Posted on 31 Jan By Visionarism
At Visionarism, we believe that new trends are driven by people, not just brands and products. Very few individuals can really influence and have an impact on the community. We travelled to Hong Kong to meet one of them: Julius Brian Siswojo. Many know him as a Hong Kong street legend, skate lover, actor, MC ( member of HK Hip Hop group 24Herbs ) and founder of skate shop 8Five2, but there is a lot more to this man. JBS has done a lot for the Hong Kong street culture and his network is one of the most impressive in the community. We sat down with him to discuss the Hong Kong scene, his skateboarding competition, the new generation, and the importance of giving guidance to the youth and leaving a legacy…
Brian, thank you for having us here in your store, for those who don’t know you yet, can you introduce yourself?
Alright, my name is J Brian Siswojo, people call me Brian or JBS. I was born in Jakarta and moved to Hong Kong when I was 11 years old. I consider Hong Kong my home!
Hong Kong… What’s so special about this city?
This city is the best. I have a lot of passion for Hong Kong. One of the best things about Hong Kong besides being the most convenient city in the whole world is that, there are a lot of key people from overseas that stop by Hong Kong either for work or just for a transit. I love meeting new people, especially like-minded people with a positive vibe. Hong Kong really has so much to offer from incredible food to everything you’re looking for. A mix of old meets new. Refined meets gritty.
How is the street culture scene out here?
The street scene is pretty mature, young cats know what’s up. It’s pretty much the same everywhere; you got your Anti Social Social Club daddy hats, Champion whatever crewneck, a pair of up river baggy pants, and expensive kicks (NMD, Ultraboost, Y3, etc. Mostly Adidas and Vans), especially the Yeezy, 90% of the people that think they are into street fashion are wearing the Yeezy. It’s part of the uniform, street fashion uniform.
The music here is very interesting, most of them listen to Canto Pop, it’s a part of Hong Kong’s culture but, there is also a bunch of heads that listen to other music but, canto pop really reigns supreme. Just like everywhere you can hear a lot of K-pop right now.
Sports wise, they love soccer here and tennis. A lot of them are into snooker as well. Hong Kong was heavily influenced by the British. Rugby Sevens is a very popular yearly event here as well. Skateboarding has gotten really popular in the last 3 years. It’s good to see.
You are the founder of 8Five2. How did it all start?
I was working at Oxford University Press for 5 years, saving money and skateboarding on the daily. In 1999, I met Alyasha Owerka Moore (the founder of Alphanumeric amongst other amazing brands that he’s affiliated with). Aly handed me his business card, Alphanumeric (A#), I fell in love with the logo (until today, I still think that it’s one of the best logos ever). I bravely asked Aly, if I could distribute his brand in Hong Kong and that was how it all started. I poured all of my savings that I saved working at Oxford to buy Alphanumeric products. It was a gamble. Because I’ve been skating since 1988 here in Hong Kong, I knew most of the local skateboarders. Skateboarders always support skateboarders; at least it was more like that back then. I started selling A# products out of my crib (6 of us, my mom and dad, 2 sisters and a brother, in a 600 sq ft apartment in Causeway Bay. My family is the best, they always got my back). All these skaters, local photographers, musicians, local rappers, DJs, etc came up and bought products from me. I eventually distributed A# to local retailers. From 2 retailers to 12 retailers, we were doing really really well. Then in 2001, we finally moved to a proper shop in Causeway Bay. We’re celebrating our 18th Anniversary this year, time does fly.
How would you describe your clientele?
We have all sorts of clientele: magazine editors/writers, local photographers, artists, directors, musicians, local rappers, DJs, etc… For sure, all of these heads that know what’s up in the street fashion world always come up and buy our stuff. Our products are always very niche, rare, and carefully curated. We have a lot of customers from overseas as well. We are just thankful for all the love we’ve received over the years even through all the bad economy times including SARS.
I can see from the photos on your walls that a lot of well known icons and celebrities from all around the world have visited your store. Can you tell us about some of the best memories you had in your shop?
I have been shooting Polaroids Mini Insta since 1998, so when I started 8FIVE2 I shot more photos; I shot all heads that came to the store or Hong Kong. It’s crazy if you look at our Polaroid wall, you’ll see a lot of influential people have stopped by 8FIVE2 at least once. It’s insane.
I shot a movie with Keanu Reeves (Man of Tai Chi) which was also his first directorial in 2012, “NuNu” is one of the most amazing humans that I have ever known, I’m forever grateful to him for giving me this opportunity and chance. Anyway, we shot it in Beijing for 3 months (overall they shot it for 6 months) and the last 1 month was shot in Hong Kong. After the shooting, we had a day to hang out in Hong Kong. Keanu loves his beer, fried chicken and ramen but, he doesn’t take any of it while filming. His will power is insane! I took him to those 3 joints with the best of the best of fried chicken and ramen with a cold beer. After that I brought him to 8FIVE2, where this customer from Singapore who lives in Hong Kong, was just chilling at the shop, he freaked out hella crazy when he saw Keanu, he couldn’t believe that Keanu Reeves was hanging out in a local skate shop, It was really funny and dope to see that. He (of course) took a picture with Keanu. Keanu is super down, definitely a good human. Mad love and respect to him.
You are very involved with the youth and the street community. Can you tell us more about it and why you are doing this?
You have to bro, you have to give it back. Skateboarding gives me everything that I have right now. And I was that little kid too growing up skating in Hong Kong since 1988. No one back then had organised anything. So now we have the chance, we always organise a lot of skate demos or contests. We also host a yearly Hong Kong Go Skateboarding Day in June. A yearly Game of S K A T E/Game of L E D G E we organise with Vans at our indoor skatepark (Vans Sk85IVE2). Our indoor skatepark is free for all, skate all you want during the rain or if it’s too hot/cold outside. All skaters are welcome. Our association/federation also work with the government closely to open public skateparks, we have 14 skateparks here in Hong Kong, special thanks to my brother Warren Stuart who’s also the head in Extreme Sports Federation HK, without him, none of this local skateparks could have happened. Everyone needs to recognise his efforts. We also do a yearly HK Street Skateboarding Contest, work with Asian Olympic Committee and organise contests for the 2020 Olympics. We do so many events/contests, it’s crazy. I always think that if this happened in 1988 when I started, I would be super super stoked and very inspired. I just want kids in Hong Kong to be inspired by skateboarding, whether it’s to be a sponsored skater, a professional skater, a skate filmer/photographer or a designer working in a skateboarding industry. Just to open doors and opportunities. We didn’t have that back in the day.
You mentioned the partnership with Vans on the Sk8Five2 Skateboarding competition… can you tell us more about it?
In 2011, we opened an indoor skatepark. Then Vans knocked on our door and offered support, they have always had the heart to support skateboarding in Hong Kong, no bullshit. Then we co-operated and opened Vans Sk85IVE2, a free indoor skatepark for all. People love the park, you can play your own tunes, full on A/C during the crazy humid summer in Hong Kong, just overall fun and chill vibes. We are now renovating the park. Heads will be amazed when the new face of the park will be re-opened in April 2017. I can’t wait.
We also have our 2nd shop inside the skatepark, which mostly only sells hard goods and Vans shoes.
With everything you do for the skate community, what do you get back from it?
I don’t expect anything to be honest. Like I mentioned earlier, I just want kids to be inspired and start to pick up a skateboard like I did. I’ve been skateboarding for 29 years and still loving it. I want more and more kids to be like me, have that passion for skateboarding.
We heard that you have a very strong network, and not just in Asia, but on a global scale. How di you build it?
Most of them are from Alyasha, then from other heads that stopped by Hong Kong. Most importantly, I try to be as real and as respectful as possible, show them my city. Avoid being an asshole, then you may end up making some really good friends along the way.
Any upcoming projects you’ve put your name on?
Man, non stop bro. We just opened a barber shop in Hong Kong called Handsome Factory Barber Shop, I want to thank Jon Roth (from Crows Nest Toronto) for helping us start it up proper. 8FIVE2 will continue to bring amazing products to the people, our new indoor skatepark will be opened in April 17, you will be stoked! More contests and events will be going on like the 6th Annual Game of S K A T E and Game of L E D G E, a few collaborations that we are working with some shoe brands, so much more. Check us out on Insta @8five2shop for all 8FIVE2 related news. Nothing in Europe for now, but let’s do something with you guys…
Thank you for your time Brian, see you soon…
Bro, thank you for having me and thank you for doing this. Appreciate it. MAD LOVE!
For more info, visit www.8five2.com and follow @8five2shop on Instagram.
All images by @Visionarism