In part two of a three-part docuseries by Highsnobiety, we explore how DC cultivated a creative collective of artists that paved the way for collaboration culture as we know it today.

As the story of DC’s humble beginnings in the mid-‘90s began to take shape and eventually formed an early blueprint for modern skate culture, the way in which the brand’s senior management approached working with artists was unprecedented at the time. DC co-founder Damon Way’s mantra to working with collaborators was always simple: let people who are good at what they’re doing take the reins. Because of the lack of readily available information, back then it all boiled down to pure creative alignment. “I think anything pre-Internet took a lot of work,” explained Way. “Music and fashion, all of it took digging and time. Skateboarding wasn’t corporate yet [and] streetwear was just starting to realize itself.”


DC took its creative aspirations into reality in 2001 when they officially launched the Artist Projects sneaker initiative. Artist Projects’ mission was to capture the imagination embodied in the work of artists who’ve risen out of skate culture to critical acclaim. One of the creatives to emerge from this subculture is filmmaker and curator Aaron Rose, who’s credited by some for merging art and skateboarding together in a way where two worlds collided. “I think skateboarders and artists get along because they’re the same thing,” Rose explains. “Skateboarding is an inherently creative pursuit.”


For most of the ‘90s through the early aughts, Rose’s infamous Alleged Gallery in the Lower East Side of New York went on to exhibit works from many up-and-coming artists from the art, skateboarding, graffiti, and fashion worlds. It was a breeding ground for hungry artists to spread some of the most vibrant American art produced in a generation. “At the time [Alleged] was the only gallery in the entire world that was showing art done by skateboarders,” revealed contemporary street artist Shepard Fairey. “I give Aaron [Rose] a lot of credit for doing something that blew the doors wide open for an entire culture.”


During the design process for his shoe, Fairey made it clear that his perspective as an artist would not be ignored and that it would be a genuine collaboration. He was drawn to DC in the first place because of the founders’ philosophy of building cool shit with likeminded people. DC’s gamble paid off and his work in the Artist Project was critical to the program’s success. “When I did my collab with DC it did better than they had expected,” explained Fairey. “That made Damon [Way] really excited that there was possibility in the marketplace for more of this. I was kind of the guinea pig.”

Aaron Rose


Perhaps another reason why the Artist Project was so successful was that it just didn’t seem like work at all. As Rose recalls, it felt more “like a project between friends” and even though there were contracts to be signed, it “never felt like working for a brand.” But there is more new work to be done with the brand. With co-founder Damon Way having made his way back to DC, his initial philosophies on collab culture still remain and usher in a new era for its Artist Project. They’ve tapped DC alum and luxury sneaker purveyor Jon Buscemi as part of this relaunch to get his take on the Lynx. “I’m gonna take it and make it the ‘Buscemi Lynx,’” he explains. “DC’s where I got my PhD in this whole business and it’s only right for us to work on something together.” Watch part two of the DC Story above to see how they trailblazed collaboration culture between the art and skateboarding worlds, and stay tuned for the final chapter to see what the new age of DC has in store for the future.
Words by Daniel So
Branded Content Editor

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