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In Dayton, Ohio, in 1990, Chris Carter, Mike Hill, and Neil Blender created Alien Workshop (AWS), an independent American skateboarding company. Pacific Vector Holdings purchased the Burton snowboard brand in October 2013, following stints under the ownership of Rob Dyrdek, the brand's initial team rider, and the company itself in 2012 and 2013. Before it shut down in May of 2014, Alien Workshop was a manufacturer of skateboard decks, wheels, clothing, and other skateboarding gear. In 2015, an all-amateur crew released a new version of Alien Workshop through Tum Yeto. They dropped Bunker Down, their sixth video, and a slew of new skate decks. In 2016, under Mike Hill's leadership, Alien Workshop stopped collaborating with Tum-Yeto and resumed operations at its original location, the Mound Laboratories in Miamisburg, Ohio. The company's ownership has been rocky in the past, but it is now operating independently again.
History 1990–1999: Formation, Memory Screen, Timecode
Despite the fact that California was already the undisputed centre of the skateboard industry, Carter, Hill, and Blender opted to start a business there. Duane Pitre, an early team member, recalled becoming enthused by the idea of an innovative Midwestern company after attending a meeting in California; the company had originally used the emblem of the restaurant where the discussion took place. Memory Screen (1991) starred Dyrdek, Pitre, Bo Turner, John Pryor, Scott Conklin, Steve Claar, and Thomas Morgan in their debut video production as a firm.
Timecode, released in 1997, featured new team riders Josh Kalis (who would remain with the brand for over a decade), Lenny Kirk, and Fred Gall (who would later ride for Habitat), and reflected the company's shift in focus to video production after the release of Memory Screen. In comparison to Memory Screen's 41 minutes, Timecode's 21 minutes feature full sections from only three of the nine skateboarders featured in the video.
The years 2000-2008: photosynthesis, the Burton purchase, and the Saari hire
In the early 2000s, the company hired Joe Castrucci to direct the Photosynthesis video; Castrucci went on to direct the growth of the Habitat skateboard deck brand, which now operates alongside Alien Workshop under the DNA Distribution parent company, which was founded within the company. Habitat skaters include Kerry Getz, Danny Garcia, and others who had previously skated for Alien Workshop. DNA Distribution, or the "Sovereign Sect," included the Reflex (bearings) brand, with professional skateboarders Guy Mariano and Kareem Campbell being sponsored by the company.
Photosynthesis was the first film to feature future company leaders Jason Dill and Anthony van Engelen, two team riders. Dill appears in the end of the video to the tune of Radiohead's "Polyethylene."
In June 2014, Dill narrated his video segment, revealing that he used "a lot" of crack cocaine while filming Photosynthesis, which featured both his own footage and footage shot by Photosynthesis's originator, Hill. Dill revealed that the opening telephone call between himself and Carter was recorded as part of a larger collection of phone talks with Dill that the business had recorded over the course of two years. Dill began his account by saying he had no interest in participating in the activity and was on the edge of tears while thinking about it.
Danny Way, who would later resurrect Plan B Skateboards, Anthony Pappalardo, who would eventually be recruited by Chocolate and Lakai Limited Footwear, and Brian Wenning all had their debut appearances in DNA Distribution videos in this film. Pappalardo later reflected on how "proud, honoured," and perhaps even "a sense of achievement from skateboarding" he felt after receiving an answering machine message from Dyrdek and becoming an official amateur rider for Alien Workshop, events that were marked by commercials directed by Castrucci.
Skateboarding journalists were taken aback on May 2, 2008, when the Flip Skateboards firm stated that long-time team member Arto Saari had gone to Alien Workshop following the acquisition of DNA Distribution by Burton Snowboards on February 5, 2008. Saari elaborated on his choice to leave Flip in 2012, saying, "It wasn't, like, an easy thing to do, but, at the time, I knew I had to do it... for the reasons that happened, you know?" Saari was referring to the death of his former teammate Shane Cross. That's why I've come to the conclusion that it's in my best interest to part ways with Flip rather than go out on my own. In an interview from 2012, professional skateboarder Ed Templeton said, "I mean I was completely shocked when he left Flip... it didn't make sense."
Mind Field in 2009, Dyrdek in 2011, and the dissolution of the Sovereign Sect in 2014
About the same time that Saari joined the Alien Workshop crew, Dill and videographer William Strobeck went on the hunt for Jake Johnson. Johnson said that he was approached by Stereo, a skateboard deck manufacturer co-owned by Chris Pastras and Jason Lee, but was ultimately dissuaded from accepting the position of "Stereo Sound Agent" by Dill. The next year, in 2009, Greg Hunt directed the 60-minute video Mind Field for the corporation. There were full-length parts from Saari and Johnson, and Kalis moved to Barcelona, Spain to film his part; as Oliver Barton of Transworld Skateboarding magazine explained in May 2014, Kalis filmed so much for the video that he was able to release a promotional video in 2006 titled In Mono, which featured only Kalis. Heath Kirchart, Mikey Taylor, Grant Taylor, Dylan Rieder, Omar Salazar, Tyler Bledsoe, and Steve Berra all appeared in the inaugural AWS video, Mind Field.
Beginning in the first week of 2011, Flip posted a picture of Saari with the slogan "Home is Where the Hearto Is" to mark Saari's return to the squad. Saari recounted his experience as a rider for Alien Workshop and his brief discussion with Carter when he decided to return to Flip.
It was a pleasure to ride for Alien, as there were no negative energies to speak of. The company was great, as was everyone I worked with, and I made a lot of good friends there. You want to blow your brains out when you have to leave a company like that. I had a brief conversation with Carter, and he said, "Well, fuck man, it's a bummer, but it's, like, you gotta do what you gotta do." It was one of the worst calls I've ever had to make.
Skateboarder magazine reported on Dyrdek's acquisition of Burton Snowboards' Alien Workshop and DNA Distribution on January 10, 2012. According to the official press statement issued after Dyrdek's acquisition of DNA Distribution, "Carter will continue to oversee DNA Distribution in Dayton, Ohio, while Dyrdek will consult directly on all marketing and creative from his Los Angeles-based office." In August of that year, the company put out a line of Keith Haring–designed skateboard decks, wheels, clothes and stickers.
Jason Dill and Anthony Van Engelen (AVE), two veterans of the Alien Workshop skateboarding squad, announced their retirement on May 1, 2013. Our decision to depart the Workshop was made with much difficulty," the news release read. The years we spent as kids at the Alien Workshop will always rank among the best of our lives. You're welcome, Dyrdek. Many thanks, Carter. I appreciate it, Mike Hill. Dill and AVE, with best regards.
After eleven years at the company, Mike "Mikey" Taylor gave notice on September 3, 2013. Taylor announced the news on Instagram, writing:
It is with a heavy heart that I must let you know that I have decided to end my employment with Alienworkshop. It's unfathomable to consider the passage of 11 whole years. It was weird getting a call from @robdyrdek asking me to be a pro on his company's Seek platform because we had met years before I was sponsored as a kid. Rob, Chris Carter, and Mike Hill, I appreciate all your help and support over the past eight years at AWS. I hope everything works out for you!
Following the acquisition of DNA by Pacific Vector Holdings (PVH), owner of the Gatorz sunglasses and No Fear clothing brands, it was revealed in a press statement on October 2, 2013 that Dyrdek will continue as a minority shareholder of parent company DNA. The deal was finalised on October 7, 2013, and US$1.5 million was paid in earnouts and 250,000 stock options to acquire the controlling interest. Among his comments for the press announcement, Dyrdek said, "The DNA Brands are in great hands... the possibilities are limitless."
Alex Campbell's recruitment to Alien Workshop was confirmed after the release of the Nike Skateboarding (Nike SB) video Two Up, which was produced by Chris Middlebrook and the Australian Nike SB team. Campbell is from Perth, Western Australia, and he used to ride for the 4 Skateboard company. In the video, he is seen using AWS skateboard decks, and he expresses his gratitude to the company for their support.
Reopening, analysis, and rebranding in 2014–2016
A post titled "How Alien Workshop Died, Maybe" was published on the "I Don't Know, Man" Tumblr blog by Willy Staley on May 19, 2014, explaining that Alien Workshop had ceased operating as a functional company in the middle of May 2014. The post detailed the history of Alien Workshop following Dyrdek's acquisition. Significant debt issues had caused structural changes, which PVH detailed in a "corporate update" and "bi-weekly Default Status Report in accordance with National Policy 12-203 - Cease Trade Orders for Continuous Defaults ("NP 12-203")" posted on the TMX Money website on May 15, 2014. Interested investors from Toronto, Ontario, Canada may also be of assistance. PVH saved US$722,000 yearly by closing Alien Workshop and 18 underperforming retail sites, cutting 14 employees from the company's headquarters, and agreeing to temporary compensation reductions for some managerial staff. Staley finished his post, "I'm not qualified to say what happened to Alien Workshop, because I don't sit on the board of PVH, and PVH's filings don't mention DNA."
Johnson told presenter Jake Phelps of Thrasher magazine's radio show in a May 20, 2014 interview, "We got fired... I haven't heard anything from my Pacific Vector rep. Barton paid tribute to the company on May 29, 2014, as part of his "Top 5 YouTubes Of The Week" segment. His first pick was Dyrdek's appearance in Memory Screen, and he said, "to a company that I was always happy to feature here, I just never thought a reason would be goodbye." Let's go all the way back to 1991, when Rob Dyrdek first appeared on television in Memory Screen and proclaimed, "Day one baby!"
On June 10, 2014, Carter and Pitre attended a viewing of Memory Screen from its original VHS video recording. The screening took place at the Spectacle Theatre in Brooklyn, New York, United States, and was followed by a Q&A with Carter and Pitre. The Q&A session was videotaped and posted to the NY Skateboarding website.
On May 23, 2014, Castrucci released the following statement about the future of Habitat on the Mostly Skateboarding Tumblr page:
These are definitely strange times. I can't speak for AWS, but I can say that the [Habitat] skate team and I remain strong as a unit, and that we face the future with confidence. The I.P. (Investment partner) and I are currently ironing out the deal's final financial and legal elements. However, I am optimistic about the future of Habitat. It's likely that a lot will have changed, but that doesn't bother me too much because I like novelty. I'll let you know how things develop. Thanks, Joe.
In an interview with ESPN, Dyrdek addressed the status of Alien Workshop and other issues of importance to the skateboarding community throughout the world. The problem was laid forth in no uncertain terms by Dyrdek:
I recently repurchased Alien Workshop and started up Habitat [a skateboard company] again; Alien will follow suit in the not-too-distant future. The men I've done Alien with are people I've known for my whole life, so we had to take a different approach. We've reorganised both businesses so that they may operate as efficiently and effectively as possible, which is essential in today's market. They have a 50-year future ahead of them.
Hill relaunched Alien Workshop in 2015 under the TumYeto Distribution umbrella; Carter has since left the company to focus on the defunct Reflex Bearings label. Alien Workshop's sixth film, Bunker Down, aired on October 29, 2015, on Thrasher Magazine, and Yaje Popson joined the group in early 2016.
After 2015, businesses will again be based in Ohio.
The decision to end the partnership with Tum-Yeto and move activities back to Ohio was made public in July 2016.
Bigly, a video segment featuring new team rider Frankie Spears, was published by Alien Workshop in September 2016.
The Workshop hired Yaje Popson and Joey Guevara to ride for the team in early 2017 and made available pro model boards to celebrate the occasion. They were the company's first professional-grade models since relaunching in 2015. Mike Hill, the artist and current driving force (along with Matt Williams) behind the Workshop, gave a lengthy interview to Thrasher soon after the release of the boards, discussing the fall and rise of the brand, his artwork, and his community vision for the Bunker, where operations are headquartered. In addition, Hill mentioned his work with Supreme and mentioned that Rob Dyrdek is no longer a part of Alien Workshop's day-to-day activities.
Alien Workshop - Memory Screen Skateboard Video (1991)
Alien Workshop - Timecode Skateboard Video (1997)
Alien Workshop - Photosynthesis Skateboard Video (2000)
Alien Workshop - Kalis in Mono promotional skateboard video (2006)
Alien Workshop - Mind Field Skateboard Video (2009)
Alien Workshop - Bunker Down Skateboard Video (2015)