I’m not sure when Belief first popped onto my radar, but they immediately had my full attention once I realised they combined a bunch of my favourite things – good clean design, great use of colour, New York and a positive attitude.
I stayed lurking their socials, checking out what they were up to and found myself really into not only their clothes but what they were trying to build in their area. Recently I got the chance to catch up with co-founder Phil about their beginnings, their plans and their subtle experimentation with more traditional skate silhouettes.
Firstly, can you introduce yourself?
My name is Phil Gordon. I’m co-owner of Belief with my twin brother Raffie and our childhood friend Jimmy Collins.
What made you want to open a store in Astoria?
Jimmy had been living in Astoria and realized that there was no store in the area to buy exclusive sneakers, apparel and skateboards. Surprisingly there was actually a lack of boutiques / skateshops throughout Queens.
Astoria was up and coming and they were building a huge skatepark under the Triboro Bridge near by, so we believed it could be successful.
How did you find the spot?
After checking out a few locations we decided on one that was close to the last subway station on the N line. The neighborhood is awesome and Jimmy’s apartment was close by. We wound up moving in with him… Somehow everything worked out pretty conveniently.
Your store mantra ‘Ever Upward’ is related to your aim to “enroll our community into a positive and productive lifestyle” – can you explain more about how you guys go about doing that?
It’s really just a mentality that we have. We wanted to create a brand that signified and embodied life in a positive aspect. We believe that you can achieve anything you set your mind to – if you are passionate about it. Everyone should be reminded of that from time to time.
The New York State Motto is “Excelsior” which means “Ever Upward”. That’s what the NYC hustle is all about – always growing and moving towards the next step. I love seeing subliminal positive messages around the city and always take note of the MTA Slogan “Improving, non-stop” when I’m traveling through the subway system.
Does your skate team fit in with this mantra too?
For sure. In general I think we gravitate towards positive, productive people and have gained a majority of our inspiration through them. The best thing to come out of Belief is the family we’ve created along the way. Without their help we wouldn’t be where we are.
Do you think more entities in skateboarding should be promoting positivity rather than the sly cynicism many are adopting these days?
That’s a good question. I can’t speak for anyone else and their success, I just believe that giving people a positive push in the right direction when possible will make a bigger impact. So that’s what we try to do, in and outside of our business.
How do you pick the team, are they all Queens locals?
Some of them are… Not all. We just found kids who showed serious potential with skateboarding. The biggest thing for us bringing them into Belief was to be sure they had their heads on straight and would be a good look for the company on and off their board.
They’re all good kids, we’d do anything we can for them.
Who’s the best skate crew in NYC? You? Bronze? Quartersnacks? 5boro?
Shout out all the homies. It’s not about who is the best, it’s about who’s doing what they love – and I’m sure we all are.
When stocking the store, what do you look for in brands? What would they need to fit within the Belief universe?
We just look for brands that share a similar aesthetic to us. Clean, minimal, easy to wear. You know when a brand has it – from the name to the consistency of the graphics they release season to season. We look for the whole package.
Would you describe Belief as a brand with store that sells other complementary brands, or a multibrand store with an in-house brand? I.e, which is at the forefront?
That’s a tricky question. We started with a retail store, but we always knew we wanted a clothing brand. We knew the brand would build over time… In the meantime we built relationships with other companies who heavily influenced us growing up by carrying their products in our store.
The store was a way for us to get situated and show people our aesthetic. It also helped separate our clothing brand from every other up and coming brand in the world, which is an important task to consider when getting started.
I think we’re viewed domestically and internationally as a clothing brand and more locally as a retail store. We have the best of both worlds.
Similarly, what was the motivation for doing a brand?
We were always drawn to smaller independent companies growing up in the skateboard world. We realized that our passion for apparel and skateboarding had to play out in every day life as adults, so we just went for it.
The freedom to create products that derive from our vision, ideas and aesthetic and then offering them to the world is so fulfilling. Seeing the response from people has been a humbling experience for us thus far. It reminds us why we do what we do.
Where would you say the brand sat, inspiration-wise? As I’ve found your graphics and colour palettes are a refreshing departure from your peer group.
We derive our inspiration from our surroundings – whether it is the nature upstate or the hectic and rough terrain in the city. At the same time we are always interested in themes that haven’t been explored by other companies. For example outer space, supernatural, prehistoric and natural disasters are some elements for design that we have ventured into.
We always look to create pieces in unique color ways. That’s one of my favorite parts of the design process and one that helps depict the aesthetic of our brand.
Likewise, what are some of your best sellers at the moment?
With our brand, headwear and windbreakers sell really well. In-store, sneakers and hardgoods move the best.
Who does your graphics?
My brother Raffie and I work together on all design and production. We have the same vision for the brand so we work incredibly well together.
Where would you say you’ve experimented with the line? The perf 4-panels are the first example that spring to mind?
It’s hard for us to experiment as much as we want at the moment. We are sourcing more factories for cut and sew which will allow us to create unique pieces in the upcoming seasons. Some things we’ve taken on have been including signature accessories on certain pieces like custom webbing/straps for headwear and a working compass on our windbreakers.
We just made our first all over print tees and tanks for summer, which came out really well. We’re always looking to be ahead of the curve in terms of placement. Finding unique places on our products for print and embroidery is a big part of the creative process. A couple of examples would be the folding cuff on our thermals or the brim embroidery on some headwear. We always strive to make new products like the hand made canvases we offer on our website.
What does Belief offer that other skate stores in NYC don’t?
We’ve put a lot of focus and attention into the development of our brand, along with stocking skateboard supplies and hard goods. I think that is the main distinction. We are in the process of stocking other lifestyle brands outside of skateboarding such as Saucony, Asics, Topo Design and Patagonia. We also look for cool accessories to stock like the fire escape or bridge shelves we offer.
What are some of the struggles or setbacks involved with running and operating a skate store that onlookers don’t realise?
It’s a non-stop hustle. Jimmy, Raffie and I live together, so we are constantly working early in the morning and sometimes late at night. With all the set backs we face it’s all worth it, because we love what we do.
What’s next for Belief?
We are always looking to expand our product line. We’re going to incorporate more cut and sew pieces into our upcoming collections plus updates to our website so we can feature projects and interviews like this one. Adding new brands to our store is something we are currently working on as well.
All in all we are just trying to grow without over extending ourselves or giving into the mainstream. We’re going to continue to put our all into every piece we make and keep moving towards the next step.
Words: Tom Kirkby
Photos: Hanah Young