Amsterdam in Focus: The POP Trading Co. Guided Tour17 April 2019
END. heads to Amsterdam to spend a day with the city's most prolific young skate brand: Pop Trading Company
As you exit Schiphol airport, you’re instantly met by a huge typographic sculpture which states: ‘i am-sterdam’. a world-famous city branding campaign which appears in the hashtags and tagged photos of millions of tourists every year; a no-nonsense message of inclusivity and belonging, welcoming you to a city which proudly homes more than 187 nationalities from around the world. But after a weekend of seeing the city through the eyes of those that live there, when I sat down to write I found myself thinking that if Amsterdam was a person, they’d probably be tired of hearing themselves reduced to a series of sordid stag-do stories and blackout stoner moments.
Internationally renowned as mainland Europe's hedonist hotspot, I grew up on whispers of 'what happens in Amsterdam stays in Amsterdam,' and yet this perception barely scratches the surface of what the Dutch capital has to offer. A haven for legal highs and liberal attitudes? Sure. But also the city with the most culture per capita on the planet. A powerhouse of global commerce, widely considered the essential entry point to business in Europe, with regional headquarters of Nike, adidas, and Netflix (to name but three) situated along the city's famous canals. It's this dichotomy that makes Amsterdam so unique: an eccentric blend of party town antics and world-class culture and style. I realised that if Amsterdam was a person they would be the person everyone wants to be friends with. The person who embraces every facet of their personality. The person who's never afraid of a good time. It's fitting that as we arrive into Amsterdam to meet the team at Pop Trading Company for a guided tour of the city, we quickly discover that its founders - Peter Kolks and Ric van Rest - are those people, too.
Formally launched as a standalone collection in 2016, the Pop Trading Company canon is a mirror image of the art of skateboarding itself. A true underdog's tale, the story of the brand from bootstrap beginnings to Amsterdam's premier skate brand is one that every skateboarder attempting a new trick can relate to. A story of endless perseverance: a continuous cycle of trying and failing, but sticking with it because you know that when you get it right, there's no better feeling. Although both now retired from skateboarding due to injury, in many ways Pop Trading Company is Peter and Ric's greatest trick to date.
Raised on the Dutch skate scene, Peter and Ric successfully ran iconic Dutch skate store Frisco, selling boutique contemporary menswear labels Norse Projects and A.P.C. and later distributing key skate names Palace and Magenta, before deciding to start their own line. Pushing the evolution of the skate aesthetic by introducing elements of traditional menswear without losing sight of their subculture roots, Pop's commitment to the skate scene - both in Amsterdam and beyond - is absolute and anchors the brand to the streets and scenes it's borne of.
Over the course of a day in Amsterdam, END. got to know the people behind Pop Trading Company, and why community is the bedrock of everything they do.
10 AM | Breakfast | Slagerij Vet | Zeedijk 99, 1012 AT Amsterdam
We'd arranged to meet Ric and Peter outside Central Station at 10am. After leaving my wallet at the hotel on our first attempt, I shoot Peter a text to let him know we're running late. 'Easy mate, also late. Skaters!' comes the reply, and the easygoing energy that surrounds the Pop team settles in for the duration of the trip - before we've even shaken hands. A little later than planned, we meet and rent some bikes. The primary mode of transport by a long shot, The Netherlands' flat landscape makes each journey from A to B an effortless opportunity to absorb the sights, in particular the iconic tilted townhouses which line the streets, barely two the same across the city.
We make our way to Zeedijk to pick up some breakfast. As we walk down the cobbled street we pass some of Amsterdam's shopping hotspots, including the Patta and BLACK Comme des Garcons stores. 'This street is almost like Amsterdam's answer to Fairfax in LA,' Ric says, the city coming to life around us.
We arrive at Slagerij Vet for some sandwiches. A fixture of the neighbourhood since the 1950s, the butcher and sandwich deli is as traditional as they come. The staff - all dressed in classic blue button-downs and aprons - work quickly through the queue which snakes out onto the street, obviously a daily visit for locals who live and work in the apartments and offices above. "This is a classic food spot," Peter tells us. "It doesn't look like much, but this is real Amsterdam."
Peter recommends the signature sandwich: the Broodje Zeedijk. "It's kind of like a club sandwich, but with a twist. The sauce is a secret, though. No one knows what's in it." We order 4 of these to go and make our way through the streets of the Red Light District to our next stop. The sandwich is so good I make a vow to myself to come back whenever I'm in the city.
10.30AM | Shopping | Redlight Records | Oudekerksplein 26, 1012 GZ Amsterdam
Eating as we go, we make our way over to Redlight Records and meet Nick. Hidden behind the street through an easy-to-miss gate, the store sits in a small square which used to house the Dekmantel HQ. Stocking an eclectic mix of styles, Nick tells us from behind the counter, 'it's probably a mix of about 90% old and 10% new. Basically, if we like it, we sell it."
With owners James and Abel currently away on a vinyl dig in Cologne, Nick has stepped in to man the store. "We generally tend to do distribution for more niche stuff if it's new," Nick explains. "A lot of the time there will be a personal connection to the artist or the label. The idea isn't to be a big distribution company, but it feels good to be able to help out friends on their projects."
Like Pop Trading Company, Redlight Records is a benefactor of 'Project 1012'. Established in 2007, the municipality's initiative was intended to improve the perception of the neighbourhood and curb the rising crime rates which inevitably surround businesses which exist at the fringe of societal norms. The same businesses which have become the controversial calling card of the city centre.
"Really the project is about there being less fucked up shit going on. It's about criminality in the neighbourhood. By offering rent incentives to creative agencies and businesses in the area, they're kind of legitimising the other stuff through context," Nick explains.
We spend nearly an hour flicking through the store's shelves as Nick talks us through the old posters and ticket stubs which span one of the walls, like a patchwork tapestry of the city's rich history in independent music and nightlife.
11.30 AM | Tattoo | Order | Dollebegijnensteeg, 1012 Amsterdam
Next, we head round to Order on Dollebegijnensteeg and meet Ettienne. Home to a creative collective of tattoo artists and designers, Order has been the go-to tattoo studio in the neighbourhood since opening a couple of years ago. Specialising in traditional Americana and cartoon art, owner Ettienne is covered head to toe in a diverse array of ink - a personal collection honed over years in the industry. I ask how he knows Ric and Peter. "Amsterdam is a pretty small town, really. If you do anything remotely creative you inevitably end up working with each other or meeting through mutual friends. The sense of community here is unlike anywhere else, it's pretty special. If someone does something cool, you're proud that they come from Amsterdam."
He asks Peter what he's shown us so far, and what's in store for the rest of the day. "We're mainly doing stuff in the Red Light and on the North Side," Peter explains. "Those are the only places I go!" Ettienne laughs, and we know we're seeing real Amsterdam; the hidden gems of the city that sit right in front of tourists' noses, overlooked next to the spectacle of the red lights.
12 PM | Shopping | POP Trading Co. Store | Sint Annendwarsstraat 3a, 1012 HC Amsterdam
We walk around the corner to drop in at the Pop Trading Company flagship which opened in late 2018. Clean and minimalist, the space gives physical context to the brand: sleek strips of maple, aluminium, and glass are juxtaposed with raw concrete and beaten up oil drums. A palette of materials which effortlessly conveys the skate meets menswear aesthetic which sets the brand apart from the competition.
Manned by members of the Pop skate team - the same guys who feature in the clips on the screens, skating different spots across Europe on one of the brand's frequent trips - the staff quickly offer us espresso and are eager to talk us through the new season pieces which line the rails.
As we look through the new collection, a stream of people come and go. Some come to shop, others just to talk to Peter and Ric or the rest of the staff. More than once the place breaks out in full laughter and it's nice to see that the same irreverence and devil-may-care attitude which sets the tone in the look books and skate clips trickles down into the store itself.
1 PM | Lunch | Foodware | Looiersgracht 12, 1016 VS Amsterdam
After a morning taking in the sights and stores in the Red Light district, Ric and Peter take us on a bike ride across the city to Foodware for lunch.
Boasting a near perfect rating on almost every review site you can find, Foodware offers a selection of fresh, healthy foods with a daily menu of dishes to sit in or take away. Packed in an industrial setting, the café offers a wealth of options ready to accommodate dietary requirements as standard.
When we arrive we meet Hugo, who works in the kitchen. An original member of the Pop skate team, Hugo doubles as the brand's resident photographer. He ushers us in and tells us to come up to the counter to order when we're ready.
As we eat, we talk more about the modus operandi at Pop Trading. "It started as just a couple of t-shirts, a hat, and an overshirt," Peter says. "When we were asked to come to Paris to be part of the DMSR showroom, we had to ramp up to a full collection real quick." Splitting their time and expertise on a front/back of house basis, Ric tells us that he mainly handles the logistics side of the business while Peter handles marketing and sales. "There's so much to think about that finding time to design can be one of the toughest things. We usually have to handle business during the day and then design at night."
I ask what the driving factor behind the Pop Trading aesthetic is. "We're mainly inspired by the style of the team around us," Peter explains. "Our experience running Frisco meant that we could see this shift happening. People started wearing skate brands with pure-play menswear, but no one was really mixing the two in one brand. We wanted to take the looseness of skate style - its sturdiness and durability - and see if we could combine that with finer fabrics and silhouettes from menswear. That's why we use a lot of cord and nylon, if things are going to rip as soon as you fall in them then it's not going to work for skaters. We were actually the first skateboarding brand to show in Paris during fashion week."
While we eat, Foodware owner Sander arrives. An avid collector of luxury menswear pieces, Sander has built a reputation for his risky customising of items from labels like Comme des Garcons and Helmut Lang. Pop Trading intern, Alex, asks him if he can fix the Stone Island jacket he's wearing which he accidentally melted ('don't ask'). Sander says no problem - he'll fix it up.
2 PM | Skating | De Nederlandsche Bank, Westeinde 1, Amsterdam
After lunch, joined by Alex and Hugo, we make our way to the Plaza De Nederlandsche Bank - a popular skate spot nearby - where we meet other members of the Pop skate team.
The same energy that took over the Pop store follows us here as the team spends the next few hours skating the plaza and discussing the recent death of US skate legend and Thrasher Magazine editor, Jake Phelps. Famed for his 'skate or die' mantra, Phelps' influence on the global skate scene was undeniable, having helmed the San Francisco-based monthly for 26 years. Not without his share of controversy, Phelps' divisive character and skateboarding's response to his sudden passing was best summed up by Alex, who'd seen a quote on Instagram about Phelps' passing earlier that day. "He might have been an asshole, but he was skateboarding's asshole."
4 PM | Listening Session | Red Light Radio Store | Oudezijds Achterburgwal 133, 1012 DG Amsterdam
We make our way back to the Red Light district to stop in at the Red Light Radio store for a listening session with store manager, Twan. Widely considered Amsterdam's equivalent to NTS, Red Light Radio has become a fixture of underground and independent music culture across the world. Since its opening in 2010, RLR has gone from strength-to-strength to now provide 12-hours of daily broadcast featuring an impressive list of global and international DJs including Tornado Wallace and Young Marco. Having quickly established authority on the global music scene, the independent station now partners with noteworthy music festivals and has an established city twinning programme, pairing Amsterdam talent with others in cities from around the world. "From the most obscure afro to the coldest wave to the blackest metal and everything in between, we're as diverse as it gets. At least we try to be," Twan tells us.
In the basement of the store, the station holds monthly listening sessions with live DJs playing mainly ambient music to intimate groups of 20 or 30: making the most of the station's original 1940s Klipschorn speaker system. "We try to have a high standard on sound quality, and the rest will fall into place," Twan explains, playing 1970s electronic music pioneer, Klaus Schulze, for us. A visceral soundscape of early synth, so clear it was like truly hearing music for the first time.
6.30 PM | Dinner | De Klaproos | Papaverweg 38, 1032 KJ Amsterdam
Heading north, we take a quick boat-ride with our bikes across the river to Amsterdam's lesser-known north side. Quickly released from the hectic energy of the main city, the north is a hub or urban regeneration where free-flowing green spaces meet cutting edge architecture. We arrive at De Klaproos: a repurposed warehouse which has become a favourite spot for residents of North Amsterdam touted for its low-key atmosphere, contemporary Italian menu, and old-school games room. This converted warehouse also houses Pop Trading HQ.
While Peter and Ric take a conference call about an upcoming collaboration, we meet the rest of the Pop Trading team who are joining us for dinner. The skate crew, which spans ages from 14 to 32, are a tight-knit group of some of the best young skate talent from The Benelux and beyond. The raucous energy is infectious as the beers begin to flow and anticipation builds for the Pop Trading Company annual pub quiz taking place this evening at a nearby skatepark.
Following a round of appetisers including octopus salad, olives, and a tangy Caprese salad, the pizzas begin to arrive. The most popular choice by far (accounting for more than half of our table of 12's orders) the 'Cicciolina' is pizza like I've never experienced. A far cry from the usual flavour profile of the classic Italian export, De Klaproos' 'Cicciolina' reimagines pizza with an unctuous palette of earthy and umami flavours which bring it out of Italy to land somewhere totally different. With toppings including olives, walnuts, and gorgonzola, the pizza immediately joins the morning's sandwich on the 'must eat again' list in my mind.
During the meal, I ask Peter and Ric about the fierce sense of community which surrounds Pop Trading and how they hope to maintain that close-knit vibe as the company continues to grow. "I'm not worried about that, I think it will take care of itself," Peter says. "I would feel like a fraud if we got to a certain size and decided let's bring in a hyped new photographer to shoot our campaigns or whatever. It's about keeping things consistent and supporting the people who've supported us this far. I think that's the only thing you can really do as a brand: keep it consistent with the vision you started with."
8.30 PM | Pub Quiz | Skatepark Noord | Aambeeldstraat 12, 1021 KB Amsterdam
After dinner, we make our last trip to nearby Skatepark Noord: an indoor skate facility, store, and bar set in an industrial part of the north side, and the venue for Pop Trading Company's annual pub quiz. As we arrive, people are pouring in on bikes from every direction.
Split into teams of 4, with an age range spanning at least 3 decades, Amsterdam's skate-loyalists go head to head as they battle through 6 rounds of intensely specific skate trivia and knowledge. The prize: a free ride on your bar tab, but really this was about honour.
After the champions are announced, the night falls quickly into the party town antics the Dutch capital is famed for, but with a Pop Trading twist. Outside, the crowd pushes a row of benches together and watch as people try to skate across them after one or two too many. Inside, Peter becomes the world's worst bartender: tempting people with mix-and-match beers from the tap for no other reason than why not.
The party rages on until Skatepark Noord closes in the early hours. I'm pretty sure we went somewhere else after, but things start to get a little hazy. And based on the beers Peter and Ric kept dropping into my hand, I think that was the whole idea.
There's been a lot of talk about the cultural positioning of skateboarding in 2019. About whether it's still a subculture or if it's come mainstream in the age of Instagram-models wearing Thrasher tees. About whether it even matters. About whether trying too hard to maintain subculture status is antithetical to the original mission statement of skateboarding itself. About the cultural implications of the sport becoming an Olympic discipline for Tokyo 2020. There are good arguments to be heard on both sides of the coin, but I'm not the right person to present those arguments. All I can say is that, subculture or not, my day spent with Pop Trading Company on the skate scene in Amsterdam was framed by a pervasive sense of community that's rare to find, particularly in metropolitan cities where dog-eat-dog mindsets are all-too-ready to swallow the good guys whole. I can't say whether skateboarding is a subculture any longer, but what I can say is that Pop Trading Company exists as part of a culture of championing raw talent and pushing creativity. A culture of supporting local enterprises and feeding back into the scene around you. A culture of collaboration over competition. And maybe that's so rare, Pop Trading Company is a subculture of its own.
The latest drop from Pop Trading Company is now available at END.
This article was produced as part of an ongoing ‘In Focus’ series: END.’s essential guided tour of the most prominent style and culture hotspots from around the world as seen by those who live and work there.