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How Skate Culture Informs This Nonprofit’s Corporate Culture

Kohl Crecelius, skater and cofounder of apparel brand Krochet Kids, on daring to fail and learning to stay relevant.

When he was a kid, Kohl Crecelius spent a lot of time running from the cops.

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Crecelius wasn’t exactly a hardened criminal. But growing up in Spokane, Wash., Crecelius was obsessed with skateboarding, and had a preference for off-limits areas: office parks, the rails in front of City Hall. If he did skate in a skate park, he adhered to the skaters’ credo to defy authority: though the law was to wear protective gear, he never did, and cops made periodic raids of the parks to issue tickets.

Kohl Crecelius

“I like to push the limits of what’s possible,” not to mention what’s legal, he says.

When asked to list badass things, few people would probably come up with crocheting. But one summer when Crecelius was in high school, his brother came home with a new hobby: crocheting. Crecelius’s older brother was a semi-pro snowboarder–“like a teen idol,” recalls Crecelius, “a dapper dude with long blond curly locks, and like, from a girl’s perspective, just sooo hard to get.” This brother was so cool, he got to dictate what was cool–and he said crocheting was cool. So Crecelius, between kick-flips and rail grinds, took up crocheting. “I got hooked on it. Pun slightly intended.”

Soon Crecelius and his friends had launched a little crocheting business, selling beanies for cash. People around Spokane started calling them the “crochet kids.” They spent their profits on “the most epic prom of all time”: a hot air balloon ride for their dates, a roller-skate rink after-party, and the “most ridiculous ‘Dumb and Dumber’-inspired tuxes.”

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As Crecelius got older, went to college, and had the chance to travel the world, he formed attachments to two communities in particular, one in Uganda and one in Peru. Noting the lack of work opportunities there, he decided to found Krochet Kids, a nonprofit clothing and lifestyle brand. One hundred women in Uganda and 50 in Peru do the crocheting.

(left to right) Kohl Crecelius, Stewart Ramsey, and Travis Hartanov, the founders of Krochet Kids, at their international headquarters.

If crocheting didn’t diminish Crecelius’s coolness, aging nevertheless did. Now Crecelius says he’s feeling relatively old. He’s turning 30; he has a wife; he has a business. “I feel old when I’m just feeling in a rut of work and home life,” he says.

Thankfully, Crecelius’s first passion–skateboarding–has kept him feeling young, and his business feeling edgy. Here, he says, are a few reasons why skateboarding is an ideal hobby for someone wanting to keep a halo of youth around their startup.

Fall Fast

That startups are about learning to fail–about getting bruised, if you will–is repeated so often as to be a platitude. But skateboarding takes that lesson and makes it literal. “When you skateboard it isn’t a question of whether you will fall or not, it’s certain,” says Crecelius. If a fear of failure–of getting bruised–is holding you back, try an hour at the skate park. For his part, Crecelius says he’s not happy if he doesn’t have “a scrape or wound of some kind on my body.” A few days before his first trip to Africa, Crecelius recalls with an odd fondness, he fell to the bottom of a concrete pool.

Innovate or Die

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Though it might not seem intuitive, the lifeblood of skating is actually innovation. Unlike a team sport like soccer, skateboarding is about creating new tricks, pulling off the stunt no one else has managed before. “Skating bowls, rails, ledges, ramps and manipulating the board in innumerable ways creates an endless stream of creativity,” says Crecelius. The skater is the daredevil–and what is an entrepreneur if not a daredevil? “No skateboarder will film a trick that has ‘already been done’–or ‘ABD,'” says Crecelius. “Viewing business through this lens helps to push on toward what’s next, what’s possible, as opposed to pursuing the lowest hanging fruit or opportunity.”

Rolling with the Trendsetters

Aging entrepreneurs looking to built a product for younger consumers often conduct awkward focus groups, or buttonhole their angst-ridden teens for interviews. But what better way to poll a different demographic than to sojourn among them? When Crecelius wants to figure out what the kids are thinking today, he makes sure to nail a pop shove it in front of them first. By hanging out with young skaters, Crecelius noticed that T-shirts with prints were no longer popular, which influenced the clean look of his own clothing brand. “Skateboarders had a very simple and understated fashion aesthetic, and that influenced our apparel decisions in a big way,” he says.

Selling to skaters also keeps him authentic, since “skateboarders are the kings of sniffing out BS and lack of authenticity.” Inevitably–as with Crecelius’s older brother–what skaters think is cool winds up being the next things that’s more broadly considered cool. “It’s important to be connected to these forward thinking groups, and the best way is to be a participant.”


Bucking Authority

Sometimes rolling with the young kids can have its downsides. The other week, Crecelius was skating with some kids, when he had a horrifying realization–he was “the Old Guy” he used to see hanging around skate parks when he was a teen. But just as Crecelius began to feel woefully out of place, a cop pulled up to the skate park, to give citations to those skating without helmets (everyone). Crecelius and his younger brethren rushed for the gates, fleeing the cops. “We were all running out, and we were all on the same page,” he says now.

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As he fled from the cops, he felt there was something entrepreneurial about that energy, Crecelius says. “Entrepreneurs have to think outside the box and break free from the existing structures that exist to create groundbreaking innovations. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that skating teaches you that it is OK to break the law–but it definitely forces you to push the boundaries of what is acceptable.”

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About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal

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