A Free Flowin' Q&A w/ Vans Collector Guamstyles of UnderThePalms
ThinkPiece #003 | Presented by solscience®
A Quick Intro...
A long time friend (Logan aka Rogansan at Work Wheels) would every once in awhile forward a link to some sneakers from a "DJ Guamstyles". This was probably a bit before 2010. It wasn’t the kind of name you forget easily nor come across everyday so although we had no idea who he was nor met him, last year, the name came up again and we naturally remembered. Logan forwarded DJ Guamstyles our first solscience newsletter in July 2016 and told us we should peep his IG @UnderThePalms and link up with him.
This led to his interest in our sneaker deodorizer and our interest in learning more about Vans and DJ Guamstyles, the guy behind the Under The Palms Vans community. And here we are now.
Timing wise, it was also fitting being that 2017 is the tenth anniversary for UnderThePalms – and so we thought it’d be fun to develop an exclusive sneaker fragrance scent for the occasion as well.
The conversation below occurred at The Abbey in Seal Beach over a few drinks - we had a chance to chop it up, document and learn more about the history.
:: Before Under The Palms ::
Like most sneakerheads from our generation, the stories repeat a not-so unfamiliar pattern. Your favorite athletes are the gateway to the sneaker addiction, you’re not able to have them all, and as you get older, you gravitate towards friends with similar interests. You discover NikeTalk and other forums where you learn about the special releases, drop dates and where to get them.
Guamstyles: It’s always been sports-oriented. ‘Cause our generation, we were always into all the athlete shoes, you know – the Penny’s, the Jordan’s, the Webber’s, anything – it was all Nike pretty much. There were a few others like Reebok also, you know… you had like, Allen Iverson or Grant Hill with the Filas..
And of course Hip Hop culture was and will always be a huge element and a gateway as well for many sneakerheads.
I’ve been a DJ since high school so we’ve always been around the whole Hip Hop culture and that sort of took on the whole early stages of Dunks and Dunk collecting. It was all backpackers and Hip Hop heads that were into sneaker collecting and Japanese cats that were into that kind of stuff…
It’s different from kids these days where a lot of times it’s resale-driven or hype-driven.
You learn about the Propers and the Undefeateds, and then later on like the Blends and all their locations – you start buying from there, building relations and then you start noticing the other stuff they sell…
“Oh, you got these cool Vans, what are these,” you know, and that just kind of fueled it - going online and looking for a forum.. I came across a forum called OffTheWallSite – it was still very small, not a big community at all.
It’s always based around the internet or having some form of social media that helps put the word out there – so you know, you’re up on game, and you know what to expect.
Even in like elementary school, I’d have like the L.A. Gear Street Hikers, remember Joe Montana wore those? I felt like I was so cool when I wore those, it’s funny man…
What was your first coveted shoe?
I wanna say my first coveted pairs, ’cause I could never have like the actual signature shoe, they were always out of my budget, so I’d always get like the team shoe.
My first high-end, expensive shoe was the Nike Air More Uptempo, I think it was in the 10th or 11th grade, it was the one with the chrome bubble on the heel, it had Air Max that went all the way around, it was a Reggie Miller shoe, he wore that shoe.
This is before like sneaker culture became a really big thing you know, this is like maybe ’04, ’05… ’03… like Reebok wasn’t even into making retros yet. This is way before any other brands were like thinking of doing retro shoes you know – that’s what spurred other brands to start making retros, it was because of the whole sneaker culture becoming popular …
:: How Under The Palms Began ::
My friend started Off The Wall Site in 2007, it ran for about a year, year and a half maybe, and then he let the website die, he kind of got over the whole sneaker thing, you know, and he moved on from it, just didn’t care for it anymore.
The community just kind of dispersed – we still bought other sneakers, it wasn’t strictly all Vans type of product, but whenever we saw cool Vans coming out, we didn’t really have an outlet of where to follow each other to find out the info. “Are there still pairs over there or over there?” – so we found ourselves (the members that were on the original site after the website shut down), we were like on the SoleCollector forums – we had our own thread topic – it moved way too much, there was way too much traffic and that lasted for about half a year.
“What do you guys think about me like going and starting a forum? I’ll try and figure this out.” I didn’t know anything about building a forum or a blog or anything like that.
Everybody migrated to that.
This is pre-Facebook. There aren’t really forums anymore. The younger generation just uses Facebook as their forums.
Above: UnderThePalms & Friends at These Days – Ten Years of Vans Syndicate
:: Transitioning from OffTheWallSite to UnderThePalms ::
I’ve always had a relationship with friends inside Vans. But eventually it came, I got a call from the legal department. We were selling some stuff with Off The Wall Site on it – whenever you start making a little bit of money, that’s when they come and say alright you gotta stop that. Even when it’s for them and the culture, but it makes sense. They’re just protecting their brand.
I had to come up with a new name. A friend of ours suggested Under The Palms.
It has a nice ring to it. It kind of embodies that Southern California culture, which is what Vans is, and also too, the double meaning of like being held down under the palms of like the man not letting me do what I want to do. It represents a struggle and I’ve always kind of had that vibe for it.
That’s what Vans is kind of too, if you think about it, in terms of sneaker culture now. They are like struggling for their corner for what it is. They’ve always put out dope collaborations with dope artists, done really good product under Syndicate and Vault and really high end product, but it wouldn’t get the same level of respect. To me, it kind of falls under the same thing. It just seemed to fit and we just stuck with it ever since. We don’t step on Vans’ toes and they don't step on ours and they’re cool.
If you’re into collecting, you need an outlet. You need a place to share stuff, buy and sell stuff and help spread info and meet new people. Why else would you have a hobby if it’s all just for you.
My friend Brant, he owns Silo, it’s a skate shop in Nebraska. He’s helped us early on, he joined our forums, he was real proactive and liked just being a part of the Vans community and recognizing it. He’s had a Vans Syndicate account since like the third season or the third release – Vans Syndicate doesn’t go on a seasonal release basis, but he’s always been about Vans and represented the story of the Vans Syndicate and educating people on it. He’s been a big help to us and he has those relationships with Vans already because he has an account. Whether it’s with reaching out to people at corporate or getting word back and forth like, “Hey you need to take this shoe down that you put a picture up, they didn’t want it up yet.” He’s helped us out in that way and helped us with relationships in that way.
Above: DJ Guamstyles and Steve Van Doren (June 2015)
Brant came up w/ the name?
I give him all the credit for the name. Come up with a name that’s like cool you know, something that Taka Hayashi would want to wear, like make cool stuff, not corny stuff.
There’re a few others too like the guys at In4mation from Hawaii. Guys like Todd and Ryan and Keith – they’ve gone and helped us early on too, giving us pre-orders for guys in the Vans group. Like when they did the collaboration for the Half Cab they did, the Rattles, and some of the other shoes, they would hit us up like, “Hey you guys wanna preorder?” and those are shoes that sell out, like those are shoes that sold out on release day like you know, certain sizes sold out instantly. They respected us enough to let us have that, instead of going to all the wannabe sneakerhead guys, the resellers that are just gonna wanna buy it and resell it.
:: The End of Vans Syndicate ::
Vans did a big event for the ending of the Syndicate at the Known Gallery on Fairfax around the end of 2014.
These Days – Ten Years of Vans Syndicate
That was like, awesome. They basically paid homage to the first 10 years of Syndicate and paid homage to all the people that collaborated with them. So they invited everybody down. Everybody that had a shoe. Mr. Cartoon all the way to Tyler, The Creator. All the other artists, Shawn Stussy was there, sitting down at the table. Tet from WTaps was there, they had a panel and they all sat down at the front and interviewed everyone. Talking about the history and how Syndicate started. They pretty much had full range, no budget. They pretty much could make everything that they wanted. And they did. They used like high quality drawer boxes, every shoe had a dust bag that came with some sort of accessory. Every shoe was on display that they ever did throughout the whole place.
Syndicate had a good 10 years and they were only available at core skate shops – like the same place you’d find Nike SB. It was geared towards sneaker collectors – that demographic - because that’s who they were collaborating with like Mr. Cartoon.
How would you break down the difference between Syndicate and Vault?
So Syndicate is the core skate sub-label only available at select skate shops while Vault is only at boutiques. All your most well-known boutiques… Blends, Undefeated, like more high-end artists or high-end brand names or trending brand names that are popular right now in fashion. Like Brain Dead.
What’s bigger, Vault or Syndicate?
Vault is bigger because it’s more widespread. Syndicate might be in more shops here and there, but it’s not as well known or as popular at least in the sneaker culture. Keep in mind, it’s meant for all the skate kids. But the price point for Syndicate is too high for all the kids that skate. You’re talking about shoes that are 80-90 dollars… 100 something. These kids aren’t talking their moms into buying these shoes.
Above: '08 Release Vans Syndicate X Max Schaaf Pack Era "S" & Mountain Edition (courtesy of DJ Guamstyles)
What about OTW? What was that about? Do you remember like Mr.KimSays who was part of that?
Yeah, the name sounds familiar. He was one of the advocates like Atiba Jefferson. OTW only lasted a few years – they let that go. They were trying to aim at the more fashion forward kids, but it was all new models. People that like Vans, they like the classics. They don’t want the new models.
Have you heard of Defcon?
The Defcon series is basically like Berto from Supreme, Defcon is like his thing. Even in the beginning no one really knew what Defcon was, it wasn’t called anything, but it was all military inspired stuff and it was all super highly detailed – every detail was perfect on it. It was all authentic, but it never went under the name Defcon in the beginning, not until later on. And that’s in-house because he works for Vans. Same thing as Taka. He’s in-house. He works for Vans.
Above (L-R): Taka Hayashi's son, Taka Hayashi, DJ Guamstyles (November 2015)
Ever see like the Star Wars Vaults? When Vans got the contract or the licensing for Star Wars, they did a Vault collection at the beginning. Each pair was limited to like 400 pairs worldwide. And a couple models were based off of old vintage prints, but he upgraded them and put like Star Wars characters in them or changed them up a bit.
What percentage of your collection is Vans?
I’d say about 90% now.
Do you collect other things? Is it in your nature to collect?
Yeah, it is in my nature to collect. As a kid it was the usual.. comics and baseball cards, or basketball cards really… and when I got older, I got into deejaying and got into collecting vinyl. I went through like a Hot Wheels phase. I still look for Hot Wheels sometimes randomly, like cool ones… all the JDM stuff, I’ve always been into cars. Too many hobbies!
It switched up to Vans when the website started getting more popular. Then it’s like, “Oh man, I’m kind of like neck deep in this now. I have to represent it hard. I feel like it’s my obligation. And, Nike started fucking around with their customers too much. They started raising their prices and started restocking things. That kills your collector market. Now you’re just selling shoes like anybody else like what the fuck. Now you allow Adidas to come in by getting Kanye and all the others… but mostly Kanye… we can say there are all these other artists on there, but it’s all Kanye and you allow them to become the new juggernaut and you’ve allowed the prices to go up, everyone is charging more for shoes nowadays, you know what I mean. It’s crazy you know.
How many Vans do you have?
Probably at least like 300.
My number basically comes from.. I buy ZipLoc bags to zip up a lot of my shoes because I put them in storage and I’m like, man I think I’ve ordered like a hundred bags from this person on eBay at least 3 or 4 times, haha.
Above: Part of DJ Guamstyles' collection in storage (courtesy of DJ Guamstyles)
What do you think about the quality and price point of Vans?
That’s another reason we collect Vans, like the price point starts lower. But they also have super high-end stuff, like they recently did a stingray Van that retails for $350 with stingray leather. I have friends from like The Netherlands giving me money to buy them pairs. They can’t get it there. They got money and they are willing to spend it on stuff like this.
Above: Vans X MLB Los Angeles Dodgers set (courtesy of DJ Guamstyles)
What’s the craziest pairs you’ve found at a Ross or similar type place?
I’ve found multiple Supreme releases. Probably the craziest were like the Italian made Diemme SK8-His from Italy at The (Nordstrom) Rack for thirty bucks.
Let’s talk a little bit about music… Deejaying & Hip Hop Culture
My uncle James is J.Sumbi from the Freestyle Fellowship. My dad’s cousin married him. (To Whom It May Concern… Freestyle Fellowship’s 1st album)
They were like the pioneers of group rap, West Coast, underground style. They were the influences for J5, Pharcyde, etc.
Dude, this is crazy, that’s my uncle James! We go camping with this guy. I didn’t know it was like that. I still have his turntables to this day, that’s my turntables I use.
Music was a big influence – especially West Coast – I’d go to Import Showoffs just to watch the DJ battle, remember? Import Showoff, that was the main place to go for deejay battles other than buying the VHS cassettes of DMC, you know. Than we would start learning, "Oh, there’s the World Records battles in Alhambra", so we would go to that, but it was mainly going to the car shows.
I joined Guitar Center’s first DJ battle spinoff that they did. It was the first one they ever did, they had like ten deejays every week. They did it for like 3 weeks in a row. My buddy won the first week. I won the second week, and then our other homey won the third week. My homey ended up winning the Covina Guitar Center battle and he ended up going to Hollywood and he went up against homeys like Jay Slim, he was from Cerritos, and like the Cerritos All Stars. Jay Slim ended up winning it that year. He was a dope dude, he was really cool. That was like ’99, my senior year. We were all into turntablism. We’d go to Fat Beats and buy all our doubles and like learn how to beat juggle and cut it up.
We were lucky to live out here on the West Coast and have all The Beat Junkies on our local radio stations. Whether it was The Beat or Power – they were all The Beat Junkies pretty much.
Babu was my favorite battle deejay. And Ice was like my favorite deejay for like mixing. I’ve always loved his mixes on the radio. Super clean. Stacks. That’s back when all I would wear was like Mixwell clothing, you know.
We used to be in a record pool with Virman.
All my homeys still deejay, that’s their primary source of income. Deejay Roial1... Rewind. These are the guys I grew up with in my area. E-Rock...
What was your crew called?
Kids these days have no idea of that element of being a deejay. You had to have a crew because you could never do your own party with vinyl, you couldn’t bring all the records. You’d have to collaborate with your guys like, “Yo, you bring the reggae. You bring the classic Hip Hop. You bring the R&B,” and everybody would get a set you know. Now all your music is in your hard drive. It’s so different. You’d have all your homeys carry record crates. I’m glad we started from the vinyl.
I put the Hosoi SK8 Hi, the first one, w/ the rising sun on the side, that’s my favorite pair. I think at one time, I had like six pairs of those.
The Taka Hayashi collaboration he did with Pendleton. The first one he did. With like the light brown leather shoe with the turquoise Pendleton blanket. That was another epic shoe. That was like amazing.
There’s a couple other random ones.
I like Old Skool’s the most. I like the way they feel, they flex real good on my foot when I walk. Some Vans are more comfortable than others.
Above: Vans Authentic Collection from the "RAD" Movie (courtesy of DJ Guamstyles)
Who are your favorite deejays?
For deejays, I think I put Icy Ice at the top.
It’s hard for me to have a top favorite. I’ve always liked Q-Bert. Q-Bert’s one of my favorites too just because his scratching skills are crazy. And then when I follow him on Instagram, he’s just a funny character. That guy is out there. Makes sense, the way he is, and his style. Dude, Icy Ice, Babu, those are my two favorite Beat Junkies. Melo-D was always really dope. I have like different groups. Like mixing deejays. And then the ones that focus more on like turntablism. Melo-D and Icy Ice for like the radio mixing and being able to trick mix live on the fly and do it so clean.
Yeah, Icy Ice is like the most humble guy in the world.
Favorite Streetwear Brands?
I wear like 3X, so I don’t get to wear a lot of that stuff. It’s always like 2X. I’ve always liked the Hawaiian brands. They kind of transcended into streetwear now. I think it’s because they’ve always made 3X stuff you know. Like Fitted Hawaii. Now they’re so popular I can hardly get it. Their stuff sells out so quick. They’re on this like, new thing right now, all the Hawaiian brands – like making stuff in super limited quantities so it sells out. And then it becomes a part of a resell market. They’re trying to be like Supreme or something. I don’t know. It takes away brand loyalty and it turns everything into like a game.
Oh yeah, your stuff is selling out, but I don’t know if that equates to brand loyalty. I like to wear brands like In4mation, Honors, stuff like that, people that I know. Now that I get older, it has to have more meaning. I’m not gonna put no stickers on my car if it’s not somebody I know. Like I can’t rep no Supreme shit. I don’t know anybody on a personal level there. It used to be about that.
Back in the day, you’d put like a 10 Deep brass knuckle sticker on the car because it was cool, like when Supreme was unheard of still. Stussy. To me, Stussy is like the idol, not Supreme man. Stussy is the model of how you should be. How can you last that long and still be relevant. And not really over collaborate with people. They just stick to their own thing. And it works.
Brands come and go these days. It’s so hard. You gotta rep it for the right reasons. Otherwise it’s… you’re just a culture vulture. Whatever is hot, I’m gonna be all about that. Like, yeah you and everybody else.
I’d wear more Vans stuff if they made more 3X stuff. They make cool stuff. They have a super dope tee shirt game.
Every season, there’s always something cool. Like surfer style shit to skater shit with funky little graphics to edgy graphics to simple and plain stuff to like work wear.
They got something for everybody.
I don’t want to come and go. If you decide to make something into a brand, then you got to push it and put everything into it. Like I still got a day job. This isn’t like my life goal. It’s just a hobby, it’s a side project. If it turns into something because of the popularity, then so be it. But, I’m old enough to not just give in to a hype or a trend if I care about it. My goal is not to build it up and sell it. It’s not about the money. Cuz otherwise I wouldn’t be lining up for sneakers and camping out with friends who don’t own a blog or something. I still do that shit. Because it’s still fun to me. It’s still a hobby. I guess if you lose the passion for it…
There’s a lot of people that are like, “Oh I gotta have this shoe or that shoe”, but they’re on the inside of the industry, and they work for other shops and stuff.
What would you be all about if you didn’t work for them or work for that shop or have a hook up. Would you really want the shoe that bad? Would you go pay resell prices for it. Do you want it that bad? The answer is usually no. They just want it because all their friends are wearing it or everyone is telling them it’s cool.
To possibly be continued...
Stream the Tropicali Mixtape by DJ Guamstyles, DJ Rewind and DJ Roial1 here.
Thumbnails of DJ Guamstyles' new project, @TheAuthenticEra X Vintage Renewals