BEHIND THE BRAND: ROARK
BEHIND THE BRAND: ROARK
We know that Roark has some of the best-looking garments on our shelves and that they are inspired by adventures and all parts of the world. With a sleek, vacation-ready and solid all around clean urban style, the gear is always a popular pick. We also know that Roark has a very diverse team of ambassadors that includes legendary skateboarders like Jamie Thomas, but also iconic artists, surfers, film makers, directors and more, making the brand even more interesting and attractive to us.
The fact that this brand isn’t as known as others makes us appreciate it even more. Don’t get us wrong, we love more known brands just as much, but we also love the exclusivity and fresh feeling that comes with getting a Roark Piece. We feel like these guys have a story to tell and that behind every product, there’s a trip or a memory making it that much more valuable.
All that being said, we still feel like we don’t know much about Roark, so we got in touch with the brand’s founder Ryan Hitzel and went deeper into the roots of this amazing company.
Check out our favorite Spring and Summer pieces above + at the link below and keep scrolling to know everything about Ryan Hitzel and his one of a kind brand.Shop ROARK →
Hey Ryan! What is your background and what led you to start Roark? grew up travelling a ton, and as an artist I’d do my best to document it through photography, painting and writing – often shows or books. It led me to 8 years working for Volcom in the Art Department in the early 2000’s and then as a Creative Director in Advertising prior to starting Roark. Around 2010, the surf and outdoor industries bored me. They were formulaic and sterile, too big. It seemed to me that they had lost their way. I saw a lack of storytelling and the types of adventures I enjoyed off the beaten path. There was little care about moments that enriched ones development and excitement to learn about other cultures. I thought I could apply the things I loved to a brand that did more than just make clothes and get tubed. It seemed like an opportunity to literally tie the stories to the product and create something that wasn’t a surf, skate or outdoor brand - a brand that was focused on the lifestyle of adventurism. Roark was born. When and how did Roark first appear? Hard to say - the muse first appeared as a reflection of many characters I grew up around a traveled with 20+ years ago. We sort of amalgamated a set of characters we knew into the ultimate bar-brawling adventurer that was rough around the edges, but well cultured, sophisticated and equally salt of the earth. A man, or archetype known as ”Roark,” aka “The Journeyman” or “Wayward Youth.” But in terms of the first collection launched under his namesake, Roark launched In late 2010 inspired by a road trip From San Francisco to the Mexican border.
What's the difference with the brand now compared to when it first started? Directionally Roark is the same today as it was day zero. We see ourselves as a modern Adventure-Lifestyle brand that makes purpose-built product without compromising style. But it’s certainly evolved. For the first 5 years we’d create collections inspired by Novellas we wrote about a man named Roark and his adventures across the globe. We’d plan 2 trips a year with wild itineraries off the beaten path and along the way dig through markets, drink at the darkest bar we could find and prioritize the journey more so than we would a wave or mountain. The trips guided us into what type of gear we needed for the climate and activities as well as become a source of inspiration for others to adventure differently. But because we were creating storylines about a muse, we’d mix our experience with myth’s, rumors, legends and a bit of pixie dust to fictionalize. But we ultimately learned that everyone really just cared about what our gaggle of friends and ambassadors were really doing in these far off places, so we switched up on a trip to Russia for Volume 13. From there on out we’ve treated each adventure as an opportunity to document our experience and that of people we meet along the way. “Mr. Roark” is still our guiding light - but more as an ethos or someone we bounce ideas off of in a pinch. “What would Roark do?” Roark is all about adventures. What makes Roark garments "Adventure Ready"? As an Adventure-Lifestyle brand we try to fuse gear that actually works on the trail, with a respect for fashion and personal style. Apparel you could wear on a Himalayan motorcycle expedition into a bar in Sydney, but still feel in place and sharp. You never really know where you’ll ended up on an adventure, so we make stuff that’s versatile and style conscious – essentially ready for whichever path you choose.
Roark has got a very diverse team of ambassadors composed of skateboarders, surfers, film makers, directors, etc. What's the brand's motivation for having such a mixed team? I’ve always looked at our ambassadors as a dinner party, but around a campfire. Although very different, everyone there brings a unique perspective to the circle. Sport isn’t what bonds the crew, rather the connection we share to music, art, whiskey, nature, adventurism or the subject of the evening. Some of my favorite memories from our travels are just sitting around a listening to stories go down, there’s a handful that involve props and a few that I’m the butt of. Jeff Johnson and my best friend and Co-founder of Roark, Ryan Sirianni are the best storytellers on earth. Do the ambassadors get involved in the creation process? They definitely are opinionated about product. Both when it comes to function and fashion. Being that they are experts when it comes to the use of our gear, we welcome it and often co-design product. They test it, thrash it and give it another cycle. When something works well they don’t give it up after a trip, even if it’s stained or beat down. There’s a few guys that will remain nameless that always dig into the bags first to choose exactly what they want based on personal style. There’s nothing like when you have a few moments at golden hour in India and you ask someone to put on another kit, and they’re like, “Dude, I’m wearing this right now, I’m going for the cover.” Meanwhile it smells like booze and dog piss from the night before and has a giant curry stain from breakfast. I kinda dig that mentality though! The crew cares about it all.
What's the most recent adventure that happened with the Roark team? The last trip we did was to the Continental Divide through Wyoming and Montana. It was back in November 2020 and pretty wild considering all of the challenges and precautions we had to take with COVID. But it was amazing to stay local and fall in love with the American West again. It was a unique opportunity for us to be inspired by our backyard, when we’re usually running as far as we can away from it. We’re excited to share the journey this Winter. Any crazy or funny stories from recent Roark Trips? One of my favorite stories isn’t necessarily funny, but it was pretty radical. Back in 2012 or so we went to Cuba with Chris Burkard, which at the time for an American, was pretty hard to do. At that time you had to sneak in through Mexico, but more problematic was that our credit cards and phones were shut off by the American Government because of the embargo and travel restrictions. So just being there had underlying stress, not to mention that the Cuban government assigned a network of “watchers” to us after a few years earlier some radar equipment was smuggled in via surfboards sent by Americans. But I digress. One evening on the outskirts of Havana we were skating and one of us saw a ledge on a quintessential Cuban street, we started to push over to it and our guide was like, “No, you can’t go there. That’s a bad street, they don’t like foreigners, especially when it’s hot like this at the end of the day. It’s the barrio.” Of course, we didn’t see a problem with it, Buena Vista Social Club jams we’re blaring. Hell, it was inviting. So we go. Within 5 minutes we were surrounded by angry people screaming about George Bush, throwing trash out their windows at us. There was full mob mentality developing around us, the music stopped. One guy tried to wrestle one of our skateboards away, another pointed at me stuck his index finger into my chest. I looked at Sirianni and asked him how much money he had? He immediately answered “Beer?!?!” I nodded. We scraped up the equivalent of about 50 USD and ran to a nearby “Venta Libre” and bought like a seventy five warm Cristal beers while our crew frantically busted out its survival Spanish. We rushed out to the amassed neighborhood with smiles screaming “Fuck Bush!” and tossed just about everyone in the street a beer. Within a minute the anger turned to this strange comradery with high-fives and a few hugs. Next thing you know Sirianni is playing dominoes in middle of the street and I’m in the back of some families house looking at original 1960’s Revolución screen print propaganda. It was pretty surreal. We call that story “6-pack diplomacy.”
Any adventure planned for the near future? We have a few trips in the planning stage and are excited to get back out there when it feels safe and responsible to do so. Next up is a little pilgrimage from the Sierra Madre to the coast in Oaxaca, Mexico for Spring 2022 and then New Zealand for Winter 2022. We can’t reveal much more! You guys put a lot of importance on conceiving sustainable products and minimizing the impact on the environment. Can you give us more details about Roark's sustainable initiatives? To be honest, it’s not something that we market a ton, but we feel like it’s the right way to make apparel when possible, and something that our consumer demands. We prioritize sustainable fabrics and processes as well as Fair-trade factories. As of today we are 35% sustainable and fair trade with a goal of 50% by 2023. So, we’re still on that journey. It’s a tough but critical road, especially with performance-based goods. But there’s a ton of innovation happening in the raw goods marketplace, even on the technical side. We also believe that durable products that last for years and years are another part of the sustainability equation, we have one lifetime guaranteed product and are working on a few more.
Thanks Ryan! Prepare for your next adventure, shop Roark at the link below!
Alan Van Gysen