Mike Kershnar's art is displayed on the walls of The Krate, an apparel, vinyl and art supply store located on Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz. Photo by Rosario Serna.
Mike Kershnar's art is displayed on the walls of The Krate, an apparel, vinyl and art supply store located on Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz. Photo by Rosario Serna.
Mike Snyder (left) and Brandon Spector (right) opened The Krate with the hope of bringing their passions and lifestyles to their daily work. All art displayed is by Mike Kershnar. Photo by Rosario Serna.
Mike Snyder (left) and Brandon Spector (right) opened The Krate with the hope of bringing their passions and lifestyles to their daily work. All art displayed is by Mike Kershnar. Photo by Rosario Serna.

Friday Night, South Pacific Avenue

The crowd amassed in a store on South Pacific Avenue. They were an eclectic bunch: urban art buffs, streetwear enthusiasts and midnight marauders out to revel in the Friday night. Many of them held plastic cups in their hands filled with the kind of beverage known to keep the good times going — drinks were on the house. Artwork of various mediums and sizes decorated the walls and the people orbited around them, studying the color, composition and message of each.

Mike Kershnar stood out in this crowd of 80-some people. And it wasn’t difficult to tell he was the man of the hour. He wore a blue wharfsman beanie, roamed the store with his husky, Lavender, by his side and had a certain live-life attitude about him.

The event on that November Friday night was titled “Signs and Symbols,” a pop-up art gallery being held at The Krate. And Kershnar was the artist responsible. The Krate is a South Pacific Avenue-based boutique founded by high school friends Mike Snyder and Brandon Spector in 2007.

In the past, Kershnar has worked with Obey — the street-art campaign turned print, fine art, and clothing icon — Element Skateboards, and the Beastie Boys.

The scene that night in downtown Santa Cruz is indicative of a new generation. Kershnar, the founding duo of The Krate and aspiring UC Santa Cruz students represent a new breed of entrepreneur. Exactly what kind of entrepreneur they are is difficult to categorize.

They are the start-ups, the underground, the anti-corporate, the rebels, the non-mainstream, the independents, the 20-somethings, the young and the ambitious. Though they may have different names, they all share one thing in common: they are setting a new standard for business models and strategies and are causing old-timers to rethink their traditional ways. They represent the great strides that start-up businesses and brands are making in this day and age, by turning to collaborative trends and taking advantage of new technology and the Internet to turn their lifestyle, passions and interests into a business.

Photo by Rosario Serna.
Photo by Rosario Serna.

For the Love of the Game

The Krate founders Snyder and Spector refused to settle for a 9-5 job. Before founding the shop, they conceded they worked “random meaningless jobs” — from landscaping to pizza delivery to construction work.

Then, after preparation, planning, attending business seminars, working side jobs, and meeting with banks and real estate agents who were skeptical of their cause, they finally proved the doubters wrong and opened up a shop in 2007 that brought together apparel, music and art.

However, both Snyder and Spector will tell you that the kind of apparel, music and art they carry is not something that can be classified into one genre or industry. They avoid labels, though some may think the style of their store simply fits into one mold or another.

“It’s not a hip-hop shop,” Spector said. “But we do have elements of hip-hop.”

The moment you step foot in The Krate, you’ll immediately see, hear and feel how the shop is directly influenced by the lifestyles of Snyder and Spector. You’ll see, hear and feel the hip-hop, but you will also see, hear and feel the skateboard, music and art culture that Snyder and Spector grew up in. Their lifestyle inspires the mission statement.

“We’re just bringing the elements together that belong together already,” Snyder said.

One section of the shop is devoted entirely to vinyl records. Another looks like an armory of art supplies catered to the urban guerrilla artist. Walk a couple of steps in the other direction and you’ll find shelves of street-inspired apparel, featuring everything from the basic graphic tee to the raw denim, from the cut-and-sew garments to the fitted caps.

Today’s start-ups turn their passions and interests into profits. As seen in the case of Snyder and Spector, The Krate was a way for the two to turn their lifestyles into a business.

“If you’re not in it strictly for the dough, then you’re given a certain amount of freedom that you wouldn’t otherwise have,” Spector said.

Snyder and Spector put themselves in a unique position. Profits became secondary, a surplus reward to the start-up business. What came first was passion.

And as Spector said, it is this passion that gave them the freedom that a suit-and-tie type of career wouldn’t be able to offer. They loved what they were doing, and they were able to make profits out of it at the same time.

Ray Licardo, a second-year information systems management major at UCSC, sings the same tune as Snyder and Spector. In 2005, he founded his own clothing brand, Western Vibe. The brand was born from a passion for graphic design that he developed his freshman year in high school, when he visited a screen-printing company.

“After seeing the whole process of designing and printing the graphics onto the shirts, I knew I wanted to start designing and printing my own,” he said. “Since then, I got into Photoshop and Illustrator and designed graphics for my high-school music program, many of my high-school organizations, dance teams, my high school’s sports teams, then soon my own line, Western Vibe.”

Licardo hopes to follow in the footsteps of many start-ups like The Krate and turn a personal passion and interest into a profitable business.

“Because I love designing and fashion, I have no problem turning what I love to do and — am very passionate about — into money,” he said. “It’s much more enjoyable doing what you like and it’s way easier to motivate yourself.”

UCSC student Ray Licardo (front right) turned his passion for graphic design into a profitable clothing line, Western Vibe. Daniel Aclan (back left), Garrett Jay (back center), and Katrina Cabuatan (front left). Photo by Rosario Serna.
UCSC student Ray Licardo (front right) turned his passion for graphic design into a profitable clothing line, Western Vibe. Daniel Aclan (back left), Garrett Jay (back center), and Katrina Cabuatan (front left). Photo by Rosario Serna.

No Room for Lone Wolves

The success of today’s start-ups can also be attributed to their collaborative trends. They understand teamwork and know that in order to survive, they must lean on each other’s shoulders.

Ever since they opened shop, The Krate has hosted monthly art galleries with artists of local talent to artists of renown. They’ve worked with graffiti artists, graphic artists, and muralists like Saber One, David Choe, Alex Pardee, and recently, Mike Kershnar.

“When we do an art show once a month, it’s good for everybody,” Snyder said. “The artists are inviting friends that may never come to our store. We gain exposure. And we’re exposing their art to the community all month. It’s a trade, you know.”

The “Signs and Symbols” gallery put together by The Krate and Kershnar demonstrates how two parties in the creative industry can work together to compensate for each other’s weaknesses and capitalize on each other’s strengths.

“The Krate did a lot of great publicity for the event such as flyering and printing,” Kershnar said. “They also got the word out to the local media and made YouTube videos of me painting the wall. I created all the art for the event, designed the poster and got it covered by Element and Juxtapoz. Now they are taking care of sales and shipping.”

Gone are the days when exclusive behind-closed-doors and lone-wolf mentality businesses thrived.

As Snyder explained, it is these dynamic and creative partnerships that keep start-ups like The Krate afloat in a very competitive, complex and colossal business atmosphere.

Even the corporate giants are starting to see the opportunities in collaboration. Nike and Apple are one such example.

In 2006 they debuted Nike + iPod, a personal training system that allows you to “hear how you run” and “hear the burn” through four steps: Ready. Set. Go. Sync.

In addition to the business incentive, entrepreneurs and artists also seek to incubate each other’s think tanks and innovation kitchens through their collaborations.

“One of the most rewarding things for me as an artist is to collaborate with the people that have inspired me deeply,” Kershnar said.

He has collaborated with Shepard Fairey, the mastermind behind Obey, and created artwork for Element Skateboards and rock posters for the Beastie Boys.

Licardo, founder of Western Vibe, shares similar thoughts with his clothing brand.

“One can gain a lot of inspiration and networking through collaboration,” he said. “You also get other ideas that can make your design or business more effective and more sellable.”

Get The Word Out!

The Internet allows start-ups to project themselves on a global level. It gives them the visibility that they would not otherwise have.

“No matter how small a business may be, it has the ability to immediately share information with the entire connected world,” said Jon Adams, lead developer at Iluminada Design, a Santa Cruz web design studio. “Young businesses have no more, and, more importantly, no less of an advantage than the most successful and established businesses out there, as far as accessibility is concerned.”

Just last month, The Krate launched TheKrate.com, a revamped website complete with an online store. Already Snyder and Spector are noticing the bigger, wider customer base of e-commerce.

“Some dude in London found we were the only store left on the Internet with a certain hoodie that was huge — 10 Deep made a nice cut-and-sew jacket,” Spector said, talking about their latest sale: a limitedly produced sweater that found its way to a happy customer overseas.

Links to The Krate’s Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages can also be found on their new website. Let’s not forget about a link to their blog, which features posts on product updates, pictures from last night’s pop-up art gallery, and anything that might happen in “a day in the life” of The Krate.

The social media of the Internet allows start-ups to connect to their customer base on a personal, more intimate level.

Likewise, Licardo uses these tools as avenues to reach out to Western Vibe’s community.

“These social networks help me spread news about updates on Western Vibe,” Licardo said. “I’m always keeping my supporters posted on new designs and apparel that I’m coming out with through my Facebook group, Twitter, Tumblr, BlogSpot and AIM profile.”

Licardo says that starting up a business would have definitely been much more costly, if not impossible, without the Internet.

“Without the Internet, I would only have to rely on posters, fliers, and word of mouth,” he said. “It would be more expensive trying to expose my brand through these means of advertising.”

Later That Friday Night, South Pacific Avenue

As the night wore on, the crowd continued to soak in the revelry of good company, good people and good song.

But somewhere among the orgy of people, and somehow among the noise of constant chatter, Dylan Christopher managed a quick jeer at his childhood friend, Mike Kershnar.

“He was a dirty skate rat like all of us — he had dreads,” Christopher joked.

Kershnar may be the same skate rat he was back in the day, but this time he transformed his personality, lifestyle and passions into profits.


Make sure to check out The Krate’s next art show, “Friends and Family,” Friday Jan. 8 at 5 p.m. Stay connected at thekrate.com, westernvibe.bigcartel.com and mikekershnar.com.