The Creative Retreat: How to Channel Your Inspiration

We’re big fans of the creative routine. But sometimes getting those creative juices flowing is about disrupting your average day – and there’s no better way to break into a fresh headspace than escaping from your home base. We spoke with Gabe Willis of skateboard designer STRGHT for a look at how travel and cultural immersion can inform your design process and force a new, unique perspective on something you thought you knew, through and through.

How does travel and time away from the city influence your creative process?

Traveling gets me out of my comfort zone and into a different frame of mind. This is key in being able to pitch new ideas and design concepts to my team. I get so familiar with the city I live in that it can put me in a creative slump. When I travel and see new places it allows me to reset and find inspiration.

How does your location – Cali! – influence your design eye?

I remember from a very young age appreciating and respecting what California had to offer. There are so many different cultures to learn from and so much information to soak in. The two main influences for me are skating and fashion. Southern California is where skating was born and fashion is huge factor in people’s lives here. These have influenced my taste and have inspired me to blend the two.


What are the idiosyncrasies that differ between “Made in California” vs “Made in New York”, or other cities?

The biggest differences I notice between CA and NY design is the history it draws from. These are two completely different sets of cultures that each have their own subcultures, history, and neighborhoods. In the skate world, all of those things make a difference when it comes to design, because loyalty to where you came from is ingrained into us throughout our lives. In terms of design, I think both states pay homage to the ones who came before them. Which in turn makes them both very unique and sought after.

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Do you take inspiration from immersing yourself in a new culture or state?

Oh yes, very much. Every culture has different design aesthetics and patterns and they all tell a story. However, I think the key word in the question, and Iove that you used it is, “immersing.” It means to involve oneself deeply into a particular activity or interest (yes, I looked that up in the dictionary). Since this is such a sacred topic to me, I have to say I don’t condone gaining inspiration from a certain culture and working it into your design without understanding it and making sure you pay the proper respect to the people who live by it. Culture is meant to be shared, understood and respected by all and it’s all out there for you to be a part of. Have fun with it.

Have any elements of your locale played into your board designs?

Every board we design is inspired by at least one of the three – geography, culture and people). For example, our Vista Collection includes the Townsite, the Primrose, and the Santa Fe. These are all named after streets that I grew up on and around. The design elements reflect what kind of history those neighborhoods have. The good and the bad, it’s all inspiring to me. It’s all beautiful now.


Any tips you’d give designers trying to create products for an outdoor/adventurer lifestyle?

Know when what you’re doing isn’t very good and just stop. Leave it alone. Like, forever. Surprisingly, this is very empowering and inspiring. You’re putting faith in yourself and have confidence that you know you can do better. Take the emotion out of what you just worked so hard on and put it into the next idea. That one will likely work out great.

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Don’t ever be afraid of hitting your ceiling or sit on your best work because you don’t know if you can ever do something that cool again. No, if you did something great once that means you can do it again, and again, and again and you have to believe that. This whole way of thinking actually came from DJ Battlecat (Snoop Dogg’s resident DJ) and Aaron “Amplified” Parra. They have both worked with a ton of amazing artists and are some of the most creative people I have ever met. When I saw them actually live by this in the studio, it opened my eyes to how great someone can be if they don’t hold themselves back.

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