Casting a Different Type of Quality
“It’s hard for me to stomach the thought of working at some company for years and not having some direct link to the heart of the business. I see so many people, just fucking zombies, killing themselves everyday for the benefit of some suits in an office down the hall, that’s just not us.”
Interview & Portrait Photograph by Theo Constantinou
Additional Photographs by Zander Taketomo
Introduction by Jimmy McDonald
Chris Mulhern and Chris Fireoved were among the first people I met in Philadelphia. Our paths crossed while skating Cecil, a flatground spot on the edge of Temple’s campus. That was back in 2004 and since then the three of us have spent a lot of time together. We’ve gone on countless trips and spent more than a few long days and nights skating around different cities. Over the years I’ve found that they each have a particular trait that stands out: Chris Mulhern is incredibly focused and Chris Fireoved, who has since adopted the nickname Jeb, is astonishingly charming (not to say that Mulhern isn’t a great guy too).
Chris Mulhern is completely dedicated to skateboarding and filming, and he’s never phased by the distractions of everyday life. He’ll put pretty much anything on hold to skate, film or edit. His hard work shines through in all of his projects. Mulhern’s focus extends beyond just his creative pursuits though. A few years ago we took a road trip from Philadelphia to Houston. Each night there were seven of us staying in a single motel room meant for two. One night after a long day of skating we were all packed into our sweaty room drinking beers and looking up crazy shit on the internet. We had just discovered Chatroulette and everyone was freaking out. After a while I noticed Mulhern sitting in the corner reading some dense political literature. I was shocked that he could read a book amidst the chaos, but then took a closer look and realized he was not only reading, he was also jotting down notes. I couldn’t believe it. When I asked him how the hell he was reading at a time like that he just responded with a sarcastic comment about how the rest of us were blowing it. Chris Mulhern cannot be distracted and he doesn’t relate to slacking. When he puts his mind to something, nothing gets in his way.
Jeb is driven and focused too, but his true gift lies in his charm. He’s one of the most likable people I’ve ever encountered. In 2008 we spent a month in Paris while filming for one of Mulhern’s projects. We rented a one-bedroom apartment for our stay, and much like Texas our accommodations were quite cramped. We had thirteen dudes packed into that tiny French apartment and every inch of space was put to use. It was a pretty nice building though and the neighbors noticed our crew pretty quickly—over a dozen sweaty Americans stomping up and down the stairs weren’t exactly inconspicuous. Our landlord noticed too and immediately threatened to kick us out, but Jeb’s charm saved the day. He not only convinced her to let us stay, by the time he finished sweet talking her she had offered us a discounted rate if we would come back the following summer. People take notice of Jeb’s positivity pretty quickly and want him to stick around.
So when I found out that the friendliest guy around and the world’s most focused man were teaming up to start a brand, I knew it would be something special. I couldn’t think of a better collaborative duo out there. Chris Mulhern and Chris Fireoved have been working to establish CASTE for quite some time and it’s exciting to see it finally come to fruition. They’ve combined their backgrounds in skateboarding, filmmaking, photography, fashion and culture to make something really unique. I can’t wait to see what the future will hold for Mulhern, Jeb and CASTE.
In Charles Bukowski’s book Factorum he says, “If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.” … How has starting Caste been a test of your endurance …. And how important is it to keep continuing with the company regardless of rejection and or the worst odds ? Do you agree that in life if you are going to try to do something if your life that you MUST go all the way?
It’s really easy to tell if someone is truly passionate about what they do, compared to someone who is, for example, just doing their job. The whole idea behind Caste is to develop something where everyone involved can stand behind what they’ve done and be proud of their contributions. So, yea, anything that is worth working towards or anything of true value is going to require us to go ‘all the way’, but maybe not in the same vein as Bukowski’s quote implies. In order for us to turn just this ‘idea’ into something ‘real’, it has required (and will continue to require) endurance, prioritizing, sacrifice… but, in regards to working towards anything someone can describe as a ‘passion’, I mean, Caste is just a culmination of our interests, things we either like to do, or would be doing anyway, regardless if a brand we’ve created exists or not. We will get criticized, rejected and in terms of odds, they’re already against us, but again, as long as we all believe in what we’re doing, the rest remains background noise.
The respective definitions of Caste & Quality are as follow:
Caste – noun – an endogamous and hereditary social group limited to persons of the same rank, occupation, economic position, etc., and having mores distinguishing it from other such groups – any class or group of society sharing common cultural features.
Quality – noun – an essential or distinctive characteristic, property, or attribute – character or nature, as belonging to or distinguishing a thing – character with respect to fineness, or grade of excellence – high grade; superiority; excellence.
How do these two definitions best represent your company?
With any idea, it’s pretty tough to step back and label it using only one or two words. We weren’t really into the idea of creating our ‘own’ word, nothing sounded right, not like anything really sounds right the first time you say it, but, even after giving a few names some time to grow on us, we still didn’t have anything we all could agree on. We went back and forth, Googling shit to see if it already existed and e-mailing lists of ideas back and forth to one another. (This lead to our earliest stages of frustration…) We came up with CASTE first, seeing it had represented, in its formal definition, a social order or specific groups of people. We knew we needed more, something else, something more defining. We’re all really detail oriented dudes and believe it’s the subtleties and culmination of the little things that make anything truly special. These fine points are what we believe constitute quality and no matter what we do, whether it is a video, a photo series, a clothing line, whatever … we will always pay close attention to detail and quality, hence Caste Quality.
This is a direct rip from Wikipedia so I’m not sure how accurate the below information is (smiles) … The Philadelphia Experiment, also referred to as Project Rainbow, was a naval military experiment alleged to have been carried out at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA sometime around October 28, 1943. The U.S. Navy destroyer escort USS Eldridge was claimed to be rendered invisible (or “cloaked”) to enemy devices. The experiment was allegedly based on an aspect of the unified field theory, a term coined by Albert Einstein. The Unified Field Theory aims to describe mathematically and physically the interrelated nature of the forces that comprise electromagnetic radiation and gravity, in other words uniting the fields of electromagnetism and gravity into one field. Consequently, if light was bent, then space-time would be bent, effectively creating an invisible time machine. To date, no single theory is known to have successfully expressed these relationships in viable mathematical or physical terms … If you could build an invisible time machine, what kind of machine would it be and what era in time would you go to with this machine?
Ha, well, the past is the past and what happened has happened. I wouldn’t take this time-machine anywhere backwards.. besides, anything I’d want to revisit in the past probably wouldn’t be as good as I’m imagining it now, so I wouldn’t want to spoil that for myself. I’d go to the future, I guess, maybe not even that far, maybe just 20 years or so, to see the path some of my current interests have taken. I couldn’t delve into the idea of the more serious stuff, so I’d use my time travel as sheer entertainment. I’d see where skating was at, whether physics finally won and people just stopped jumping down bigger shit, I mean, hypothetically there’s gotta be a tipping point, right? I’d want to see how skateboarding, in it’s current phase, has effected skateboarders when they get to an elderly age, seeing that ‘type’ of skater isn’t really that old yet..that’d be interesting… I’d really just love going to some major city, New York, London, Paris … just some place with a ton of diversity and be able to walk around and observe. I truly enjoy just sitting and people watching and I think just seeing that in the future would be so amusing for me.
I’m not sure on the accuracy of this story but it is amazing … “At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch 22 over its whole history. Heller responds, ‘Yes, but I have something he will never have . . . Enough.” Money is somewhat important, more important for others and personally I think tangible riches measuring ones value in life is the great destroyer of mankind, poverty of soul if you will …. How do you define ‘enough’ for yourselves and for Caste Quality ?
We all share the common interest in that, we want to work and we want to work hard but, we want to work hard for ourselves and towards the development of our own idea. It’s hard for me to stomach the thought of working at some company for years and not having some direct link to the heart of the business. I see so many people, just fucking zombies, killing themselves everyday for the benefit of some suits in an office down the hall, that’s just not us. Caste is something that we all know won’t be sustainable for quite sometime and like most independent businesses with rather limited resources, we all need other jobs to pay the bills but our goal with Caste is to make it our only job. We want to be able to focus each day solely on the company we’ve created. We’re not in this to try and get rich, we’re in this because it’s what we enjoy and as long as we’re all able to support a comfortable lifestyle and have faith in the efforts we put forth, Caste will be deemed a success or ‘enough’ so-to-speak.
In one of Jenkem Mag’s recent articles, HOW CORPORATIONS ARE CHANGING SKATEBOARDING AND WHY IT MATTERS … Lurper writes, “Should we care if non-skaters are allowed to hold powerful positions in our culture? Should we care if skaters associate with these people and buy their products? Will it change how we skateboard, how we view ourselves, and how we view the world?” He then goes on to say, “It seems that skateboarding is separating into two poles: one where a few businesses and a very small group of skaters are making lots of money, while everyone else is fucked. Sadly, our new ideology allows us to see this as normal, when in reality this is a very unusual state of affairs for skateboarding.” What is your answer to Lurper’s initial questions about the culture, products and corporations changing skateboarding … Also as skateboarding separates into these ‘two poles’ where does Caste Quality see itself in that spectrum and how important is it for you both to remain true?
I’ve had so many conversations about everything in that Jenkem article and I’m just so jaded with the whole topic. Where there is popularity and publicity, there is money and where there is money there are corporations. Some people choose to take part in it, whether it’s through advertising, endorsement, whatever, and yea, corporations are fucked in every way, shape and form, it’s a given. I think what Lurper writes is really accurate and put together well, it’s a great read for both skaters and non-skaters, but as a skateboarder myself, I try and just distance my feelings from it all. No matter what anyone does, as long as there is money involved there will be participation on both ends, corporations and skaters. Until skateboarding cycles outside of the ‘cool’ radar again, I just accept the fact that right now, it’s popular, and a lot of people want a piece of it, not just some dudes out skating when it’s 10 degrees in January at 2 am because that’s the only time they won’t get kicked out of a spot downtown… . I almost think of it as two totally different entities, there is skateboarding and then there is…’that’…I don’t even know what to call it.
We didn’t create CASTE to compete against corporations or use it as our ‘rebellion’ against the pollution in skateboarding these days, no. CASTE was built in the form of a creative outlet, our initial launch of the brand immediately put us on the ‘skate side’ of things because of the video, but skating is just a portion of what makes up who we are. We are all skaters and skating is what brought us all together, so we thought it’d only be fitting to use skating as the first influence behind the launch of the brand. As we grow as individuals and together as a company we want to branch out to many other things that interest us or we find inspiring. Caste is our outlet and was built upon the basis of our backgrounds, mostly skateboarding, but as we will always hold skateboarding as a huge part of our brand, it’s only a piece of what we are as a whole. We are just going to stay true to ourselves, and make sure CASTE and the corporate additions to skateboarding remain as far apart as possible.
You can check out CASTE QUALITY at www.castequality.com and @castequality on Instagram