Johnny Schillereff

take the high road & focus on spirit

Element founder Johnny Schillereff is the driving force behind the brand. Let’s get deeper and hear more about the last and coming 25 years.

Element had significant impact throughout generations of skateboarders.. besides passion and dedication what else is the secret of Element’s longevity and success?
Grinding as if everything could be taken away tomorrow; yet building everything so it can last forever.

Do you think Element never got the credit the brand deserves in the skate scene?
That has never crossed my mind. Our actions and the positive everlasting impact we have had on the skateboard community and the youth is only credit that matters.

Success comes from taking risks, that are foolish in retrospect: is there one you were lucky to get away with?
Yes, I was told I was foolish starting a positive skateboard company that was the antithesis of skateboarding - rooted in the arts and nature during a global financial meltdown and an industry recession. Being in business twenty-five years later might be considered lucky.

Looking at the waves in skateboarding history and the recent uprise of smaller skateboarding brands, did you consider bringing back Underworld Element as a side project / ying and yang contrast or even for board re-issues?
No. Twenty-five years ago Element was a tiny skateboard brand on the uprise. I respect our roots but prefer living in the now and to nourish our future. The startup days are romantic with peaks and valleys but a takeaway is having unwavering passion with laser focus and action. Never take your foot off the gas - and most importantly never let others negative energy and fear compromise a beautiful dream.

As the name Element comes from the Hip Hop culture as well, please name five records that had an impact on you.

What is your earliest memory connected to art?
I have connected to art as back as I can recall. Before I could pickup a crayon, I was fascinated by creating things with building blocks. My father was an amazing artist and musician. I have fond memories of him playing the guitar, playing the piano and us creating art and music together. I remember listening to hip-hop on a boombox, doing graffiti in my sketchbooks.
With age my desire to skate, create art and spend with nature only grows.

I love that skateboarding is breaking down all barriers between race, wealth, gender and any orientations. An ad from 1994 with andy, pepe and billy stated the “basic elements of positive skateboarding” like hanging and skating with friends, seeing the world, meeting new people, learning new tricks / finding new spots and skating for fun. – Which elements would you add, if you would re-run the ad?
I would increase skateboarding and Element’s reach to further spread a greater global conscious movement spreading a message of positivity and progression across the world. Since Element’s inception we remained a positive force through the avenues of skateboarding, the arts, and nature. Today, we are identical with a larger tribe. Fortunately, social, racial and economic barriers are nearly obsolete in skateboarding today.
Element is comprised of diverse and unique individuals, with a wide spectrum of opinions, beliefs and lifestyles. Some of us drive Lamborghini’s and some of us ride bikes. Some of us are vegans and others are hunters. We listen to punk, reggae, hip hop, folk music and more. What we all have in common is a love of skateboarding and a positive vision for the world. Keep in mind, we are a family –  and a family accepts people for who they are.

Being at the forefront of sustainability in skateboarding .. which steps are you planing to implement in the future?
To expand our social and environmental reach by perpetually growing our sustainable and organic product line, contributing to worthwhile causes, spearheading giveback events, educational tours and seminars and building and nourishing skate-camps around the world. Every decision we make as a brand is a conscious choice - to learn, educate, give, inspire and invest in youth. We challenge ourselves everyday to be a business of optimism, substance and quality; traits that people everywhere have come to expect from us.

You are establishing a positive impact in skateboarding throughout youth programs, camps, workshops, .. Can you recall, which programs were especially rewarding and functioning? 

Elements non-profit-organization, Elemental Awareness:
Elemental Awareness connects kids to Nature through skateboarding - bridging the gap between the urban and natural environments.  Since its inception in 2002 the organization has impacted thousands of lives all over the world through skate camp scholarships, wilderness workshops, community events and school tours.

Element Skate Camps:
Element Skate Camps combine skateboarding, art and music in a natural environment. Our camps inspire youth by renewing their respect for the natural world. Through unique programming in a positive atmosphere, campers make new friends, learn new skills and take home memories that will last a lifetime.

Scholarship program:
Every year, The Elemental Awareness Foundation sends groups of kids from underserved communities to Element Skate Camps. We aim to connect kids to nature through skateboarding. 

Global skateboard contest series:
Skateboarding contest series called Make it Count conducted throughout the world designed to seek out new talent and promote the Element message of social awareness, environmental stewardship and positivity. Rather than a cash prize, the overall winner is awarded unforgettable memories, a taste of culture from around the world and a newfound vision for a career in skateboarding. It’s truly an experience of a lifetime.

Tours and seminars:
The Element tribe takes an active and positive role in the lives of young people by conducting educational tours, seminars and speaking in schools and supporting after-school programs. We also opening our doors to conduct tours of our facilities helps encourage confidence and instills the realization that it is possible to be successful in life by doing what you love. Give back community enriching events in locations throughout the world. These events are held to promote skateboarding as a positive activity and stimulate community support of youth in these areas.

Wilderness workshops:
Elemental Awareness runs wilderness workshops picking up where traditional education leaves off. These workshops add a hands-on approach by enabling students to experience nature in its raw form.

No board left behind:
The Element recycled skateboard program, “No Board Left Behind,” is designed to breathe new life into old boards. Through an ongoing series of events hosted in conjunction with retail partners, customers are encouraged to bring in their dilapidated decks – giving used boards a second chance to hit the streets. The deck is cut down into shape with a custom template, outfitted with trucks, bearings, wheels and our signature green bolts.

Talking about Element as a longstanding brand and coming from tangible experiences, going through pagers, the impact of 411 Video Magazine (and promoting east coast skateboarding), .. How do you see the importance and challenge of print vs. digital in our fast paced endless streaming times?
I have always loved entrepreneurial evolution and do not see a challenge but rather incredible progress and the opportunity for a far greater universal reach and communication. I love analog but embrace change and think there will always be a place for print.

Looking at the Influences as a clothing brand from the fields of Military/ Work Wear, Outdoor functionality and Athletic Apparel.. are there certain vintage markets or designer you like to draw inspirations from? What are your favorite pieces from the upcoming collection?
I am less inspired by fashion, brands and designers and mostly influenced by the organic, authentic source. Simplicity, functionality and necessity are at the root of most my inspiration. 
My favorite part of our collection is when we successfully create a seamless creative cohesion between skateboarding, a team rider and product.

What are you thrilled to announce for the upcoming 25 years?That we will be a positive force for another twenty-five years. Since the Element seed was planted many dynamic individuals have surrounded us and provided great mentorship and guidance. It has manifested itself from the ground up by the most inspiring, creative and supportive people I’ve ever known. It is their unwavering dedication and faith in Element that have nurtured us along the way and made a positive impact in our world. My skateboard, wife Kori and children Lenox and Camp are my greatest inspiration and provide me with the spirit and energy to keep on moving. 

Words of Wisdom / What did your experiences throughout the history of Element teach you?
Search for truth and happiness. Chase your dreams, stay youthful, don’t edit your passion - and edit out those who take away from it. Take the high road and focus on spirit, not material.