Continuing with our 5 questions series, I bring you an interview with our very own John Prolly! Besides being one of our bloggers, head of our D.A.R.T program, and one of our closest friends, John’s known for being that guy who treats his fixed gear like a BMX, which has (to our surprise) attracted ridiculous amounts of love & hate, while transforming our lovable John into an honest-to-god blog celebrity (well, in the cycling community anyway) through his own and various other sites.
But John is more than that to us, as he’s the person who, for the past 2 years, has been transforming our warehouse into our first retail space (for which we will be eternally grateful… even if we don’t always show it!), with whatever time he finds in between doing blog rolls, getting Mishka more involved with cycling, and working a full-time as an architect.
5 Questions with John Prolly
1) How do you deal with the fact that you’re an Internet celebrity? It seems like everyone who has a bike and knows how to use the internet knows who you are and has an opinion about you.
At first, when my website started to get more traffic and the bigger blogs (Bike Snob and Trackosaurus Rex) started to post content I had found, or referred to me in a posting, I got a ton of hate. Not necessarily hate directed at me, but hate directed at the way “we” were riding our bikes. A year or so ago, the whole West coast pretty much hated the way the East coast Bootleg Sessions guys rode our bikes. If I have to hear “get a BMX” one more time…
Now I think people have pretty much accepted Bootleg Sessions as a legitimate project, and the guys who hated us for riding like that have either gotten over it or let us be. People still have this perception that we drive cars to spots and only use our bikes for tricks, which obviously isn’t the case living in NYC – I ride my bike in the rain, snow, whatever. People in my office are always asking me why I ride in when it’s snowing or raining out, and my answer is always the same: “better than riding the subway”.
I guess if you forget about all the hate that I’ve generated, I’ve definitely met some awesome people because of the “trick” scene and have had numerous opportunities come about because of my blog. In the end, it’s worth it. Maybe once a week or so, I meet someone who reads my site, who doesn’t even ride fixed gears, and hearing their perspective about the progression is great. In the end, I’m not a celebrity as much as a personality and a voice. I really do put myself out there a lot.
2) Most people don’t realize that besides being the guy who does things he shouldn’t on a fixed gear, you’re an architect. Tell us a bit about what it’s like going to school for that and then working in the field.
Architecture school was hell. I’m sure anyone who went to Architecture school will back me up on that. We called it Architorture. The only building on campus that was 24 hours was the Architecture College. I would go days without sleep or showers, and the amount of money I spent on materials is still staggering to me. That being said, I’d do it all over again. Some of the professors were spot on and others had been living in Academia for too long. A lot hadn’t even built a single building in their career. Everyone was brought up on some bullshit Ayn Rand ideologies as well, being told that you have to always fight your client to get your design built and that Architects make the world go round. Sure compromise is difficult, but being a sensible designer is much more important than an ignorant one. Doing a thesis really set the tone for what kind of projects I wanted to engage in out of school. I graduated from my thesis Chancellor’s List and took home an Award for my project.
In Europe, once you get out of school, you can call yourself an Architect. Here in the States, the AIA (American Institute of Architects) wants to make it more and more difficult for people to become Architects. 20 years ago, all you had to do was take an exam and you got your license. Now you have to intern for a number of years, log your time and take multiple exams. Only then can you legally call yourself an Architect.
My ideal job would be a design/build office. So many times I’ve heard bosses say, “We don’t have to figure out how to build it.” There’s such a detachment from construction in the profession. Everyone wants someone else to accept responsibility, and yet the Architect wants and needs 100% control over the project. It’s frustrating to say the least. The profession pays shit for the number of years you have to go to school and the amount of time you put into it. It’s all because Architects sell themselves short to get the jobs and then overwork their employees because they undercut their fees.
3) You designed our retail space. It was your first solo outing in designing something, correct? What did you learn from it going into your next project? What unexpected challenges (besides Greg & I changing things) did you encounter?
I’ve worked on a number of retail projects before, some really high end with large budgets and some with very small budgets. As an Architecture intern in NYC working at firms, you rarely do “group up” projects. Most of your work is retrofitting or renovating existing structures. Although I have worked on other smaller renovations before, Mishka’s space was unique in that we had to spend so much time and money renovating the shell before even beginning to work on the design. That was the biggest issue in my opinion. I remember when I first met you guys and you took me to the space. To be honest, I’ve never been given a set of existing conditions like that! Everything had to be replaced. Electrical, the floor joists, the walls, the ceiling. Ralphie’s [the upstairs neighbor] sink leaked into our space!
The biggest challenge with any project in NYC, especially in the “old” building boom, is cost. Everything is so expensive here. Unless you go the Ikea route, a retail space is going cause you to drop a ton of money, especially on cabinetry. You guys are well aware of how much money the retail store has cost Mishka, so I don’t need to go into it too much. I also didn’t anticipate the amount of time it takes to do construction management on a 700 square foot retail space! Working a 50 hour a week day job and spending at least 2 hours a day after work on the Mishka space was probably the biggest unexpected challenge.
4) So how did you make the move from architecture as your passion to cycling? Is one beating the other currently, or is it an equal time share? Do you ever see one overtaking the other as a priority in your life?
Architecture is my career and cycling is my hobby. I love Architecture and I love cycling. I get paid to do one and not the other. I rode bikes when I was in college and spent a lot of time skateboarding and surfing growing up. At this point, I have a job that’s intellectually stimulating and demanding, and cycling is my escape from that world. NYC has a ton of great offices, and at all those offices, people work weekends and late nights. I did that all through college and into my early professional life. Enough is enough. People live in this city to experience it. Not to be locked in some office gluing basswood models together. I would rather be on my bike experiencing the city on the weekends and spending time with friends and my girlfriend than be at work. When it comes down to it, I have a ton of fun riding my bike and doing inappropriate tricks on it.
5) You have been one of our earliest supporters. Long before we even knew who you were, you tried to come to my house once to pick up an order. What attracted you to us, and how do you deal with our gentle ribbing?
Mishka kind of hits a nostalgic soft spot in all the nerdy kids, I think. When I first moved to NYC in 2004, I didn’t have a ton of money. Barely enough to pay student loans, rent, and food. I’d ride my bike to the LES on Saturdays and hang out. All the streetwear stuff was fairly new to me. I grew up in a beach town. Everyone was wearing Volcom and other surfer shit. Growing up and being into Hardcore / Metal / Punk, I always felt weird wearing band shirts and fitting into the whole “scene” there.
I remember seeing the “They Live” shirt and freaking out – something about the nuances in Mishka’s clothing dances the line between wearing the obligatory band shirt and the cheesy movie shirt. It’s the creative license the brand takes with old throwback graphics. The Death Adders coaches jacket with the re-appropriated Death logo was great, as is the Keep Watch Madball reference. All the clothes remind me in some way of my adolescent years and yet I can still wear them and not feel like a douchebag. I think it’s the one brand that has carved a very distinct niche in the “streetwear” scene, and every season delivers better product than the last. Mishka isn’t biting anyone. There’s no boring repetition.
Maybe it’s also Mike Jones’ touch? Who knows. Everyone always talks shit to me and I take it pretty well. Remember, I know where you guys sleep!
A huge thanks to John for taking the time to answer these questions. Come on out on Friday if you’re in NYC to our grand opening and see John’s work on our shop.