Chris Miller is a skateboarder. Always has been, always will be. In 1990, the veteran of the 80s vert wars focused his creative strengths and parlayed his notoriety into launching Planet Earth, one of the original skater-owned companies. Stuck behind a desk or attending to his many administrator/designer functions, by the late 90s it seemed that Miller had completed the leap from skater to businessman, branching his company into apparel in 1992, then multiple deck and wheel brands, snowboard outerwear, trucks, and eventually shoes. And in 1998, he sold the whole package to sporting-goods conglomerate K2, who?ve been paying him to run the show ever since.
He had his plate full at work, and with a family at home, it was a miracle that he ever got to skate at all. But every so often you’d hear that he showed up at the skatepark, or some pool, or the Mt. Baldy Pipe. And you’d hear how hard he ripped and how he hasn’t lost his style or power. It’s good to hear that sort of thing.
He hasn’t lost his edge. The latest announcement from the Atlas camp is that the distributor is dropping its hardgoods brands–Rhythm, Mercury trucks, and Planet Earth decks and wheels. That leaves Planet Earth Apparel, Adio Footwear, and Hawk Shoes. Although his roots are steeped in hardgoods, Miller saw the writing on the wall–specifically the crowded low-margin skate-shop deck wall. He’s retooled his company to focus on its strengths. “Since the first year we started to do clothing, we have been bigger with clothing than wood and other hardgoods,” says Miller. “This year, with skate- and snowboard-apparel sales five times that of our wood sales, and over 700 new deck models on the market, we’ve decided to focus on clothing.”
Planet Earth teamriders will continue to skate for the apparel brand, and the change will allow the company to pursue skaters who ride for other deck brands. From Miller’s point of view, deck and wheel companies primarily compete through graphics, while shoes and apparel offer more differentiation. In these fields he has fewer competitors, and his history and experience with them is a competitive strength in the current market. “I think our market is really saturated with too much product and very little technical innovation,” he says. “I decided that, rather than being a graphic-design company that applies different graphics to the same product as everyone else, to be focused on apparel. For me, as a designer, I find apparel more rewarding and stimulating. It changes every season, and especially with snowboard outerwear, it has a lot of room for technical innovation.”
While no longer a participant in the hardgoods sector, Miller hopes that the experiments and seasonal changes he sees in apparel and footwear will encourage deck, truck, and wheel innovation: “I’ve been skating for 25 years, and I think the best skateboards I’ve ridden were some of the foam-pocket boards Paul Schmitt made in the early 90s. That technology may not be valid anymore, but the point is no one has really tried much since then. I think it’s interesting that it took a snowboard company–Lib Tech–to create something that is actually better than what we’ve been making for twenty years.”
While he still finds plenty to do at work, Miller’s repositioned Atlas to succeed in a softening skateboard market. He tends to his brands, sketches and designs, and gets home in time for dinner. Reports of him showing up here and there for a session have also become more frequent, and true to form, he’s still ripping.
Chris Miller is a skater–always has been, always will be.