Douglas Miles, Founder of APACHE Skateboards: 3 Ways to Grow Your Brand

Pictured: Douglas Miles (left) and The A Team. The skate team became the organic engine for APACHE Skateboards. “They utilize the product, they share the product, the promote the product, they ride the product,” Miles said. (All photos courtesy Facebook @APACHE Skateboards and Instagram @instapache1)

Douglas Miles launched APACHE Skateboards and APACHE Skate Team 15 years ago, serendipitously at the advent of Myspace. Naturally, his brand marketing has evolved with the times and expanded well beyond that original platform. Regardless his mode of promotion, Miles is consistently authentic—and he’s committed to creating the movement, not following it.

“I’m not on social media, I am social media,” Miles, a San Carlos Apache-Akimel O’odham fine artist and photographer, told Native Business Magazine.

Meaning, social media isn’t just an external avenue to leverage his brand. He is the voice and the social microphone of APACHE Skateboards, educating the public about Apache culture, particularly as it intersects skater culture.

Miles also tells people: “It’s one thing to be ahead of the curve, it’s another thing to be the curve.”

And along those same lines, he quips the familiar refrain: “That trend was over when it started.”

Miles explained, “We already know what that means, because we know when something becomes trendy, it’s over; it’s time to move on to something else.”

APACHE Skateboards created the curve, designing and selling the first skateboards adorned with indigenous art.

As an artist living and working in San Carlos, Arizona, on the Apache Nation, not only is Miles a part of the community and culture, in addition, he’s making culture, he stressed.

“I am the culture, therefore, I’m making the culture. With everything I’m doing—whether photography, film, writing, product design, brand management, marketing—all of these things, I’m making them constantly,” he said.

Anyone who is consistently creating something becomes a culture-maker, Miles explained. The creative process involves a lot of critical decision making, he continued. “Being in business is a highly creative process,” he told Native Business Magazine. “You have to know when to turn or pivot or move forward or move back. Any business leader knows that,” Miles said.

APACHE Skate team (Facebook @APACHE Skateboards)

Miles turned his attention from fine art to skateboards when his son Douglas Miles, Jr., started to get into skateboarding. One day, his son needed a skateboard, and Miles Sr. couldn’t afford the brand-name board. So he bought his son a blank one and painted it for him.

“He came home from skating with his friends and said: ‘Dad, everybody wants one,’” Miles told Native Business Magazine. “I knew Apache kids would love it if I painted the warrior on the skateboard.”

That’s when Miles got to thinking: How do I reproduce these?

They took inspiration from a popular documentary about skateboarding that came out at the turn of the century, spotlighting skater culture in Venice, California. “They had a do-it-yourself ethic. They were painting everything by hand, making their own t-shirts. They were also talking about the influences of culture,” Miles said. “I was looking at the skateboarding art, and the overlap of music and art.”

The father and son got to thinking about the power of culture and a brand, and thought: “We should have a skate team. And if we have a skate team, we should make a video. What do other brands have that we would also want? After all these years, I think the thing that has made APACHE Skateboards the most relevant is we have a team we work with—sponsors and a skate team,” Miles said.

Native Business Magazine recently discussed business strategy and promotion with Miles, who said: “I’m going to share something with you that I’ve never really shared publicly.” He offered three powerful questions to consider when developing a brand, and he shared his thoughts and lessons learned through this three-step creative process.

1) “How can I increase my market share?” —Douglas Miles

Miles increased his market share by recognizing the need for forward movement.

“What’s odd about the skateboard is I wanted people to use it, but they were going to destroy it. Whatever I made, I knew I wanted it to speak to the audience. I wanted it to speak to the buyer. I wanted to share our culture, our place in the world, where we’re coming from, and by using the medium of the skateboard as the message, I could put whatever I wanted on there. Because the medium became the message,” he said.

“The medium is the message,” he continued. “Skateboarding is about movement. It’s about forward movement. It’s not just about style. Most people have turned it into a trend—about youth culture, blah, blah—but it’s really about movement.”

“When I looked at it from an artist and visionary point of view, movement is everything. It’s about moving forward, changing, constantly growing, nothing staying the same. To me as an artist, that’s what I’m looking at. How do we move this conversation from Point B to F, can we jump forward in the conversation?” he asked.

“Do people understand what it takes to create longevity? Do people understand where authenticity comes from? Do they understand where inspiration comes from? Do they understand why it’s important to have a brand that’s connected to community? Because without it, your brand is kind of empty. That’s all movement to me.”

2) “How can I increase my visibility as an artist?” —Douglas Miles

The earliest forms of social media and web-based content opened doors for APACHE Skateboards.

“At the turn of the century, in the early 2000s, everyone discovered the Internet. Everyone discovered that you could have a website; you could do email. With the advent of Myspace, a mini-website-slash-blog that was interactive that people can reach out to you and see and talk with you in almost real time—I think that helped us the most in a lot of ways. It allowed people to interact with the brand. They could see what the brand was about. We were constantly taking pictures of the skate team. And more so now than before,” Miles said.

“I could sit here in San Carlos on the Apache Reservation in eastern Arizona, two hours east of Phoenix, and I could upload a picture of my product, and somebody in Hawaii could see it in the same moment. Simultaneously, someone in Southern California could see it. Simultaneously, someone in New York City could see it. This was the miracle of the Internet,” Miles said.

 3) “How can I create alternative forms of promotion—and how can I do all of that with little to no money?” —Douglas Miles

Under the umbrella of APACHE Skateboards, much more happens than skating and selling: film production, photography, brand management, consulting, public speaking and presentations, murals and street art, product design, product and brand collaborations, community building, youth development and skate park design.

“Under the umbrella of APACHE Skateboards, there’s really nothing we can’t do,” Miles said.

The need to grow his brand on a budget inspired Miles to think creatively. “It’s an outdated term now – ‘think outside the box’—but that’s what I forced myself to do,” Miles said.

The skate team became the organic engine for APACHE Skateboards. “They utilize the product, they share the product, the promote the product, they ride the product,” Miles said. “We’ve been flown around the country.”

APACHE Skateboards: A Platform for Success  

Miles also shared with Native Business Magazine how he’s tired of the portrayals of Native peoples “as so full of tragedy that we almost can’t move; like we almost can’t breathe out here. If you pick up any article on Native communities, it’s always like, ‘oh the tragedies are so heavy; I feel so sorry for the poor Indians.’ APACHE Skateboards is not a ‘let’s feel sorry for the poor Indians’ kind of company,” Miles said. “Native entrepreneurs will use that angle, and I tire of it, because it doesn’t accurately portray anything anyone is doing in Indian Country with any modicum of success. I’m not saying that social ills are not here in Native communities. When you’re looking at creating opportunities for people, you’re not looking at those things. You’re looking at opportunity, the future, building future artists and brand managers—the people who want to do what you do. If you’re always trying to walk a fine line between tragedy and success, it doesn’t work. You’re going to fall back. I’m sure other people will disagree, but I have to put that out there, because we’re also involved in media, and representation matters.”

“APACHE Skateboards—we don’t want people’s pity. We want respect,” Miles said.

Miles continued: “APACHE Skateboards really is a platform for success. We can work with artists, skaters, other creatives. We come together, and they can use the success that we have and use it to launch off on their own. It works by us supporting them and sharing with them what we do—even if it’s just for one or two special projects,” Miles said.

The APACHE Skate Team, managed by Doug Miles, Jr., hovers around four to five people including two women who are sponsored to skate. “My team now is creating their own brands; they’re creating their own brand imprints. Guys on my team are creating their own apparel brands, clothing brands, their own projects—which I fully support. That’s what we want. They’re saying things that they want to say,” Miles said.

APACHE Agency: Why Miles Stays Local

Once the APACHE Skateboards brand took off, Miles opened a store on the Apache Nation reservation. “I think it was important to me to have a physical store, a gallery and a place to show my work and products, because here in my community, we’re a small community. People don’t really get to see artists working in the process. It’s important for artists to see their artists working in their community. And that’s why I stay here all this time. I wanted my community to see me building, to see me creating, to see me creating in the community. I didn’t want them to not see it, because there are very few examples of Native people who are successful in business. I wanted to stay here to share that—even if it’s just in an organic manner: me walking to the post office every day, or me walking to the café. I wanted people to know that that could be done. A lot of people don’t realize that the reason I was able to stay here is I’m able to do sales and promotion online to create interest in the company, the art, the brand.

I named the store APACHE Agency for a specific reason, because it’s a play on words. In the old days, they would call it the Crow Agency or the Apache Agency of the Lakota Agency. Wherever they would put an office to take care of the Indians. Our logo is made to look like an old BIA agency sign with the green and white letters. Mine is a play on words. Agency also means when you take control of what you have, and you put out what you want to put out. I feel like when you have agency, you have autonomy, and that’s important. That’s why I use that term Agency.”