June 3, 2023

Skate and plant trees or die

Pilllar brings environmentalism to the skateboard world with an extra ‘l’
Pilllar owner Corey Bracken.

   Skateboarders, otherwise known as thrashers, shredders and rippers, are infamous for the destruction left in their wake: tattered clothing, torn shoes and, of course, broken skateboards.

   Corey Bracken wants to mitigate that collateral damage with his company Pilllar, which merges selling skateboard products with environmental activism.

   Bracken bills Pilllar as the world’s first climate-positive skateboard company and vows to remove 110% of the carbon emitted by its endeavors through environmental action. One such venture, a partnership with the National Forest Foundation, plants a tree for each skateboard Pilllar sells.  

   Bracken has deep roots in skateboarding, having started at age 7. At 41, he’ll still jump onto a handrail for a 50-50 grind.

   “… we think a lot about skateboarding,” Bracken says with a laugh, explaining how the mind of a skateboarder works. “That is changing.”

   In Bracken’s hometown of Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed by a police officer in May of 2020, skaters rode their boards en masse in participation with Black Lives Matter protests.

   “The skateboarding community really came together and rallied around that,” says Bracken, who a year earlier had the epiphany that led him on his path to combine his passion for environmental activism with his love for skateboarding.

“We may just be one person, but collectively we’re a pretty big group of skaters.”

   “When I looked across the skateboard landscape, I didn’t really see anyone that was talking about the environment,” Bracken says.

   “I was like, ‘Well, s***, if no one else is doing it, maybe I can do it,’” he says.

   Before launching Pilllar, Bracken co-owned IVY Longboards, which became IVY Lifestyles, expanding its business to include group travel and adventure packages. Previously heading up its skateboard division, Bracken found himself hosting groups of people on sailing trips to the Caribbean, beach getaways in Mexico and snowboarding excursions in the Rockies.

   Those adventures were not taking Bracken to where he wanted to be in life. On a flight home from Georgia in summer 2019, he realized it was time for him to embark on a different journey. His varied experiences and the skills he learned along the way would enable him to accomplish his goal.

   Before his stint with IVY, Bracken cut his teeth as a businessman in the music industry. He started as drummer and later moved into production and band management, mentoring up-and-coming local artists.

   “If you’ve ever been around the music industry, or really any industry, [you know] talent alone will not get you to that next level,” Bracken says.

   He spent some time working at recording studios in Los Angeles, before returning home to open his own studio and production company, Apelis, a play on Minneapolis and “Apple+S,” the Mac save command, which became slang for “good take” in his studio.

   “Apple+S that!” Bracken says, with the enthusiastic tone in which the phrase might have been expressed.

   Bracken went to school for audio production and business management, but he says the most important thing he learned in college was the art of learning, particularly in reading comprehension and writing, which he displays in his blogs posted to Pilllar’s website.

   In one blog, Bracken writes about launching Pilllar one month before the World Health Organization officially declared a pandemic.

   “So what do you do?” Bracken writes.”You suck it up, quit feeling sorry for yourself and make the best of what you do have. Your family. Your friends. Your health. Your day job. And your unyielding desire to create a company that’s bigger than yourself.”

Some clips from the interview with Pilllar owner Corey Bracken. Left: Bracken; Right: Commuter editor Chris Devlin.

   The pandemic has halted some of Bracken’s plans, which included travel to the Nevada plant where Pilllar’s boards are manufactured and to the American maple tree farms in the Great Lakes region of the U.S. and Canada, where the wood is sourced.

   Individual, outdoor activities, like skateboarding, “have gone gangbusters,” Bracken says, although, it has been difficult to meet demands with the pandemic causing lengthy production delays.

   Turnaround for an order of boards went from six weeks to six months, Bracken says. To manage this, he has upped his orders from 150 boards to as many as 400 boards at a time.

   The delays can be traced back to the milling process and the increased demand for wood across the board, Bracken says, insisting to not have intended the pun.

   Pilllar skateboards are available in select skate shops, but Bracken prioritizes maintaining his own inventory to sell online. Rather than have customers buy his boards at random shops without knowing the backstory of the company, Bracken says he wants to build a following of skaters who support his brand and understand its environmental pursuits. 

   The hardest part of starting a skateboard company is winning the trust of brand-loyal skaters, Bracken says. Nevertheless, in its first year, Pilllar has sold boards in nearly all 50 states and some to buyers in the U.K. and Canada, he says.

   Satisfied customers tell Bracken that they want to get new boards, but the ones they’ve bought haven’t broken yet, he says.

   “I could easily go to China and spend half the money on the board upfront and make more profit,” Bracken says, “But quality … how it’s manufactured and to be as ethical as possible means more to me … than making a couple of extra bucks on the back end.”

   Bracken acknowledges that the thing that he and other skaters love to do depends on chopping down trees, but he was not fond of wood-substitutes, such as carbon-fiber skateboards. Consequently, he rejected the abandonment of wood as the primary material as part of his push for sustainability in skateboarding.

Bracken kickflipping a Pilllar board over a gap.

   “A skateboard has a certain feel to it,” Bracken says, “not only a feel to it but there’s like a soul to it in that wood.”

   However, even the highest quality skateboards have limits, he says.

   “Clearly, it’s a piece of wood – it’s gonna break eventually,” Bracken says. “It’s gonna get razor tail. You’re gonna wear it down. It’s gonna lose its pop.”

   A single tree can produce about 50 skateboard decks, with only the first five feet of the trunk suitable for skateboard material, Bracken explains. 

   A tree removes up to 40 pounds of carbon from the atmosphere every year, as Bracken explains, but planting trees is not Pilllar’s only effort in being climate positive.

   Pilllar donates 1% of its profits to the Climate Emergency Fund, a California-based non-profit organization that takes a direct-action approach to combat climate change.

   For its No Plastic Pledge, Pilllar is sending a free bamboo water bottle to everyone who signs a pledge to not buy water in plastic bottles for a year. As of January, 350 people had signed the pledge, which Bracken says will reduce landfill waste by more than 8,500 plastic bottles.

   While other skateboard companies have offered similar plant-a-tree initiatives, Bracken says he has not found another company that goes to the extent that Pilllar does to ensure a climate-positive operation.

   Bracken says he is working toward obtaining an official climate-positive certification, which he says in an expensive process. In the meantime, he provides Pilllar’s stats online.

A Pilllar board with the Minneapolis skyline in the background.

   Every month, Bracken tallies and publishes a detailed audit of Pilllar’s carbon footprint. He uses those numbers to confirm that Pilllar is staying true to its climate-positive promise.

   At first, Bracken was hesitant to emphasize Pilllar’s environmentalist pursuits, but after receiving encouragement from like-minded skaters, he has amplified his message, he says.

   “We may just be one person, but collectively we’re a pretty big group of skaters,” says Bracken, hopeful that skateboarders recognize the power of their unified efforts.

Learn more at www.pilllar.com.

Contact the author of this article and Commuter editor Chris Devlin at thecommuter@nullnorthampton.edu.

Chris Devlin

Chris Devlin, web editor and staff writer of The Commuter, is a sophomore at NCC.

View all posts by Chris Devlin →
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