Published in Plaid Magazine Online, April 2012
Photos provided by Element
What do running a business and skateboarding have in common? They should both be “progressive, pure, and dangerous, but do it with style and have fun” says Element founder, Johnny Schillereff, whose vision is not only inspired by skateboarding, but art, music, and fashion as well.
Schillereff wanted his brand to be all encompassing and appeal to different people. “Why set limits?” he asks. As an outdoorsy guy, a break-dancer, a skateboarder, and a fan of hip hop and punk rock, Schillereff understands that his supporters have an eclectic mix of interests just like him, and so he strives to represent these differences through his multiple apparel brands and Element’s skateboarding team. “I wanted to have team riders that represented all walks of life and all different cultures,” he says.
Being part of a youth culture that is based on breaking-down barriers has influenced Schillereff’s light-hearted and forward-thinking approaches to his business. “Element, and its universal nature, was an opportunity for me to present a limitless alternative…Embrace change. I think this is one of the most exciting parts of life and I think that this is also the connection between youth culture and business. Our industry was built on change, risk, and standing apart from the masses.”
Originally called Underworld Element (as the first incarnation of Element in 1991), the clothing was known for its “unique graffiti and raw street vibe,” but unfortunately that vibe diminished. Schillereff decided to revamp the brand he loved, and simply called it “Element.”
“Alone, the word was defined as one of four substances – wind, water, fire, and earth – they make up the physical universe. I began to realize the power the word had. Element is universal. The scope it holds is infinite. I immediately took ownership and responsibility of Element and set out to rebuild and reinvent the brand around these principles. I believe the first corner stone was coming up with the logo. The tree represents growth and endurance. Merging the logo with the name, Element, embodies something positive and universal that people from all walks of life can identify with,” says Schillereff of the brand image he has worked hard to cultivate.
Element Eden (a womenswear line introduced in 1999) was a trailblazing move for the brand, coming at a time when women weren’t as visible in the world of board sports. Element Eden’s story is one of inclusion; originally created by Schillereff’s wife, Kori, the line began as a merging of skateboarding sensibilities with style. Eden Advocates – influential women ranging from filmmakers to social activists to athletes – assist in raising the brand’s profile.
Most recently the brand launched Element Emerald, an eco-conscious collection of men’s apparel and footwear. The name Emerald was chosen to evoke the highest level of green, as a progression of Element’s increased quality and environmental awareness.
And the action doesn’t stop there. Their non-profit organization, Elemental Awareness, encourages youth to develop social and environmental awareness while establishing self-confidence in themselves as leaders. Special initiatives include educational programming at the Element YMCA Camp, the “Changing Lives Through Skateboarding” program which provides shoes and boards to children in need, and contributions to after-school programs and workshops.
With Emerald’s eco-conscious attitude, Eden’s commitment to advocacy, and a broad community outreach, Element continues to make a positive difference all while adhering to its non-conformist and inclusive nature. With Element, the possibilities are endless.
“This industry, it was built on non-conformity and taking risks,” Schillereff notes. “If you keep that attitude, you’ll always flourish. We plan to continue growing. You should never stop growing. I don’t just mean growth in size. I mean growth in how we think and run our business, learning each day and using that knowledge to make Element a healthier business and limitless place to work.”