldn’t be that fun.

Yeah, it seems like you guys have a lot of fun, but is there one fear you have as an owner of a skateboard company?
~ V: Yeah, of course. But it’s the same with any business. How many businesses last realisticly ten years or twenty years? Not many. Do you fear a lot, Soy?
~ S: Not really.
~ V: No one knows what happens. We have fun now and we do the things we wanna do. So it’s pretty good.

Yeah, that’s the best approach…
~ S: If it doesn’t last, you can do something else after anyway.
~ V: I guess that’s more important. If you just take the money, you know where it takes you. You’ve seen so many people choosing this and it takes you to making decisions you don’t wanna make. Spending your life with that is useless. It’s pretty hard to find someone who made decisions because of money and didn’t end up being bummed.

Would you kill Magenta, if you realized at some point, that you’re no longer doing what you wanted to do at first?
~ S: We would change the direction.
~ V: That’s the good point about being independent. We can do whatever we really want.
~ S: It starts already when someone is controlling a part of the company and you think you’re on the wrong way, with graphics or anything, and the business man says you have to do it, cause it’s successful.
~ V: Most companies are business oriented people who deal with fucking banks that loan money. So they tell you: „You don’t like how the things are but we make money out of it, so you just gonna do this.“ So if you’re really independent, you don’t have to ask for permission to anyone to change things. The mistakes we made were motivated by our own. If it sucks it’s us… I think companies go back also because either people get burned because it’s too much work, or it’s not the stuff they wanna do anymore. Or it’s because they have gone into a cycle with all these plans and stuff they have to do, because they own people money, and can’t really move.
~ S: But it’s pretty hard to see your own company from the outside. It’s hard to see how people perceive you.

Ben Gore – Kickflip

Ben Gore – Kickflip

Were there some haters along the way of Magenta?
~ V: For sure! But you just laugh about it, I guess. [laughs] „That’s nice that you took the time to think about me, but I fucking don’t care.“ But it’s understandable, too. Most of the hating was concentrated at first because the culture of skateboarding was so performance driven and so into proving yourself with this sporty approach. You had to do a complicate trick and you had to impress. Our skating was more relaxed and everybody can do it. Well, yeah they don’t, they choose to fucking jump over a fucking building for some reason. So people were telling, „You’re not doing something really difficult!“ And I was like, „Well yeah, that’s the point“. [laughs]
~ S: And also everyone has it’s own angle to look at things. If you’re complete opposite you cannot understand each other. You don’t get it. Some people see their whole life as a competition and that’s everything they know. If there is something in skateboarding and it’s not popular, people ask you, „What’s wrong with you guys?“. But you can’t blame them for that. Cause you also have your own perspective. You also gonna hate on something.
~ V: [sings] Everybody hates sometimes. [laughs] That’s what human nature is like. Unless your’e a saint but everybody talks shit sometimes.
~ S: It’s pretty funny too. Reading shit about your own company in a way that is actually funny.
~ V: It’s also a reason why we could tell that it went maybe a bit more influencable when you see people lose their shit about your skate company. And you’re like, „Oh I didn’t know it matters that much.“ [laughs] Like matters of life and death. You would put your life on the line. [laughs]
~ S: „We should ban the company. This thing should not exist!“ [laughs]
~ V: People get always super serious online and write fucking essays or something. Like, „Mum, I can’t come to dinner, I have to say this right now.“ And they invest a whole night.
~ S: Maybe it’s like medicine to them. We are the reason they don’t have cancer.