Back Issue__ Ray Mate of Mighty Healthy

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Photos by: Rory Gunderson
Interview: Hana May

Hundreds of vendors on Canal Street in New York can help you affirm your love for the city. People worldwide wear the iconic “I heart NY” tee shirts as an ode to the unofficial capital of North America. But Ray Mate, a native New Yorker and one of the founders of Mighty Healthy skate brand, liked New York better before. To counteract a loving sentiment in a city that’s known for anything but, Ray came out with a tee that said, “I loved NY before you moved here and made it suck.”

Mate grew up skating in New York at a time when skating wasn’t the “cool” sport it has become. Pharrell and Lupe Fiasco hadn’t yet run around toting skateboards in music videos and MTV wasn’t paying homage to the sport through a variety of reality shows. According to Mate, when he started skating, there were “about 20 skaters in New York.” He follows this with, “Well, maybe I was exaggerating a little bit.”

Going with what he knew, Mate officially launched Mighty Healthy in 2004 with partner Denis Iderman (though, according to his blog, “the people behind it have been shaping its character since the late 80's”). Mate and Iderman planted their roots before the explosion of streetwear, putting themselves in a good place. (According to the Might Healthy website, Mighty Healthy is the “first, one and only Progressive Street brand.”) Today, skateboarding and streetwear is a different beast, so to speak (Hypebeast, the most popular streetwear website, gets 16 million page views a month), so instead of getting beaten up for carrying your board to school, you’re probably getting cool points. Mighty Healthy and Mate are at the forefront of this culture, Mate even has a Hypebeast blog. From button-ups to jeans to skate decks to hats, Mighty Healthy is “Good, bad and unapologetic.” His shirts are often adorned with equal parts political messages and humor (like his New York tee). And despite a scaled-down, recession-time fashion industry, Might Healthy is still kicking, recently adding denim to their list of do’s in Fall ’09. They’re currently working on Holiday 2010, which Mate tells us is titled Hell Fighters and will—for the first time for Mighty Healthy—introduce outerwear. Mate also tells us they’re working on a collaboration with the videogame Skate 3 (Mighty Healthy gear will be in the game!) and Mighty Healthy will be launching a full skate team this year, which will include skaters Gino Iannucci, Pete Eldridge, Danny Montoya and a fourth surprise. They’ll continue flowing skateshop riders worldwide.

While the streetwear and skateboarding industry have seen a variety of changes, a recent trend is a clean aesthetic in the look and feel of the clothing. Mate’s theory: “Basically, everyone is tired of looking like a kook.” In our interview, Mate complains about how kids are at home playing video games instead of out causing trouble in Canarsie and says he wants Mighty Healthy to represent NY’s hustle mentality (he has his fingers crossed). His advice for up and comers: ”Keep your lane and stay there” and “work with the homies and not with scumbags.” Works for us. But despite our questions, Mate gives us no insight into the women’s industry, with repetitive responses like “I dunno” (guess he’s keeping in his respective lane.), but he does touch on art and politics, the uniqueness of skateparks in New York, and nearly throws up half way through the interview.

When you were growing up, you mentioned there were probably 20 skaters total in New York. When and how did you see skating evolve to what it is today in New York?

Well, maybe I was exaggerating a little bit. Skateboarding was just not as popular as it is now. There was no MTV shows like Rob and Big, The Life of Ryan Sheckler or Bam Margera influencing and introducing kids to skateboarding.

I mean, the skateboard scene was so small but was also very powerful back then. Today it’s so different. NY is like the place where all the pros come to visit. There are a lot of events that take place on the East Coast now. Red Bull’s Manny Mania bring by some of the illest skaters out there in skateboarding today.

Back then we didn’t have shit going on. Now there is skateparks in New York.

You’ve spent quite a bit of time skating out West. Do you think this has influenced the look of Mighty Healthy. If so, how?

I used to go to San Diego and Los Angeles a lot to skate with friends during the cold winters and hot summers.

Since then, I made so many friends on the West Coast that it seems that without a lot of my homies helping us spread the word about Mighty Healthy, Mighty Healthy would not be here today. I would like to believe that a lot of our supporters relate to us and not just follow our brand for the sake of trends.

We have many people that have been involved with us for like 2 decades. We’re not new to this at all.

I’ve read in some of your interviews that Mighty Healthy has an idea of selling a statement behind it. What sort of statements are you trying to get across?

Most of our artwork and designs usually go over people’s heads, but Denis and I don’t mind it at all.  We just make sure that we do our best to make our message and artwork look clean.  Sometimes it’s simple and sometimes it’s not. Oh well.

For example, we did a tee that said “I loved NY before you moved here and made it suck.” The artwork was pretty basic and at the end of the day we think it’s pretty funny, so we get to laugh at it.  I know there is a ton of people that feel the same way as we do. No offense to anyone that just moved to NY. I miss the old New York. Sorry, people.

Oh, man, I can’t concentrate on this interview.  I am on a flight to LA and this couple next to me are practically spooning.  I may get sick soon!

What are some of the more political messages or statements you’ve put forth?

We sometimes talk about how the internet and technology is ruining the way kids are growing up these days and all they do is play video games or sit in front of the computer watching YouTube.

Shit, when I was young, I was out in the streets, lurking in Canarsie, playing stickball and causing trouble.  Now kids just stay home and play video games all day.

Do you think streetwear/skate brands have a certain responsibility based on their potential influence on the culture and on people?

I believe so. You always have to remember where you came from.  Obviously in time your views change and you mature.  I think streetwear and skateboarding have been influencing fashion for decades

What brands do this well?

The current brands that do this well in my opinion is Acapulco Gold and Huf.  AG always host some of the best skate events in NY.  Huf does a pretty good job too.

What’s your title at Mighty Healthy and what sort of things does this translate to you doing on a daily basis? IE, what do your days look like?

I just work there and occupy space. I would like to say that I am a Jack of All Trades. I am very hands on with the design, marketing, sales, special projects. I don’t believe in titles. Just work hard and help Mighty Healthy grow. That’s been my mission since we started.

Where are you trying to take Mighty Healthy in the next five years?

I would like to have retail established in NY, LA, SF, MIA, Japan, London and the Philippines. Full-blown pro and am skate team.

I want Mighty Healthy to represent NY’s hustle mentality. Cross fingers.

Talking with people in the industry, I know a lot of brands are trying to expand their costumers and accounts to a wider audience. There are obvious reasons for this, but do you think doing this will take away from the appeal of streetwear and/or the special nature of the industry?

In progression, you have no choice but to do that. I am sure not a lot of people will like that, but that is the nature of the beast. I don’t think this will kill the appeal. Nike is a great example of what they have done with their brand. Wait, Nike is a different animal. Shit, we will see what happens!

The t-shirt is an art canvas?

Depends, I guess. I am getting tired or answering all these questions. Think my ADD is kicking in.

In streetwear, more and more, recently, looks are being trimmed down to a more basic and clean aesthetic. Whether it be a stylized thing or as a result of the economy, do you think clean looks will stick? Will it ever go back to loud prints?

I don’t think everyone is into the loud colors or all-over print anymore. The grown look is always timeless and classic. Basically, everyone is tired of looking like a kook.

Do you think there is some truth to people claiming that it’s the people behind the brands, not necessarily the designs or the product, that makes them popular?

I would like to believe it’s a mix of both. When both the people behind the brand are rad and they have a kick ass line, it makes you want to support them 110 percent.

What do you think makes a brand successful these days?

Be true to yourself and stay on your path. I see a lot of guys just doing whatever is hot right now. Keep your lane and stay there.

Why do you think there are not really any women’s skate brands?

I bet someone is trying to do one right now. Rookie was a dope skate brand.

Skate and street culture are both very male-dominated. Do you think the culture will progress to accept woman as much as it does men?

Both skate and street culture is a big dude fest.

Where do you see women’s streetwear going in the next five years?

I dunno.

What women’s brands do you think are killing it right now? What are your favorite female brands?

I dunno.

Designs or things would you like to see for the women’s industry? What do you think the women’s industry is missing?

I dunno.

What are some of the more important lessons you’ve learned through all your experience in the industry?

Work with the homies and not with scumbags.

Where’s you heart at?

I love my mom and I love what I do. My heart is NY.

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12 Responses to “Ray Mate of Mighty Healthy”

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  7. not sayin says:

    this dude sounds like a fucking doosh

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