Interview: Lance Hakker of Ashbury
The eyewear brand's co-founder on humble beginnings on Skid Row, online haters and the possibility of an NBA eyewear team
In snowboarding, style matters above all else—or at least it should. And whether we like it or not, each rider (be it a pro, am or just another weekend warrior at their local hill) is defined from afar by how baggy their clothes are, who they ride with and what brands they rep. It's a tendency seen in most subcultures; individuals surround themselves with like-minded people for solidarity's sake. Speaking generally, the same goes for skateboarding. And while both industries may now count on global corporations and sugar-water purveyors for consistent cash-flow, the core culture thrives on those niche brands that embrace creativity and promote individuality.
One such brand that's thrived in this environment is Ashbury eyewear. Founded in June of 2007 by brothers Lance and Mike Hakker, along with former pro snowboarder Nima Jalali, the independent brand makes goggles and sunglasses that appeal to a certain sense of style not shared by all. In doing so, Ashbury has set themselves apart—while at the same time setting trends and establishing a loyal following both in and outside of the world of skate and snowboarding. To learn more about the brand's humble beginnings on Skid Row, finding motivation from detractors on the internet and the possibility of an NBA eyewear team, we recently caught up with co-founder Lance Hakker.
Let's start with the basics, how did Ashbury come about?
At the time, I was living in Seattle and was K2's team manager. Nima was a pro snowboarder and he had just blown his knee out filming for "We're People Too" and my brother was a designer at Planet Earth before Planet Earth went under. We were just kind of all doing our own things. Then [Nima] was like, "Let’s start an eyewear company, there’s nothing right now." To us the only thing going on was Airblaster—because you know, Airblaster is a smaller brand that I personally could get behind. But that was the only thing, and [eyewear] wasn’t their focus.
We’ve all been around for so long, we all have our opinions on how things should be and we don’t hide them. And I think in snowboarding a lot of people that don’t like how things are split. They’ll do the snowboard thing and then they’ll get into something else and they’ll leave. And part of it is because they’re jaded and they’re over the way the industry is run. And you know, I don’t like the way anything is run, I don’t back a ton of stuff, but our thought was, "If we don’t like it, let’s try to change it—let’s do our own thing and do it the way we want to do it." And at the end of the day, it’s strictly a goggle brand or sunglasses brand—it doesn’t stand for anything.
Was it a conscious decision to create a brand that would only appeal to certain people—knowing a good portion of the industry might not dig it?
Absolutely, it was. We were just trying to make ourselves happy, and to do something that us and our friends like—something that we thought was cool. But obviously by doing that, it does alienate some people that can’t connect with it. We were just doing our own thing, regardless of what other people wanted.
What were some early responses to Ashbury product?
We [started with] the tortoiseshell goggles because that made sense for us. We went with simplicity and just did stuff that was (to us, at the time) super-obvious. But people hated it. There were so many people that hated us and we didn’t have a manufacturer yet. We were just putting things out, introducing Justin Hebel, introducing John Kooley, and I think when the Jordan Mendenhall [signature goggle] hit, we wanted to make the intro graphics look like old western (not "wanted") posters, so it kind of had a sepia tone. I remember some kid wrote on Transworld something like, "Ashbury is all hype and sepia tones." The kid obviously hated Ashbury, you know. I was like, "Man, that kid nailed it," because that’s all we were in those days. [laughs] When people don’t like Ashbury because we’re not making something for everybody, it makes the dudes that do like it love it that much more. They hold onto it even tighter.
Ashbury seems to be driven by a "basic is better" mentality. Will this always be the case?
Yeah, that’s what we’re doing. But at the same time, things do change—we’re six and a half years deep now. But we have a spherical lens [goggle] now. When we first started, within the culture of the time we said, "We’re never gonna do that, we’re not martians." But it’s something we heard and it was getting to the point where I was getting more used to it, so we took the time to make one that we liked. And it’s really, really simple. It’s not over the top.
We’re definitely going to move forward with the industry and catch on to different technologies that suit us. Right now, we’re working on doing a fast-release lens, but we need to take the time and not rush something out just to have it. We also have our own little counterculture that we want to stick with because, at the end of the day, there aren't really problems with regular goggles anymore. We don’t need new technology.
Your sunglasses feature Carl Zeiss polarized lenses. How'd you link up with such a legendary glass purveyor?
They do pretty much all the best lenses that are out, so we met with the rep one day and our offices were on Skid Row, so here’s [the team from] Carl Zeiss driving down to Skid Row in downtown LA to meet with us—and this was a few years ago, so [Ashbury] was even smaller then. We were like, "This is so weird." [laughs] But yeah, they were super-down, they liked the brand. I think they saw this was something that they didn't do at all, so while they were just looking at their overall umbrella, we were just these dudes trying to be a sunglasses company on Skid Row. We were just psyched.
Did you watch any Olympics?
No, not at all. I don’t watch X-Games. I don’t watch Olympics. I have opinions on it though.
Fair enough. Well, at the Olympics Nike gave the public their first look at their googles. Do you have an opinion on that? Doesn’t seem like people buying Ashbury are going to be buying Nike, but it is a larger corporation taking another big step into snowboarding.
When it first came out we were like, "No! A Nike swoosh on the side of a goggle? We’re done." Then we realized we have very few crossovers, and who knows how big it’s really going to be. At first we were bumming, because it is big for Nike. But Ashbury kids aren’t going to get all high on Nike goggles and go buy them, because chances are, it’s not really even going to dip into our side of sporting culture anyway.
There are people that love Nike—and I don’t hate on Nike. So there might be the random kid who just loves Nike and buys their goggles, and cool—that’s sick if that makes them happy. But it’s not something I ever think about unless I see their goggles in front of me.
How important is it to have "The Others" group of creative individuals involved alongside your snow and skate teams?
Right now I wouldn’t say it’s terribly important. Just like our skateboard team isn’t terribly important either. Just because we are a really small brand and—I mean, it’s cool, it’s a good look and it makes us look good, but people don’t really buy sunglasses for any of that stuff. A lot of what we do is really just to make ourselves happy. So "The Others," these are actual friends of ours. Like, Seu Trinh, I’ll go walk around to the bar by my house and he’ll be skating the curb. And Cody Comrie used to live with me and used to snowboard for us. Josh Brubaker, the shoe designer—I’ve known him since we were in elementary school. These are all actual homies.
So, it’s not super important, it’s just something we like to do—and even with the skate team too. We started a company and we’re like, "OK, snowboard team—obviously we want that because we make goggles. And we like skateboarding and we know some skaters, so let’s have a skateboard team." So basically we’re into snowboarding, skateboarding and basketball—NBA. My brother and I are into bass fishing too, but the three of us, those are the things we’re really into. And so we’re putting together a basketball team as well—NBA team.
Really, an NBA sunglasses team?
With snowboarding, skateboarding and NBA, we know who we think is sick, so we can make intuitive decisions on it. Me, my brother [Mike] and Nima—we thought it would be so sick to get some basketball players. It would be a personal accomplishment for us.
And I used to shoot skateboarding back in the day—like Leo Romero and Brian Herman and all those guys—but I didn’t want to be a professional filmer, so I stopped and I sold my camera. But I always loved it, I loved filming. So recently I bought a camera and I make skate videos and you know, there’s no sunglasses in the videos or anything, but I’m just making Ashbury videos because that’s what I like to do and that’s what I’m doing. That’s pretty much why we do anything like that, whether it’s "The Others," or basketball or skate. It is what it is and Ashbury is literally an extension of me, Mike and Nima—and that’s it.
We have made mistakes here and there and made something that we didn’t really like because we thought it made sense. We learned quickly that that’s not fun, if we don’t get psyched on it, it’s not going to do well. So from now on, if you see something Ashbury puts out, it’s because we’re psyched on it personally.
Visit Ashbury to browse their sunglass and goggle collections.
Images courtesy of Ashbury