“Fit like, Steven? Yeah, I’d be up for that for sure.”

Gary’s reply to my email comes no sooner than I’d hit send. His approachable personality and eagerness to help me out with a new feature are undoubtedly just a couple of reasons why Doric Skateboards is proving a hit with those who skate, and those that don’t.

I’d discovered his work via Jon Reid (artist and Mood of Collapse blogger) and Gabrielle Reith (aka Small Stories illustrator) provider of one of his earliest designs. Like Gary, I’m a sucker for clean lines, symmetry, art with a story, and skateboard graphics.

Doric, naturally, ticks all of those boxes.

During our interview I wanted to dig deeper and find out how the company had grown over the past year or so in the attic of his house in the north east of Scotland, the process of selecting and creating designs, and above all, overcoming the challenges behind a self-funded, labour of love.

Here’s what we spoke about.

Doric SkateboardsImage credit: Newsline Media

UKB: Tell me a little about your background. How did you start skating? I understand that you stopped and came back to it after a break?

Gary: I got my first skateboard when I was maybe 8 then spent the next 10 years going from that wee plastic board to the usual Santa Cruz, Powell, Real’s, Death Box etc.

I gave up when I got to that age when pubs and girls became the priority! But it never left me really. I would dream about skateboarding, where I was rad as fuck, [he laughs] and look at buildings and work out what looked skate-able.

Flash forward to my mid 30’s and my old man had taken ill. He died a few years after that and it left me thinking about what would really make me happy in life. Was it a career? A car? All those trappings that we strive for. I decided it was skateboarding. So I bought a set up and got going again, albeit a lot slower!

Doric Hoody 2Image credit: Doric Skateboards

UKB: So what was the impetus for you step it up from simply skating, to having a company and starting Doric?

Gary: Similar to getting back into skating. I’d always wanted to have my own business of some kind but the stars just never aligned. I was also looking at short courses for art school at the time whilst imagining what an Aberdeen skate company would be in the very back of my mind.

These were all independent of each other but one day at work I put together a sort of mission statement, manifesto type thing of what it would be called, why and what the first graphic would be.

I told Nicola [Gary’s partner] about it and she was all for it. I then sent it to my brother, he owns and runs a design studio (fortytwo). If anyone was going to rip it apart he would – gently.

But he was all for it too, and acted as a mentor for it. Mark went to art school here in Aberdeen at Grays [Aberdeen’s art school] is a graphic designer by trade and has experience in screen printing. He’d also just taken the plunge of going solo with his new company.

So I was lucky to get a lot of advice and help from him, most of which I didn’t even know I needed. Ignorance is bliss in certain situations!

UKB: What’s the significance then of “Doric”?

Gary: The name seemed obvious. Doric is the language of the northeast of Scotland for those not in the know! It’s a legit language, not slang or a dialect.

It also happens to be the one of the three orders of ancient Greek and later Roman architecture. The city has many Doric columns on and around buildings and monuments, as well as Corinthian and Ionic ones. I’ve got a real love of the buildings of Aberdeen and the history so it all seemed to just feel right.

My degree was in Construction Design, did that at the age of 30 -34, so again things just felt right.

Doric Skateboards - Gary KempImage credit: Newsline Media

UKB: I read in the mission statement you mentioned that representing the north east is a big part of what you’re looking to achieve. How important do you think it is for young businesses like Doric to support, and be supported, by locals?

Gary: I think its got to be at the core. No one can exist in isolation with a small or micro business.

I’ve gotten way out of my comfort zone in so many ways but the social, and dare I say “networking”, is important. You can have the best product in the world but if no one knows about it or you then it’s not going to go far. You have to get your stuff seen, even if it’s not a wholly positive experience at times.

“You can have the best product in the world but if no one knows about it or you then it’s not going to go far. You have to get your stuff seen, even if it’s not a wholly positive experience at times.”

But it has to go two ways . I’ve given plenty of stuff away for skate competitions etc and I’m looking to do some more events like our Birthday Bash last March. That was a free skate for anyone that wanted to turn up at the local indoor place Transition Extreme.

So I have to put effort in to supporting local business’s and talking them up – karma.

UKB: You clearly have a good eye for nice visuals, and come from a family that does given your brother’s career path. What is it that makes a good piece of design work, one good enough for Doric, in your eyes?

Gary: I like clean, symmetrically pleasing design. Bold colours, pop art style is great too, we tried that with the first deck – Street Dreams Annie Lennox. That was a half tone, lots of dots, and then splash of colour over the eyes and lips.

But it has to have some substance. I can’t put out designs that just look cool, I’ve got to be able to tell a story with it too.

Street Dreams DeckImage credit: Mood of Collapse / Doric Skateboards

UKB: What are the creative influences that have fed into your work – artists, music, design, skaters and so on? How do you feel these have found their way into your products?

Gary: Some of the influences have appeared without me even realising it at times. I’m a massive fan of Alva Skateboards so the splatter effects their screen printers would apply to random decks has always appealed, as did the tri-colour logo.

Architecture is at the forefront even if its not obvious. The logo, which Mark designed from my brief, is everything I love about design. Symmetry and that Golden Ratio size. It just looks “right”.

The main influence over all the designs has to be the city of Aberdeen, its people and culture. I didn’t want to go down the route of generic tattoo style designs. Good for some but not for me, even if no one likes it.

“The main influence over all the designs has to be the city of Aberdeen, its people and culture.”

I generally just do what I do in terms of designs and if people like it they like it, if they don’t that’s fine too!

UKB: What are you favourite products and designs you’ve brought into the Doric range so far? Has there been anything you’ve made that you’ve stood back and felt especially proud of?

Gary: I think the “Plenty of Pop” bottle design is the one that we’re most proud of. Its become a bit of a symbol for us.

But the niggle that I have is that I don’t think I’ve ever truly nailed screen printing it. I need to revisit it sometime and give myself bigger overlaps and margins. It’s really tough lining up multiple screens. I’ve got an idea for the bottle design that I might do at Christmas. Watch this space…

Plenty of Pop 3.PNGImage credit: Mood of Collapse / Doric Skateboards

UKB: Aberdeen has a really strong creative industry right now with Nuart Aberdeen having been huge over the past two years, but also a good street art scene helped by things like Painted Doors Aberdeen and bloggers like Mood of Collapse’s, Jon Reid. How have you been collaborating with makers in Aberdeen with Doric, and are there others you’d like to work with in future?

Gary: Yeah it’s really exciting in Aberdeen just now. I’ve mostly always been a staunch defender of my city so its nice to see people enjoying things.

Collaboration with artists wasn’t even something I thought about when I started to be honest. I just didn’t really entertain it because I thought why would anyone be interested? So happy that that’s not been the case.

Honk was the first collaboration and it turned out fantastic. Then Small Stories got in touch with an idea and that kind of gave me the confidence to approach others. So the next one will be with a chap called Chris Bisset aka Jet Pack Dinosaur. Rad skater and fantastic artist so it’s a great match. This one will be after the new one that launched in August.

Small StoriesImage credit: Mood of Collapse / Doric Skateboards

This collaboration is with a couple of skaters here in Aberdeen and is a big departure for me in terms of content and style but I think people will love it! Buzzing to get it out there but keeping it under wraps until the launch night. We’ve got together with the local indy cinema and are having a wee event and showcase of Doric stuff and some of my old vintage skate gear plus a pop up shop the next day followed by a screening of Dogtown and Z-Boyz. Should be a great couple of days!

A few more collaborations are in the very early stages but I think I’ve got enough to keep going for a long time yet. Also its been great to work with Transition on some things – more to follow. And people like Jon Reid, Ikar from the Creative Me podcast and James from Peacock Studio have been a massive support in what we do.

Really humbled at times by it all.

UKB: You’ve been creating your own decks, but also moved into accessories like pin badges as well as clothing – tell me more about the designs you’ve been working on so far and what aesthetic and design styles you feel work well with Doric’s ethos.

Gary: Yeah the clothing and various apparel has grown arms and legs. I think this ties into the community thing.

Friends, family and work mates all want to support us but most of them don’t skate. Some have bought decks to use as decoration which is cool but for others they want to rep the brand and show some love, so why not?

The Bottle design is very much a nod to the nostalgic side of us. It was the second design we did and myself and Nicola put it together with the idea of giving a nod to the old Bon Accord ale vans of the 70’s and 80’s. By accident its appealed to people from all walks of life which is fantastic.

Plenty of Pop 2.JPGImage credit: Mood of Collapse / Doric Skateboards

Nostalgia is very much in the zeitgeist just now, maybe it’s all of us kids that were brought up on VHS and Nintendo? We’ve all got to an age where we look back, I’m kinda obsessed by history and nostalgia.

I don’t live in the past but I look back at the good stuff!

UKB:  What have been the biggest challenges that you’ve had to overcome so far as a small independent company, and how have you managed that? Any tips for others either starting out or thinking about starting out with their own company?

Gary: I’m a sensitive wee soul at times so I’ve had to learn not only do some folk not like what you are doing they will actively disparage it. I’ve been so lucky that this has been very, very minor. But learn to take the insults with a pinch of salt and same with the compliments. Taking either too seriously isn’t good for you!

But aside from that just stay focused and if you’re lucky enough to enjoy it then that’s amazing. I love screen printing decks and interacting on social media so its never a chore.

20180612_Gary_Kemp_006.jpgImage credit: Newsline Media

If I screen 20 decks next month and they don’t sell I’ll just sand them down and screen them again and again because its what I enjoy. I’d also have 20 decks to use for myself!

Tips for starting something? It seems trite but find something you have a passion for, forget what you are “good” at or what might make you money. None of that will matter if you’re knackered on a Wednesday after the day job and need to pack stuff for postage, screen decks, fold and bag tees.

“[…] find something you have a passion for, forget what you are ‘good’ at or what might make you money. None of that will matter if you’re knackered on a Wednesday after the day job and need to pack stuff for postage, screen decks, fold and bag tees […]”

Only the passion will keep that going!

UKB: As a successful and growing skater-owned brand, what areas are you looking to move into in future and what can people look forward to from Doric over the next 12-24 months?

Gary: More events – competitions, free skates, charity events – we’ve got a few plans. Scale up the screening of decks, so hold more stock across more sizes. Plus l want to do some deck pressing myself. Maybe only in small quantities but designate them to the Doric 80’s division with crazy shapes and 80’s inspired graphics.

Also looking at making some deals to stock trucks and wheels so I can offer up completes more readily. And looking to get Doric branded wheels too, hopefully by end of the year. Just building little by little, every penny goes back in to the business.

Got to keep growing or face stagnation.

UKB: Finally, what are the best spots to hit up if we’re in Aberdeen?

Gary: Let’s start with the most obvious. TX Skatepark is the indoor place. Huge bowl, street section, mini’s – although I call them midis – great fun to be had there and the venue for events like War of the Thistles every year.

Transition Extreme Aberdeen.jpgImage credit: Transition Extreme

New parks are popping up and or getting renovated – check out Torry, Westburn (currently being revamped), Kingcorth and finally Cults. All have their own plus points so check them out!

As for street skating? A few hardcore still go to the Denburn carpark. I’ve seen folk skating out near the Exhibition Centre too but as with everything I’m sure security is tight in these places. But that used to be part of the fun! I can see a few places being built that might have potential.Marischal Square could be fun but maybe street skating is dead in a way? Skate stops and all that.

It’s possible that DIY spots have replaced that though…


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