Skateboarding sure is a unique sport. There are no rules, no wrong or right. The only thing that really matters is that people are having fun. Not everyone though is able to have the privilege of becoming a skater. In order to change that and to make it more accessible, Charles-Antoine Bodson founded The Skateroom: a unique business model spreading the beauty of skateboarding through the world in an artistic and meaningful way. Read the full interview with him below.
I would describe the Skateroom as a social entrepreneurship project, because the basics are definitely founded upon values. We promote a different way of consuming. We promote a way of being a good company and by that, I mean the production, the way we travel, even the way we send out packages. I want to be engaged in everything and want to make the decisions which I’m most proud of. I’m not looking to become rich with this company; I want this company to be inspiring. Our business model shows people that there are better ways to consume while conserving our planet, and that profit should only be considered after the fact – not serve as the driving factor.
It all started with my art gallery here in Brussels and my collection of skateboard decks. I had around 4.000 decks in total and at some point I met Oliver Percovich (the founder of Skateistan). He told me about his project and that he was looking for funding to build his second skate park. I then decided that I will sell a part of this collection in order to help him. I donated around $50,000 to Oliver and he was able to build his second skate park in Phnom Penh, Cambodia..
A few months later, I had the opportunity to see the results and it just came together. It hit me from everywhere. I was like “Oh my god, this is what I want to do.” It was a magical experience. The way Skateistan was interacting with these children was just amazing. After I went to the opening, I decided for myself that it makes no sense anymore to have an art gallery. I just wanted to do this.
The thing is, I wanted The Skateroom to be dedicated to funding Skateistan and other projects. So, I decided to become a producer of decks by reaching out to artists and proposing my idea to them. The goal was, that up to 20% of the sales would be donated in order to fund Skateistan.
My vision behind all that was to put some meaning in consumption. I don’t think we are going to stop people from consuming, but what we can do is try to give consumption a sense or a purpose. That’s where the idea of engaged consumption fit into my vision.
Yeah, for many years it was very difficult to exist under those conditions. Launching a new activity is always difficult to begin with, but when you donate up to 20% of your sales it makes it even harder. Fortunately, my path crossed Nicolas Fautré’s with whom I am very complementary. Nicolas helped me adjust our business model into one that is now sustainable and profitable at the same time. A model that allows us to keep supporting social skateboarding projects in need while being profitable.
To give you an idea, since 2014 The Skateroom raised over $500k to fund 24 social projects dedicated to empowering at-risk youth around the world.
The artist gets the satisfaction of helping build something real, something that exists, and where he or she can go and visit. They can also communicate that to their community and say “Hey, look what I have done”. On the other hand, the museum can do that, too. When the Louis Vuitton Foundation was working with us for the launch of the latest Basquiat collection, we sold around 700 art editions in 4 months. That’s crazy! Louis Vuitton Foundation is very proud to have been part of this project and are willing to collaborate with us in the future.
From 2011 until 2014, we operated as a for-profit organization. It’s as of 2014 that we started operating as a for-profit organization with social engagement and impact being at the heart of our DNA. I remember the day I signed the agreement with Ai Weiwei, I decided to close my art gallery and only focus on The Skateroom.
As of 2019 moving forward, we are starting to operate as a social entrepreneurship project with a goal of aligning ourselves with some of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. We are also on our way in obtaining certification from UN Global Compact, as well as B Corp. This should be dne by this summer. Further to that mindset, we offset our yearly carbon emissions through a third-party audit company called CO2 Logic, making us a CO2 neutral organization.
We have done around 24 different projects so far. We worked together with major museums, major concept stores, with big artists and foundations. The challenge moving forward is to truly work together with the artist and the retailer in order to apply our new ‘5:25’ business model where we commit to donating 5% of the turnover from every sale, or 25% of the profit – whichever amount is greater.
Knowing that an organization as Patagnonia – a reference in this filed – is giving 1% of its turnover, we are very proud of our transparent and sustabinle exercice.
For the future we have a lot of projects coming up, but we are slowly building up to them. The Olympics will add skating as a discipline in 2020 and 2024, which is a fantastic opportunity for us to collaborate with the IOC. They seem to really like and understand our model as well as the way we are interacting with the social skate community. One main topic of the Olympics in 2024 being social and solidarity economics, it is once again a perfect match for us. I strongly believe it is important to give the Olympics a purpose, a sense.
Besides that we are also in talks with a major sneakers and apparel company for about a year and we are very close to signing an agreement.
There are actually many projects I could talk about and do you know why? Many brands seem to be interested to jump into the social entrepreneurship business. It’s time for those big companies to get engaged, it is the only way to move forward sustainably and keep their market and clients in a time of growing awareness.
I choose the skateboard because of my collection I already had, that was the starting point. I think it is a great medium to use for what I’m doing, also for the people to hang it on the walls. We are for sure thinking about other medium to be used. Medium and products that would be socially engaged through the sales and environmentally engaged through the building process.
I think the people who are buying our boards are very diverse in nature. There are those who love skateboard, others much more inclined towards art, and then there’s anything in between. At the end of the day, the idea is that when they buy these decks they become collectors the artists and engaged consumers who support and empower a community in need.
Besides that, whenever a new collaboration comes out, we propose the art edition to museums and concept stores where people visiting would be most interested. We also realize at the moment that stores like Macy’s, Neman Marcus and all those brands are reaching out and asking us if we would like to do projects together with them. So now, we hope to go even wider in terms of our customers.
My main objective is to have an impact. The Skateroom is such a great project, but it is a great project because of everyone who takes part in it. I just came up with the idea. The artists, the retailers, and the customers make this possible, and I thank them for their participation and for being engaged with us.
Of course, I want to keep scaling up The Skateroom’s mission so that we can increase the support we provide to social skate organizations and develop their capacity for greater impact.
We are currently garnering a lot of interest from international brands to support our mission, while more and more NGO’s and social projects are coming forward to ask for ours. We want to mobilize these brands to discover an engaged business in tune with the modern world and its urgent needs. We want to encourage these brands to involve their communities in a real global project driven around engaged consumption.
By merging the act of buying with a real impact, our hope is to instil their customers with a new sense of joy and awareness. To bring this project to life, we will invite these brands to collaborate with the artists we work with, to create a series of unique products. In doing so, we combine the massive reach of these companies with our business model, and expand our impact to whole new level.
Our main goal is basically to make sure we keep doing more to the benefit others.