Urban Explorer Series: Interview with Julius Brian Siswojo
“To me, an urban explorer is someone that dives deep into the culture of that place. Rather than going on a typical path across the city that most tourists take, they prefer to walk the streets alone and get acquainted with the city at their own pace.”
Julius Brian Siswojo
Founder of 8FIVE2 and Entrepreneur
Our Urban Explorer
Could you please introduce yourself to our guests?
My name is Julius Brian Siswojo, and I am the Founder of 8FIVE2, Hong Kong’s first authentic street fashion and skateboard shop.
You were born in Jakarta and moved to Hong Kong at the age of 11. If you can remember, what was your first impression of the city and how has your view changed now that you have resided in Hong Kong for so many years?
I was born in Jakarta, Indonesia and moved to Hong Kong in 1985. I came here with my eldest sister when I was 11 years old and the both of us lived at our aunt’s home at the time. As I did not know how to speak Cantonese, my parents wanted us to learn English so they decided to move us to an international city like Hong Kong. It was definitely a culture shock for me at the time, especially for the first three years as I didn’t speak Cantonese. Hong Kong is so fast-paced and the people are always moving a mile a minute. It was not until I picked up skateboarding in 1988 and learnt how to speak Cantonese that the doors finally opened for me. I really love Hong Kong now; It is my home.
How did you get into skateboarding?
It was Sports Day and one of my close friends brought a skateboard to school. I remember how cool it looked so I asked if I could give it a try. I was instantly obsessed with skateboarding from that very first push, so I went and bought myself a toy skateboard at the surf shop in Tin Hau. I remember how excited I was when I learnt the different tricks. Since there were not many skaters at the time, you will have instant chemistry with another guy on the street with a skateboard or with rubbed-up shoes because you just knew they skate too. Growing up, I remember being heavily influenced by skateboarding magazines, street style and hip-hop music till today. I lived and breathed it.
Why did you choose the name 8FIVE2 for your brand?
Hong Kong is my home, so I wanted to pay homage to the city that is home to me. I love it sometimes and I hate it at times too, but I believe I represent Hong Kong. Whenever I have friends and family visiting the city, I would show them around the authentic parts of the city that locals encounter day-in and day-out. I always loved showing people Hong Kong and that is why we are so proud to originate from this city. In fact, we have the Bauhinia on some of our apparel, the national flower of Hong Kong.
What does the term “Urban Explorer” mean to you and how do you think you fit into this term?
To me, an urban explorer is someone that dives deep into the culture of that place. Rather than going on a typical path across the city that most tourists take, they prefer to walk the streets alone and get acquainted with the city at their own pace. As a skater, I am always in search of different spots around the city; not skateparks but places that we can really make our own. Even when I visit different cities, I always enjoy visiting the different skateparks to get a deeper sense of the skate culture of that place.
Skateboard Paradise In The City
Skateboarding has always been a passion of yours, which you have successfully turned into a business. Can you tell us how you started your business?
I have always been a skate fanatic, so I am always on the lookout for unique skate brands, and even on my travels to Japan and other places, I would always buy skate apparel where my friends would ask me where I got it from. In 1999, there was this area around the Immigration Tower in Wan Chai that my friends and I would always skate at. We really made it into “our spot” and was a street cultural phenomenon in the city. Every Friday night, we would easily have 150 kids skating, dancing and chilling out there. On one particular evening, Alyasha Owerka-Moore, one of streetwear’s most prolific designers and the man behind brands like Shut skateboards and Alphanumeric, happened to be there so I introduced myself and he gave me his card. When I saw that A# logo for the first time, I instantly knew I wanted to distribute his products in Hong Kong. I asked him right then and there if I could distribute his brand in the city and he gave me the green light. At the time, I had been saving up some money and so I decided to invest everything I had into purchasing the Alphanumeric apparel because I really believed in it, and more importantly, I just knew that it would sell in Hong Kong. I did not have a physical store at the time so I literally sold the products from my apartment, and thankfully, it did sell!
8FIVE2 has collaborated with so many renowned brands like Vans, Thrasher, and Carhartt. If you could collaborate with any brand today, who would it be?
I would have to say Apple because of its sleek design and innovation. I am a huge fan of their brand! That said, I also have much respect for heritage brands like Filson as well. At the end of the day, I believe that a successful collaboration needs to be organic and two parties really need to enjoy working together on a level where we vibe off one another.
What is the skateboarding community like in Hong Kong?
The most amazing thing about the skateboarding community in Hong Kong is that it really brings people together from all walks of life. There is no divide in colour or class – it is a sport where everyone has mutual respect for one another no matter how long they’ve skated for. Each skater has their own specific style, and no matter how they’ve mastered different tricks, they still fall at the end of the day so it is a very humbling sport.
What do you envision for the future of skateboarding in Hong Kong?
I believe that skateboarding will be more commercial. It will be more and more accessible to kids as parents become more receptive to this sport. Back then, a lot of my friends had to hide their hobby from their parents but overtime, it has become much more mainstream and widely accepted.
What do you think about skateboarding being part of the Olympics?
A lot of core skaters feel that skateboarding is something sacred and should not be part of the mainstream Olympics. That said, for myself, I believe skateboarding is core but I would like everyone to experience it, and the Olympics is a great platform to share that with the general public.
You have so much passion in everything you do – from skateboarding to being an entrepreneur and a performer (music for 24Herbs and acting). Where does your passion come from?
Passion is very important to me. From my passion and love for skating, it led me to start my own skateboarding and urban streetwear store, as well as into the realm of hip hop where some of my friends and I got together to make some fun music, which led to us forming 24Herbs. Having performed with the group around the city, I was recognised and hand-selected by Felix Chong, the writer of award-winning film Infernal Affairs, to star in one of his films. From that film, it expanded into other acting opportunities that I am so grateful for. I have always wanted to open my own barbershop so in 2015, I connected with our mentor Jon Roth from Crows Nest Barbershop in Toronto, Canada, whom later on he told me that he had heard of me from 8FIVE2, and he helped us build Handsome Factory. Skateboarding is my life, and no one can take that away from me.
Given the existing circumstances, what do you do to explore now that traveling is not permitted?
Now that we are at home more often, we enjoy binging on Netflix and spending more family time together. We are also starting to plan more staycations a little further out of the city centre, like the Gold Coast. Food is also something that I love and with Hong Kong being a melting pot of cultures, there is always a kaleidoscope of restaurants to explore right here.
Where does your inspiration for travel come from?
Food, food and food! It is a great way of bringing people together. I really enjoy trying different cuisines, so to get the most authentic culinary experience, you really have to visit the place to take in the local taste, culture and ambiance of the place. When I visit a new place, I genuinely enjoy trying the local dishes as I know I will not be able to find a taste like it anywhere else.
What other destinations are on your bucket list?
My family and I would love to visit Greece. Italy is also on my bucket list! Actually, I previously booked a flight ticket to Italy with my wife Annie and her parents some time ago, but my visa took longer than expected to arrive so I ended up not going with them. Hence, Italy is a destination I would love to visit, as well as other places in Europe like Amsterdam and Prague.
What are the best places to travel to for skateboarding?
Skating in Europe is supposed to be amazing! One of the places that I love visiting when it comes to skateboarding is MACBA, Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona, Spain. It is an actual museum but it has become a renowned destination for pro-skaters and artists alike to hang out at. If you ask any skater, it is one of the most prominent places to skate in the world, and the vibe and energy of the place is unparalleled. It is not specifically built for skating per se but it has many long ledges, stairs, and obstacles incorporated into its architecture that has made it one of the hot “spots” for skaters to come together as a community.