Next year would've marked the 20-year anniversary of the Zoo York Skateboard Company, a pioneer and icon in East Coast skateboarding. But the brand that acquired Zoo York from Ecko Unlimited in 2011, Iconix (makers of Joe Boxer and Mudd Jeans), have instead decided to dismantle their skate program and cut all riders not under contract leaving only Brandon Westgate and Chaz Ortiz to represent the brand (a representative from Iconix was contacted but did not respond).
On a personal level, growing up in New Jersey, Zoo York held a very special and important place in the hearts of East Coast kids--it was OUR brand. It has been difficult watching the company's demise over the past few years beginning with their absurd series of Ashton Kutcher ads right up to present day Kate Upton ads. I long ago realized Zoo York was not, and never will be, what it was in the 90s and early turn of the century, but I took comfort in knowing that their skate team would always remain top notch. Guys like Aaron Suski, Eli Reed, Ron Deily and Zered Bassett carried that torch for the bygone era, but as is the case when outside parties try to get involved in skateboarding for profits, things fall apart.
So it is with a heavy heart that I give you an interview with my good friend Zered Bassett, (who stood by Zoo York for over a decade through thick and thin), about his departure from the brand.
ESPN: What's the story over at Zoo York these days?
Zered: For myself, basically I didn't get resigned. I was going to quit at the end of last year, they didn't want me to so they offered me a raise, so I stayed. A month or two into 2012 I still hadn't resigned. When I tried to resign the dude wasn't ever available and finally they said they didn't want to resign me or resign anyone that wasn't under contract. Basically, they're not trying to pay dudes more than a couple hundred bucks a month.
What's their reasoning?
Once again, new people coming in buying the company and they don't understand skateboarding and think they don't need a skate team to have a skate company.
So they're completely dismantling the skateboard program?
I don't think so but I couldn't see how long it could last with they way they've treated people.
How long has it been going on like this?
At the end of last year everything seemed cool and mellow and one of the main guys was saying, "Yeah, we want to put the most money that's ever been put into the skate program. We want to get you guys traveling more". I was like, "Cool, let's do this". I don't know what happened between the holidays but come the new year it was totally the opposite with them wanting to save all this money and cut back.
When I saw you and Ron Deily at Tampa Pro they had Chaz Ortiz at the fancy hotel in Ybor City and they had you two at the crack motel by the skatepark and your entry fees weren't even paid.
Yeah... I don't want to say too much. I understand it's a hard time for everyone economically and people aren't trying to spend as much money but it's one thing to say you're going to spend more money then turn around and do the exact opposite and put way less money into a skate program.
I saw the other night in the Street League finals Chaz Ortiz was all Zoo York'd out. They're retaining him, I guess?
I know him and Westgate are still under contract and I don't think they're going to try and buy people out of their contracts. But whoever was not under contract was not getting resigned.
You're like the Reggie Miller of Zoo York--you stayed with them through it all. You would think that's a legacy they'd want to hold onto.
Yeah, I was with them over ten years but apparently it doesn't mean the same to them.
The brand that bought Zoo from Ecko is called Iconix, and Zoo is an East Coast icon. It's kind of ironic that Iconix would kill an icon.
Yeah, we'll see how that pans out for them.
Are they hinting at their plans? Are they just going to blow it out and put it in Walmart and Target?
I wouldn't be surprised. I didn't really sit down [with them] to see what their plans were for the future. It seems like Zoo York as a brand is big enough to where you see little kids on scooters wearing it and you see dudes that don't know anything about skateboarding wearing it for years. Why would they need the skate team when the skate team already got them the credibility to have the brand all over the place?
See, I'm a firm believer in the Trickle Up Effect. If it's cool in the core market then the mainstream wants it. If it's not cool in the core market, then it's not desired by the mainstream. It sounds like they're committing suicide.
Yeah, it really does.
What are you going to do for boards?
I've been getting boards from people here and there but I've just been trying to skate and have my stuff ready for when the opportunity comes along. I have a good amount of footage and photos ready. I've been skating harder than I've ever skated, so I'm stoked.
In the meantime, Jeff Pang hit me up about doing a guest board for UXA. I've been good friends with Jeff and Peter Huynh and Bici for a long time and it's cool to do something with those guys and to know they're there for me in a time when they know I need little bit of help. The guest board should be out by Go Skateboarding Day and it's gonna be sick.
You just had an interview in The Skateboard Mag and I know you've got a lot of footage stacked for "Vicious Cycle II"?
"Vicious Sequel!" We put out "Vicious Cycle" ten years ago and we're going to do Vicious Sequel with pretty much the same crew with a few new guys here and there. We're still out here ten years later-- we're not going anywhere. We're going to have fun, travel with the homies and put out another video.
Are you nervous to be without a board sponsor or is it refreshing?
I'm definitely not nervous. I feel more driven than I have been in years. It's refreshing to have the opportunity to be free again. I feel like I just got out of a long-term relationship, which I did, but it feels good to check other companies out to see what fits me more. I've grown a lot in ten years as a skater and a person so it's cool.
You had some offers for some big, easy money from shoe and board sponsors and you passed on them. Being older are you more selective of where you go? What are you looking for from a brand?
I'm definitely more selective. I want to be where I feel the most comfortable and the most appreciated as part of a team. I want to be a part of a good, solid, reputable thing.
But as it stands there won't ever be another Zoo York Zered Bassett pro model?