LOS ANGELES – Nick Tershay has a boyish grin that spreads across his face when you get him talking about something he’s excited about — like Diamond Supply Co.’s start, skateboarding, punk rock and sneakers.
There’s plenty for the founder and owner of Diamond Supply to be amped about. The company rings in 20 years in business in November with Tershay (aka Nick Diamond) back at the helm of the business and creative endeavors — feeding designs for the brand’s 26 annual drops — after a three-year hiatus. A collection bearing the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat launches Saturday at the company’s stores and online shop, serving as the latest in a series of anniversary collaborations.
The brand, which doesn’t disclose sales, has been rooted in skateboarding. Yet, it’s managed a trick not every label can achieve: gain relevance among fans of hip-hop, rap, sneaker collecting and streetwear, all while retaining that core skater.
It’s a sticking point he and the rest of his team — about 50 companywide — recognize has kept Diamond Supply in business with a brand DNA that is an extension and amalgamation of everything that is Tershay, who has never been confined or burdened with the idea of singularity to any one scene or subculture.
“I grew up as a skateboarder but I was into clothes. In the early Nineties I was really into the whole Nautica, Polo, Tommy Hilfiger craze. I was a little punk rocker, skater kid,” Tershay said. “I’ve always collected Jordans, Nikes, Pumas, Adidas and most skateboarders weren’t really into that because they skated in their Vans or Airwalks. We would go to the skate spot and I’d always have a backpack because I’d take the bus. Once I got off my board, I’d put on my Jordans and I’d be on the bus in my Jordans and my skate shoes would be in my backpack because I wanted to be fresh.”
Tershay, back from a round of traveling, sat in the company’s Los Angeles headquarters to reflect on 20 years in business and perhaps 20 more. Here, an edited version of the conversation.
WWD: Before we talk about you being in business for 20 years, you’ve got the 13th anniversary of Diamond’s Nike SB collaboration, which was in itself a turning point for you. What was the significance of that first collaboration and what are you doing with them now?
Nick Tershay: In 2005, when we dropped the Nike Diamond Dunk SB, it just created a frenzy in the whole sneaker industry. It’s when Nike SB was first starting to blow up and Diamond was just starting to get known in skateboarding. It had a really unique colorway and it just blew up the whole Internet. Everyone was crazy for these sneakers. So when they came out, it just propelled our brand into another world of fans — sneakerheads and streetwear people — instead of just being a skate brand, which was incredible.
Then over the years we adopted the whole streetwear/sneakerhead fan for Diamond. In 2013, we dropped another Nike collab. Same thing. Everyone went crazy and it sold out within seconds. And, now, 2018 is our 13-year anniversary of the first one and we’re dropping more Nikes at the end of the year.
WWD: Did you ever see the business becoming what it is today?
N.T.: Initially, no. I started in 1998 as a small skateboard/hardware company. We were making T-shirts, hats, sweatshirts and skateboard nuts and bolts and then started making skateboard bearings and griptape and other skateboard accessories. I never really imagined it turning into a full apparel and footwear line and accessories and everything that we do now, but it was a gradual transition into that over 20 years so now we literally make everything.
WWD: When you look at the business landscape today, would you say it’s easier or more difficult to start a business than it was when you started Diamond?
N.T.: Oh, it’s 1,000 percent easier to start a company than back in the day. When I started Diamond, the only marketing I could depend on was giving my friends, who were pro-skaters, T-shirts and stickers to put on their boards so that every month hopefully they’d be in something like a Thrasher magazine or a TransWorld Skateboard wearing that. Other than that, it was just getting shops to support us and sending out free stickers. There was no social media. It was real grassroots.
Now, you can just sit on your phone and market stuff or get stuff made. It’s way easier for brands to blow up. Get one viral video and the whole world sees your brand, right?
WWD: As someone at the head of a heritage brand does that add stressors to your job?
N.T.: No, I was just like them; I’m just a different age. I love seeing young creatives out there trying to do something. Most of my friends, when I was a kid, ended up not doing anything. We just rode around on our skateboards, smoked weed and drank 40s. We were a bunch of punks. Nowadays, kids skate and I feel like a huge percentage are trying to make T-shirts or sell something. They can even do sponsored posts on social media and make money. It makes me feel like, damn, I wish I started in this time. It would have been a lot easier than 20 years of grinding — well, the first 10 for sure was a pretty hard grind to get to where I got the brand.
WWD: Did you learn as you went or were you surrounded by entrepreneurs?
N.T.: I just learned from other people in the industry — friends that had skate companies. I was a sponsored skater, all my friends were sponsored by skate companies and I thought it’d be cool to start a skate company where we could all be on the same team. I wanted to make skateboard bolts so all my friends could ride for the same company.
I wasn’t starting the company to make money. That wasn’t even on my mind. Things were different back then. Different mentality.
It’s a new generation. People aren’t going to think like that. What a company was back in the Nineties is completely different than what someone thinks of one now. I just wanted to make cool stuff and I wanted my friends to have cool stuff.
Maybe that’s why we’ve been in business for 20 years because people understand it’s a real brand and we’re trying to do something that has some sort of meaning.
WWD: Are there up-and-coming brands you find interesting?
N.T.: I really just look at the old brands that I grew up with. All the new brands, I feel like they’re making the same stuff, but it’s fine because that’s their fan base. Their fan base are young kids that are just like the kids making these brands. It’s just different. I’m way older and the stuff that I make is probably a lot different just because of what I’ve been into, but I don’t really look at anybody else that I’m excited about.
WWD: If everyone’s doing the same thing, then is it even possible nowadays for a brand to blow up and get to levels like $1 billion or even $500 million?
N.T.: I think so but not in regular, old school retail. Look at Supreme. Supreme is doing those types of numbers but online and in their own retail stores. It’s all hype, right? It’s a different market. It’s hard to see if a brand’s going to sell to retail stores and then make that type of money or impact because kids don’t want that. They want things that they think are limited even if they’re not. Expensive and limited is what kids want. They want the perceived value.
WWD: So have you tried or will you test raising Diamond’s price point?
N.T.: We’ve actually lowered it.
WWD: And what’s been the response?
N.T.: It’s fine; it’s the same. I just felt like raising the prices doesn’t make sense because I’m not trying to steer away from our customer. Most of our customers are skaters. I feel like a lot of the other brands, it’s more of the fashion kids buying it. We’re the perfect price point for what we are. I don’t need to go higher.
WWD: It’s been interesting to watch the higher-end streetwear brands’ convergence with the traditional luxury players. What do you make of all that?
N.T.: They’re all streetwear now. If I go to Saint Laurent or Dior or Gucci or Louis or any of those stores, the designs are not much different than what all the streetwear brands have been doing forever. Certain kids that are more about fashion would rather go spend, say $2,000, on a Louis Vuitton jacket and look cool because they have this Louis Vuitton jacket, than spend $2,000 on a couple hundred T-shirts from a streetwear brand. No one’s going to be tripping off of their $30 T-shirts as much as them having this expensive jacket that makes them feel special.
For a brand like us, we’re just staying in our lane and we’re not trying to chase this whole luxury phase. We’re just doing what we’ve always done. People like it, so why change it?
WWD: So, do you see an end point in sight for this luxury phase?
N.T. : It’s hard to say. People are making more money these days, it seems, because I don’t know how they’re able to afford this stuff. Even when I’m on Fairfax [Avenue], I see a kid walking down the street and he has on his Louis Vuitton backpack, Gucci sweatpants, his Yeezys that are some limited ones that if he didn’t buy them retail they’re probably $1,000 and then some Balenciaga jacket. When I was a kid, I couldn’t afford one of those things so where are they getting their money?
WWD: Right, how many beds had to be made to earn that kind of money.
N.T.: It’s insane. I don’t understand where the money’s coming from — well, resellers. A lot of kids are just buying stuff and then reselling it.
It’s not like they have their own wardrobe at home and there are 30 Balenciaga jackets and 20 Gucci jackets. They wear it a few times, resell it and then get something new just so they can take a picture of themselves on Instagram rocking the newest thing. It’s crazy.
I wish we could have been doing that when I was a kid. That’s awesome. I was into clothes. I would have worn a new outfit that I knew I could just go online and resell. Back then, if I wanted to sell something I’d have to sell it to Buffalo Exchange — $5 for a $200 jacket.
WWD: Does that resell market help lift streetwear overall?
N.T.: Say someone puts out something limited, like Supreme. A kid buys that and then resells it to the store, so he makes money. Then, the kids that weren’t waiting in line can buy it from the resell store. So there’s the kid who originally got it making money. The store who got it from the kid is making money and the end customer, the regular guy who doesn’t want to stand in line or doesn’t have bots to buy that stuff online, gets it. It makes streetwear more popular. It makes it more exciting. Again, the perceived value.
WWD: Part of that’s controlling distribution. What’s your philosophy on your selling channels?
N.T.: How we’ve come to do it nowadays is we sell to some big box stores. We’ll sell to Zumiez and a couple other major doors but we sell them really only T-shirts. So we’ll sell them some cut-and-sew, but when it comes to our real apparel — like jackets, jeans, sweaters and all the really cool shit — we make that just for our stores, online and some specialty boutiques. That’s how we keep them and those types of fans happy, and then our core fans know they can only get the other stuff from us or specialty stores.
WWD: Last year, you opened your European headquarters. Why was the timing right to make that move?
N.T.: The reason we started our own distribution in Europe, which is in Barcelona, was because we wanted to control our distribution and actually make money. A lot of the times when we would sell to a distributor, we’d have to sell for a super low discount for them to be able to even sell it at a reasonable price. We had to cut out the middle man so that we could actually retail our products for the same price that we would retail here.
WWD: Would you ever open a flagship in Europe?
N.T.: We’ve been talking about that. I want to start opening up more flagship stores. I think it makes sense. Our flagship stores are about showcasing the brand properly.
WWD: Do you have a timeline for the rollout?
N.T.: We just really started talking about it. We’ve been talking about it for years, but now we’ve seriously started talking about it, especially in Barcelona. We want to open that first since we have headquarters there and maybe something in England, in Manchester or London, and then definitely in Japan and maybe in China, Shanghai or Hong Kong.
WWD: Have you always been self-funded or have you pulled in outside investors along the way?
N.T.: Self-funded 100 percent. I’ve never had any type of investor. I started with no money and then it was just flipping product. I wasn’t making any money really for about 10 years. It was just flipping the money. For 10, years I was living off of like $2,000 a month.
WWD: Do you ever think about pulling in outside investors at this stage?
N.T.: For us, no. We’ve done this for 20 years and I don’t know what getting outside funding could do for us at this point. We make everything already. We sell to the stores we want to sell to. Bringing in outside funding, we don’t need it. For young brands, maybe. They’re on the fast track. Everybody now wants everything yesterday. No one has the patience to wait like I did 10 years to make any money. They would have started something else a long time ago.
You see these people, whether it’s real or not, flossing on the Internet and they think ‘Oh, I’m going to start a brand and by next month I’m going to have a Bentley.’ That’s just the mentality, which is far from putting in real work.
Even some of these big box retailers, they’re grabbing brands. They’ll see someone started a new brand and they’ll hit up that person and say ‘Hey, we’ll fund your whole project and we’ll give you a percentage of sales, but we’ll take you into our big store’ and then they can make money right away. That’s what’s happening with a lot of these brands, which was unheard of when we were doing this because we had no way to market this stuff for these big companies to even see us. There was no Internet.
WWD: Do you think about succession planning at all, or are you in this until the end?
N.T.: I feel like I just love doing this. For about three years, I stepped away and let other people run the company and hired some designers, because I was always the only designer for the brand for over 10 years. I took a little break, but then a little over a year ago I came back and got rid of all the designers and now I’m the only designer again.
WWD: So, you design for the regular calendar and then you also have quicker-hitting, limited-edition product?
N.T.: Everything’s limited. That’s how a lot of people work now anyway, a lot of streetwear brands that don’t sell to other retailers. We sell to other retailers and we’re going to continue to do that. Supreme or Kith, for instance, they’re going direct-to-consumer all the time so they don’t have to design a year out. They could design and have it in their stores in a couple days. We’ve never been able to do that, but now I’m doing that plus our regular season stuff. I wish I could just sell only direct but we’re not set up that way.
WWD: Do you see the business model evolving to that?
N.T.: It could eventually. I mean, that would be the goal. I’d love that. That’d take a lot of pressure off having to deal with delivery dates because then we could release stuff whenever we want. That’s how most companies should be now.
For us, 20 years of selling to retailers, it’s a hard thing to break away from because that’s where our core is and our core business. Our fans know to go to the stores but, yeah, slowly. It’ll be a process to get away from that.
WWD: What made you come back to the company after three years away?
N.T.: Honestly, I didn’t like the way things were going. I wasn’t feeling the stuff that was being made even though I was doing approvals on a lot of the stuff. Our fans from back in the day could tell the difference. It just didn’t have the same feel and the brand didn’t seem the same anymore. Even though I’ve been back here doing it for about a year and a half, last season is the first season that’s been all mine again and the response has been amazing.
That type of stuff gets me excited. It makes me feel like it’s all new again. So 20 years have passed, but I feel like it’s a brand new company. I love it.
WWD: Is there fear of burning out?
N.T.: I’ve been doing this for 20 years. That’s my thing. I just like making shit. I get in the zone. Apparel collections, I knock out really fast. I’ll sit down with my production people. I’ll draw stuff or I’ll bring in inspiration, and we’ll just work on it together. It takes one day to do a full collection. T-shirt graphics, I could do 20 in a night, no problem. It’s just what I do.
WWD: What does Diamond look like 10 or another 20 years from now?
N.T.: For the future of Diamond, I’m just excited about creating stuff. It’s evolved over the years. I can’t wait to see what happens. I don’t really think that far ahead. I used to. I always used to be thinking future, future, future, future and just within the last couple years I started thinking right now, which is different for me because I’ve always been on this future thing my whole life. Now I’m finally living in the present.