Meet The Skate Brand That'll Still Be Real When Your Kids Are Dropping In
WUB Wheels is a skateboard and clothing company out of Saginaw, Michigan that’s been on the scene since 2012. We were able to speak with the founder Jerry Wilson about starting from selling decks out of his trunk to owning his own store and running a full fledged skate & clothing brand that makes everything from track suits and thongs to camping chairs and duffle bags. In addition to talking about his journey, Jerry also spoke about the constant product experimentation and early Instagram marketing that has made Wub not just a company that sells skateboard wheels and clothes, but a brotherhood and family for life.
Where are you from?
Jerry: We’re from Saginaw, Michigan which is 45 minutes north of Flint and about an hour and a half from Detroit.
When was Wub Wheels founded?
Jerry: About 12 years ago I started with a run of wheels. My buddy started working for a wheel manufacturer and at that time I was just selling boards out of my trunk since we didn’t have a skate shop. He got in with a wheel manufacturer and said I should make some wheels so I jumped on that. At that time we didn’t really have a way to market it since it was before social media so it was a one and done. But I started going to college for business in 2012 and at that time Instagram had just really started. I saw the opportunity to use Instagram as a way to market our content so I restarted and established the company in 2012.
Where does the name come from?
Jerry: A lot of people think it’s an acronym but the name came from a skate forum called SkatePerception. The forum was focused on filmers, photographers and graphic artists, mainly the art associated with skateboarding. I asked the forum what to name the company and everyone said Wub. This came from the name of a face you had to code in to the forum called the “wub face” which was a heart eye face associated with love.
What made you want to start a skate company?
Jerry: It was just because I was skateboarding. I was selling random things out of my trunk such as boards, blanks, trucks, you name it. My friend was working for a distributor and was selling me those pieces in bulk. Then he switched to working for a wheel manufacturer and asked if I wanted to start making wheels. I just went with the flow and did it. There wasn’t a moment when I made the decision to start a company it really just happened naturally.
Why did you choose to focus on wheels?
Jerry: I wouldn’t have known where to get wheels made but my friend really was the plug that opened the door for me. He said he could make me wheels and I asked what the minimum was which I think at the time was a 50 set. I had to pay like $600-700 and from there I sold them to friends locally or on that forum. At that time I wasn’t worried about selling to skate shops or even an online stores.
Did you start making decks too?
Jerry: I ended up opening up an actual skate shop. The decks served the purpose of having a shop deck but instead of having it be just for the shop I started doing Wub boards so I could market it online as well. Plus I thought it made room for creativity to work with artists versus being stuck with a shop board.
Was it a Wub wheels shop at this time?
Jerry: It started off as Old Town Skate Shop with a partner. We opened up another store and had two stores at one time. However, we weren’t ready to open two stores and my partner that signed the lease for one of them didn’t skateboard. I disagreed with what he was doing and walked away from that partnership without seeking a buyout or anything. But my name was on the lease for the Saginaw store and he was on the other one so we each had our own store. I renamed my store Pop Skate Shop which became a place where we could put our clothes and get feedback right away. It served as a flagship store but it was mostly a skateshop. But we definitely had a screen printing press in the back, so we were focused on our brand being in there and that's what sold the most.
When did you start making clothes?
Jerry: We started with standard logo T-shirts. I wouldn't say we started focusing on clothes until maybe two years ago when we started doing monthly or seasonally clothing releases. I think we became less focused on hard goods and more focused on clothes starting two years ago.
What inspired you to start developing Wub as a clothing label in addition to being a hardgood skate company?
Jerry: I guess it came naturally for me. It wasn’t really a conscious thought that we were gonna make clothes, it was more of an experiment of what we were gonna do. I never thought we couldn’t make clothes because we were a wheel company. I started making clothes because I wanted to. We do all our embroidery in-house and we were doing work for other bands and companies that were trusting the stuff we were making. For me it was an experiment process to learn by doing our own stuff and applying that to what we were doing for those other brands and clients.
It’s called SewBros right?
Jerry: Yup, it's me and my buddy that do it. That’s kind of our organic local operation. I have another website where we get orders and do stuff for companies. That was the new project to branch off to after we closed the skate shop.
Would you say your story is similar to that of Supreme? In that you started off gaining a cult following from the skateboard culture and then transitioned into fashion?
Jerry: Yeah I guess. I’m not too familiar with their story but I definitely think it was something organic that happened. It was kind of hard to sell skate goods since you have to sell to skate shops and the margins aren't very good. Where I live it’s a pretty poor economy so if I buy a Huff shirt and sell it resale it’s gonna be a $30 shirt. I realized people don’t want to spend $30 on a T-shirt here, so I filled the void and figured out how to make a shirt and sell it to them directly for $15 and still make a better margin than if we were to sell that other shirt.
Do you guys have a skate team that rocks your skate supply and clothes?
Jerry: Yeah we’ve always had a skate team. At first our team was pretty big since we saw the opportunity with Instagram. At that time I don't think any of the other companies had an Instagram so we were really on the ground with that. At that time the pictures were ugly but people were down with it so it took off. We got in contact with a bunch of skaters in California that were really good and filming with Nigel Alexander. We were sending off a lot of packages to everybody but it became too much at one point. I was working a job so it wasn’t really for me to make money. I do the custom stuff for money but Wub is for fun. I started to downsize when I stopped my job since I have my daughter and thought we needed to cut some expenses since the project got too big.
Where does the inspiration for your designs come from?
Jerry: Lots of people have an eye for designing stuff on a computer but I feel like we're more hands on. We just get an idea in our head, and since the machines and thread are right there a lot of the pieces come naturally. Some pieces are also focused on the actual manufacturing part, so we figure out how to do a new process and design around that process.
In addition to your skate gear I’ve seen you make things from full Wub Track Suits and Thongs to Wub Camping Chairs and Duffle Bags.
Jerry: We usually try to make something really weird. The track suits were cut and sew pieces, so that was the first thing we did where we had to get specs and work with a factory. That came to me on a computer. Everything else is more of an improv design process versus designing seasons ahead.
It’s almost like your freestyling your stuff together.
Jerry: A lot of times we see we’re ahead of trends since we'll do something and then see it become popular after. It’s not the fact that people copy it’s just timing. A recent example is with different embroidery locations, now everyone’s doing that. Before it was always a centered, standard logo on a hoodie but now you see embroidery can be done anywhere on an item. The same thing could be said for when you buy a car. You never saw that model around before but when you buy that car you start to see them everywhere since it’s a part of your brand.
What makes you continue to experiment with new products every day?
Jerry: I really just want to get better at what I do and I want to make things that people get excited about. I think it’s something about the gratification of instant feedback that we have. We make something we get really hyped on, post it, and get feedback instantly. It has something to do with the gratification of knowing we thought something was cool and it was cool. We’re really just learning as we go since nobody’s telling us what to do or what the right way to do something is.
Do you make all the designs or do you collab with other designers?
Jerry: We make most of the stuff in-house. I’m not really good at drawing so I usually have people do the illustrations for me. A lot of times it won’t necessarily be saying here do this, it’s instead giving them free reign to do something that our brand represents in their mind. If I tell them to do something it might not come out as good as something they’d do themselves. We’ve done stuff with our team writer Peter who’s really good with sharpie doodle designs. With embroidery we wanted to do something he doodled and turn it into a thread, so he drew a few things and we took a picture of them and got them digitized into a thread file. It was focused on the process of turning drawings into embroidery without going into illustrator. For the skateboard wheels I'll make the simple wheels but if it’s a wheel with a drawing style I’ll usually contact somebody I've seen on Instagram and commission them to do it. We’re all about crediting who did the artwork because I’m not good at artwork stuff so to me that's import.
What’s your favorite product you’ve created?
Jerry: The last two things we've been doing are some of my favorites. The baseball shirts we’ve been working on with applique felt on the back and embroidery on top of that. Obviously the track suits were cool and since it started off as a drawing so it was awesome to see it as a finished product. But usually everything we keep doing seems to get better.
Have you collaborated with any skaters or other clothing brands?
Jerry: We used to collaborate with this company called Fayuca but I don’t know if we did any pieces together since our collaboration was more giveaway based. We were one of the first people doing Insta giveaways back in the day but I don’t think we ever did a collab with a clothing company. We were doing stuff with skate shops for wheels but we never did clothing pieces.
Are there any brands you want to collab with?
Jerry: Yeah possibly but it would have to happen organically. Plenty of people try to collab but you can tell it’s not gonna go anywhere so I don't waste energy trying to do that. It would have to be serious and I would have to know they’re as serious as we are but that hasn't happened yet.
Are there any skaters you could see yourself working with in the future?
Jerry: Not really. I think with skateboarders everyone is so good now so it doesn’t matter as much. We downsized now so the people we work with don’t have high expectations. They’re stoked on what we give them and we don’t want to have all that pressure since we’re not focused on getting rich and becoming a power brand. We’re really just here to have fun so if people are down with that then we’re down to work and put them on the team. But I like having the smaller family vibe.
It’s awesome to see the family and brotherhood you’ve created around Wub. How does it make you feel when you see someone get a Wub tattoo and join that for life?
Jerry: That’s the best feeling. Even when I'm on my feed I see people I like wearing stuff that I made or around town I'll see people wearing our stuff which is pretty cool. That feeling never gets old. I have the tattoo and my best friend has the tattoo. It’s like 15 people now that have tattoos of Wub. I think it’s just because we have a different family vibe and it’s not a gimmick. We’re not going anywhere since we’ve never been big but we keep learning and going and staying busy.
Do you guys still have a physical location?
Jerry: No I closed it. Like I said I had my daughter and I have her half the week. Our rent was so cheap we actually made money and I walked away from making money but it’s important for me to give this time to her before she starts school so we brought the machines home. It’s helped me focus on the craft of marketing our products more. If I’m stuck in the store I don’t have enough time in my day to do a photoshoot or setup a backdrop. So now we’re focused on internet marketing and learning stuff about that.
Is that something you see yourself having in the future?
Jerry: I definitely want to again. I think it just comes down to finding another good location and the timing. I closed it at the beginning of this year so I started this new year without the store. I definitely miss seeing the interaction of people react to our stuff every day.
What should we expect to see from Wub in the near future?
Jerry: We’re definitely gonna keep making newer and more intricate pieces that take longer. We’re gonna make stuff that’s a little bit more special and hopefully get a store sooner than later. We want to get back into screen printing and we want to learn every process of making stuff. We’re gonna get more equipment and offer more services to people as well.
What do you want Wub Wheels to become?
Jerry: I want it to still have that small vibe but I want more focus on specialty items that sell fast and well. And a little bit more limited and a little bit tighter.
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