Ross Crooks, Rod Deerr and Cody Crooks launched Concrete Native in 2010, creating a brand of durable backpacks, organically sourced clothing and nature-inspired accessories. Three skaters themselves, they blended their passions for skate culture, street style and the outdoors into their own business. While hiking through Colorado, co-owner Ross Crooks took the time to respond to a few of my questions in preparation for Concrete Native’s participation in the Pattern StreetExpo.
Brielle Saggese: Please describe the motive or message behind your brand.
Ross Crooks: To put it simply, we make products inspired by the Midwest and skate culture. We all skated together at Indiana University, which led to the creation of our brand. We also have a passion for nature and reconnecting with the earth — so those factors have had a major influence on our aesthetic as well. This blend of concrete culture and outdoor life led us to the name “Concrete Native.” Perhaps the biggest characteristic that sets us apart and the aspect we are most passionate about is the quality of our product — specifically our eco-friendly products. Most of our shirts are made from 100 percent organic materials or from a combination of organic and recycled synthetic materials. We hope to continue to expand our environmental efforts until our entire product line reflects our love of the outdoors and our planet.
BS: What prompted you to share this idea through your business?
RC: It started rather organically – no pun intended – since we all shared a common passion for skating. We were inspired by a lot of West Coast brands, but felt like there was nothing that really represented the Midwest. We live, work and play here, so why wear something that represents the beaches of California? It didn’t seem to fit our experience, so we set out to make something for Midwest folks who share our way of life and mindset.
BS: What are some of the main challenges you face as an entrepreneur?
RC: Individualization is the biggest struggle for the modern entrepreneur. Your product must be unique and your branding must be something new, but also honest. In order for a company to be successful in this day and age, customers must be able to identify with the brand in an authentic way. On the flipside, if you’re too out there and you take too many risks with your image, it becomes harder to receive support since most investors want to see things that are relatively safe and have made money before. Without the proper funds, it is very difficult to have the resources you need to grow. I think this is why we are seeing such a push in the fashion industry for in-house, handmade, locally manufactured goods. This movement is allowing young business owners to fully own and self-fund their passion.
BS: What is the biggest reward you experience as an entrepreneur?
RC: The biggest reward we experience as entrepreneurs is when someone is really stoked on our product and fully understands what our message is all about. We spend a lot of time trying to cultivate our image so when people love it, it means everything. When something starts as just an idea and you see it through to creation and others like it, there’s no other feeling like that in the world.
BS: What do you think Indianapolis can do to support more local brands?
RC: The main thing Indy could do to support more local brands is for local retailers to carry those local brands. We know retailers are pressured to carry brands that are already well known. However, as a city we should be proud of what the Midwest has to offer and stores should lead the way in representing that. It would also be beneficial to have more industry events exposing local brands to retailers.
BS: Describe the kind of person who would wear your product.
RC: Our target customer is someone who appreciates the city, but also has a passion for the outdoors. They are probably a skater who enjoys getting away on the weekends to reconnect with nature. Our customers are environmentally conscious and proud to wear something that represents their lifestyle while doing good for the planet.
BS: Who is one person you’d love to see in your brand?
RC: There isn’t really one specific individual that we hope to see wearing our product. However, we would love to see more pro skaters get behind our message. They are really the perfect ambassadors for our brand and what we are about.
BS: What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
RC: Be persistent. Don’t give up when someone tells you, “no.” For every “yes,” there are 100 to 1000 times you will be rejected. We have been fortunate enough to talk with the founders of some of the biggest brands within our market and that is the one theme we’ve heard over and over. One founder of an extremely successful brand told us they had 298 investor meetings when they were first starting out and it wasn’t until number 298 that they found someone who understood what they were trying to do and felt confident enough to back it.
BS: How do you hope your brand will evolve in future years?
RC: We really hope to keep pushing forward with our accessories side of the business and continue making topnotch clothing. We are looking at expanding to do more cut-and-sew apparel. We’d also like to expand into more retailers across the country. We originally started with the hopes of having a full backpack line for skaters and outdoor enthusiasts, but quickly realized those resources are all overseas, so we would like to begin to manufacture locally in the coming years.
BS: How do you think celebrity endorsed streetwear is influencing modern street style?
RC: We try to keep our heads down and our noses to the grindstone. We don’t seek out celebrity endorsements. More often than not, we find that those types of endorsements are simply business transactions and not actually a reflection of that person’s taste. There is definitely an appeal to making extra money and gaining more exposure for your brand through those types of deals, but you sacrifice your authenticity in the long run. Our customers are smart and they can tell when an endorsement is insincere. With that said, when the right person comes along and wants to rep us for the right reasons, we jump at those opportunities but overall we are much more interested in getting everyday people to rep our brand on the streets. We hope that other brands continue to be inspired by what’s in their heads and hearts and not by what they see celebrities wearing on TV. If a brand wants to be unique, they need to be influencing celebrity style, not the other way around.