DAZED DIGITAL INTERVIEW: How a local skate company became hip hop’s go-to brand
Posted on 02 February 2017
In 1998, then in his early 20s, skateboarder Nick Diamond built a business plan on the invention of a skateboard bolt that he believed would revolutionise the industry. It didn’t – but in the process, he created a cult-like universe that was home to the best skaters in the world, collected co-signs from hip-hop stars such as Odd Future, and was given a golden thumbs-up from an online community of loyal sneaker obsessives (thanks, in part, to a viral Nike Dunk collab) who rallied around Diamond and his eponymous brand, Diamond Supply Co, for the long haul.
Born in San Francisco, Diamond’s success has its roots in his family tree – “My mum used to surf and my uncle would skateboard,” he tells me when we meet in Paris. He’s in the French capital to celebrate his birthday with a huge party at the nefarious nightspot, Les Bains, as well as his new foray into the European market, 20 years after Diamond Supply Co launched. “We’ve had Diamond in Europe but on such a small level,” he explains. “When we ship it here, we give it to a distributor, they do their mark-ups, give it to the stores... and for us to make a good enough margin, it just ends up being really expensive to buy here.” But 2017 marks the opening of Diamond’s European HQ, in Barcelona, and the inevitable expansion of the brand’s customer base which, impressively, spans the worlds of skateboarding, streetwear and hip hop.
Diamond’s career was set on course when he was given a plastic skateboard at the age of four, but it truly kicked in when he started working for a local skate brand. “I would design things for them and they would always do well, so I just thought, ‘Why not do my own thing?’” he recalls. He founded Diamond Supply Co, a name he borrowed from Sade’s 80s hit “Smooth Operator”, where the Nigerian-born songstress croons “Diamond life” on its opening line. While working on his bolt design, Diamond began to sell t-shirts, hats and stickers that featured a hand-drawn logo, the now infamous diamond. After three years, the bolt failed to bring success, but Diamond was far from disheartened. The apparel he had been designing took inspiration from brands that he and his friends were wearing – Polo, Tommy Hilfiger and Nautica – and quickly enraptured customers looking for an alternative to the cliched LA skater look. “I was always into fashion and we were dressing how people who weren’t skaters dressed – we just happened to ride boards,” he explains. But the fact that he was self-funding it meant he struggled to keep up with the brand’s early cult following, with shirts selling out almost instantaneously and leaving a huge gap before the next drop. By now, he had begun to sell basic skate hardware packages and signed all his mates – who happened to be the best pro skaters in the world – to the brand’s team roster. With shelf space dedicated to Diamond Supply Co in Supreme’s first NYC store, along with veteran shops such as San Fran’s FTC, Diamond quickly carved out a solid footing in the skate world. However, when a Nike collaboration in 2005 came his way, it would acquaint him with an entirely powerful market – the hype beast.
“Tyler (the Creator) would help us pack boxes. I didn’t even realize he was a rapper at the time!” – Nick Diamond
Diamond dreamed up a souped-up Dunk, customised in Tiffany & Co blue with black alligator pannelling, a silver Swoosh and a Diamond emblazoned on its tongue. When the first prototype came back from Nike, he posted a photo of it on his Myspace and it went viral. “The picture was on all these sneaker blogs with thousands of comments. I was like, ‘Holy shit!’ I had never seen anything like that before – the hype of it,” he remembers. It was another year until the Dunk was released – which only increased the hysteria surrounding it. On the day it dropped, Diamond’s star power catapulted. “All of a sudden, people outside of skateboarding knew what Diamond was,” he recalls. Getting a glimpse of the pull of the streetwear world – Diamond logged on to online sneaker forums such as Hypebeast and Sole Collector, and quickly found himself among a community of die-hards with whom he could share ideas, new designs and drop dates. In return, the streetwear community welcomed him and, in 2006, when he opened the doors of his first flagship store on Fairfax Avenue, queues stretched down the block. “Those forums were monumental for Diamond (Supply Co) because we built a community of kids that would buy all of our shit, selling it out, and that just made Diamond seem like it was insane,” explains Diamond. “Other brands would be like, ‘How do you do it?’ And I just said, ‘I talk to the kids – I have a community. That’s what it is.’”
As his streetwear cred soared, he planted his foot squarely in another huge community: hip hop. In a music genre where expensive cars, clothes and jewellery are counted as a person’s stock, a brand with a diamond as its logo was a no-brainer. “In the early days of Diamond, I had local DJ and rapper friends who were big in our community in San Francisco. I would just give them Diamond shirts and they’d wear them,” says Diamond. “That was the whole thing back then – hot boys and talking about diamonds and bling.” Later on, a then-relatively unknown hip-hop collective called Odd Future started hanging out at the brand’s Fairfax Avenue store and its members, Tyler, the Creator and Taco, would frequently post videos of themselves online, messing about in and outside of its front. “Tyler would help us pack boxes. I didn’t even realise he was a rapper at the time!” laughs Diamond. “People knew they fucked with Diamond ’cos of the videos of them in the store. The did a big showcase in New York and the next day I got calls from Diddy and Rick Ross and everyone in the music industry. When Rick called me and I was with Tyler randomly in the store, and Tyler wouldn’t even talk to him. I was like, ‘Are you crazy?’”
The friendship with Odd Future continued as did further musical co-signs. From P Diddy to New Orleans-born rapper Curren$y, who pledged allegiance with continued Diamond collaborations, and Wiz Khalifa and Taylor Gang, who repped the brand in the music video for Khalifa’s career-launching track, “Black and Yellow”. “In the early years of the Fairfax streetwear scene, Wiz and Curren$y were the new up-and-coming guys and they were all rocking Diamond – they were really important to the kids into streetwear at the time. When Rick Ross started blowing up, he was all-Diamond-everything in his videos. He came into the store randomly when we first opened. He was going through the shirts and telling the store guys all the stuff that he already owned that he got in some store in Miami. Then he bought everyone chicken wings and hung out for like two hours, just talking – he was stoked.”
While the brand’s credentials in hip hop and streetwear were cemented (and certified gold), Diamond has never forgotten the community where it all started, and skating is just as important to Diamond Supply Co as it ever was. Its team roster is now home to more than 100 of skate’s biggest names, including all its OGs – Greg Lutzka, Eric Koston and Paul Rodriguez – as well as new-gen names such as Boo Johnson, whose pro shoe will launch with Diamond Supply Co this year. For a brand that is still owner-fronted, to keep themselves relevant and authentic in three of the most influential and youth-beloved worlds – streetwear, skateboarding and hip-hop – there are surely a lot of plates to spin? But Diamond is unfazed: “We’ve been doing the same thing, running and operating the same way for almost 20 years. Even when Diamond wasn’t making any money for years and years, people would be like, ‘You still wanna do this?’ And it was all I cared about, it’s all I wanted to do. Obvously, we need money to keep the business going, but it was always just about designing new stuff and skateboarding and just having a good time.”Via Dazed