Chris Miller is a skateboarder. Always has been, always will be.In 1990, the veteran of the 80s vert wars focused his creativestrengths and parlayed his notoriety into launching Planet Earth, oneof the original skater-owned companies. Stuck behind a desk orattending to his many administrator/designer functions, by the late90s it seemed that Miller had completed the leap from skater tobusinessman, branching his company into apparel in 1992, thenmultiple deck and wheel brands, snowboard outerwear, trucks, andeventually shoes. And in 1998, he sold the whole package tosporting-goods conglomerate K2, who?ve been paying him to run theshow ever since.
He had his plate full at work, and with a family at home, it wasa miracle that he ever got to skate at all. But every so often you'dhear 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'tlost his style or power. It's good to hear that sort of thing.
He hasn't lost his edge. The latest announcement from theAtlas camp is that the distributor is dropping its hardgoodsbrands–Rhythm, Mercury trucks, and Planet Earth decks andwheels. That leaves Planet Earth Apparel, Adio Footwear, and HawkShoes. Although his roots are steeped in hardgoods, Miller saw thewriting on the wall–specifically the crowded low-margin skate-shopdeck wall. He's retooled his company to focus on its strengths."Since the first year we started to do clothing, we have been biggerwith clothing than wood and other hardgoods," says Miller. "Thisyear, with skate- and snowboard-apparel sales five times that of ourwood sales, and over 700 new deck models on the market, we'vedecided to focus on clothing."
Planet Earth teamriders will continue to skate for the apparelbrand, and the change will allow the company to pursue skaters whoride for other deck brands. From Miller's point of view, deck andwheel companies primarily compete through graphics, while shoesand apparel offer more differentiation. In these fields he has fewercompetitors, and his history and experience with them is acompetitive strength in the current market. "I think our market isreally saturated with too much product and very little technicalinnovation," he says. "I decided that, rather than being a graphic-design company that applies different graphics to the same productas everyone else, to be focused on apparel. For me, as a designer, Ifind apparel more rewarding and stimulating. It changes everyseason, and especially with snowboard outerwear, it has a lot ofroom for technical innovation."
While no longer a participant in the hardgoods sector, Millerhopes that the experiments and seasonal changes he sees in appareland footwear will encourage deck, truck, and wheel innovation: "I'vebeen skating for 25 years, and I think the best skateboards I'veridden were some of the foam-pocket boards Paul Schmitt made inthe early 90s. That technology may not be valid anymore, but thepoint is no one has really tried much since then. I think it'sinteresting that it took a snowboard company–Lib Tech–to createsomething that is actually better than what we've been making fortwenty years."
While he still finds plenty to do at work, Miller's repositionedAtlas to succeed in a softening skateboard market. He tends to hisbrands, sketches and designs, and gets home in time for dinner.Reports of him showing up here and there for a session have alsobecome more frequent, and true to form, he's still ripping.
Chris Miller is a skater–always has been, always will be.