A few weeks ago we came across what we thought was the most bizarre skateboarding collab of the year: Paris Saint-Germain Football Club and Clown Skateboards.
How did a British skateboard company that none of us had ever heard of before, and only boasts a few thousand Instagram followers, manage to collaborate with one of the most popular and richest soccer (deal with it) clubs?
Thankfully we dug deeper into our initial confusion and discovered that Clown Skateboards is actually not some new brand of teenagers ordering shirts off of Custom Ink. Instead, it’s a brand with ties to the early London skate and graffiti scenes. Even their logo was designed by the mysterious graffiti artist Banksy.
The brand went belly up in the early 2000s but was revived in 2020. Since their rebirth, founder Jeff Boardman has been making big steps in silence to reestablish Clown within the European skate scene as well as nurturing new scenes across the world. We wanted to bug Jeff about the future of Clown and try to figure out if he’s secretly Banksy or not.
Can you tell me a little bit about the origins of Clown?
We were around in 1999 or 1998, formed in East London. There was a bunch of us who just skated together and we formed into Clown around 2000. We ran it for five years and then from there — I mean, I was knackered in 2005, it was not going on – so then we put it on ice for a bit. We said, “Well, we’re going to come back to this in 18 months.” We had to earn some money, you know? That’s when I went into the ad agency world.
The work that we did with Clown actually led me to be able to do some work with people at Converse, for god knows how many years. I did all their music stuff, and all their blogging and art stuff.
Did Banksy really design the logo for Clown?
He did and it’s quite funny, man. I love the logo. I don’t care what anybody fucking says man, we rep that logo, full stop. We said we’re going to test the logo out and make a small run, like what you do when you make music. You make a test press, send it out to some friends, let them have a listen. We sent out all the boards over to our friends and said to give us a call, tell us what you think. Everybody fucking hated them [laughs]. “Man, they’re shit,” “You can’t release them,” “That logo won’t work.” I was like, “Fuck it, man, I’m sticking with the logo.”
How exactly does a connection with a mega football club like PSG come about for a small skate brand like yourselves?
It’s a fucking weird story. I was going through my loft and just seeing what I had up there you know, and I found a load of old Clown bits. I was posting them on a private Instagram and I got a message from a guy in Paris and we just got talking. When we went into the pandemic, it turned out that he was from Paris but he was staying in the middle of nowhere on his own. I just got used to ringing the guy now and again and he told me that he was the chief brand officer for PSG.
He was really impressed with what we were trying to do with our non-profit, Clown In Action. then he said, “Do you know, about our foundation at PSG?” and he started explaining it. There was a refugee camp in India that’s got over a million people that live there and they took a big section of that, excavated it, and put football pitches, showers, the whole shebang. Now they teach kids how to play football and give them something to enjoy.
Then we were both just like, “Should we do something together?” It was the same mindset – taking what you do and actually doing it for other people. Football is good for your body and your soul, just like skating is.
PSG is a giant institution, but I tip my hat to ‘em, man. Working with them has been fucking amazing. So supportive to work with and really had our backs on many, many levels. Like with the release we did with them, we said, “Look, we want to do this, but this is how we want to do it.” And they went, “Go for it.” All the clothing and everything Clown does is produced in the UK. We have a big thing on sustainability – it has to be organic, has to be vegan, has to be whatever, and they were into all of that. They let us do whatever.
Where does that mentality of collaboration come in? I’m still curious about the tie-in.
For the first year, I said if we ever use that word “collaboration,” I’m fucking gone. We try to turn it into more of a friendship and not as much of a collaboration. If it’s just a marketing opportunity, which this is not, we wouldn’t be involved. The main reason we did it is that he’s the same as us. What I find really quite humbling is that PSG is fucking huge, but the attitude is pretty similar. It’s not often you find people to work with like that.
When I saw PSG tied in, I was a little skeptical. I was like, “Fuck PSG. Big money, oil money…”
This is the back room, you know? The people I work with, they love their club and they deal with it and they’re great to work with. I stop and look at that and go, “Well that’s no different than us loving certain skate brands.” It’s the same. There is shit loads of money without a doubt, but the people who work there can’t help that.
I’ve worked with some street brands and you’re bending over backward. It’s the same, the people who work there can’t help what they’re trying to achieve internally and as a brand. Sometimes you look at what a player gets paid and then you look at how much a fucking pro [skater] gets paid. It’s not as many millions but it’s pretty similar in that sort of attitude. I don’t have control over that.
Before the collab came out, what football club did you support?
Always have and will always be a Tottenham supporter. In truth, I really like the game, so happy to watch any. I even sit down and watch Arsenal with my father-in-law, which is a massive no-no for most Tottenham fans. Now we have a relationship with PSG I am hoping to get a couple of their games.
I know you ran an advertising agency and have been in that world before. In your LinkedIn bio, you have a little blurb about you being at the forefront of guerilla marketing tactics. What’s that about?
Many years ago- I’m showing my age man. We were at the forefront. I don’t even think it’s online anymore, but I put a giant pair of jeans on the Carne Abbas Giant and I can’t even remember the name of the jeans company [laughs]. We also painted the street pink for Barbie and then released giant fucking great big pyramids down the Thames.
I enjoyed that. I used to put up posters a lot, wheatpaste, and do a lot of stickering for companies. It went from that to other mediums because actually, we could get work then.
We caused so much fucking damage. I remember walking around Soho, and I think we were the cause of why they started putting anti-vandal paint on the lamp posts. We were fucking out there all the time, just painting everything.
It was fun but it was quite dangerous. As a joke, we started to put fake prostitute ad cards into phone boxes and we had not realized that that shit was run by a syndicate. I was literally putting a fake card in a box and this guy came up to me and said, “You can’t do that.” I’m just like, “Man I’m just having a laugh, fuck off.” Next thing I know there’s a gun up against me.
The guy was like, “We run this neighborhood,” And I was like, “Read what this card says, it’s a joke.” And he was like, “These boxes and these girls are mine.” I was like, “Oh right, I’ll be the one fucking off. Yeah.” [Laughs]
Do you still go out and paint?
I still love it. That’s one thing I did like about the pandemic. When everything was shut down I had so much free reign. Everybody was allowed out for an hour, I was like, fuck that man, I’m going out for half the day and I’m taking paint and paste with me. I actually spent the last two years putting up again, and it was lovely. I could do it during the daytime when the sun was shining in a pair of shorts [laughs].
Any examples of brands blowing it with bad guerilla marketing?
Seen many things that offend me, but I am not going to call them out as what they do now is different than what we did back then. Like anything, the bastardization of things that was fun always comes into play when people do it solely for money. The early days was totally loose; we did not ask for permission, we did not have to do presentations and those ROI quantifying documents. If you liked this idea, and we thought it’s quite funny, just give us the go and we will make it happen. I don’t think I have seen anything that excites me in a while – if anything the coding space is the new guerrilla.
You helped put on Banksy’s first shows, right?
Yeah, his first ever show in London was Rivington Street. We were out painting in the daytime and got absolutely hammered and I was telling him that he had to put on a show. We were walking through the tunnel on Rivington Street and I thought, “Man this is it, this is the gallery. We’re not going to get you into a real gallery. We can’t afford to fucking rent anything.” And he said let’s do it, and that was it.
It was quite funny, cause we just went and stole some barriers and got a really lovely sign made up that said, “White’s Painters” or some made up name. We just looked like official painters, and we set up the whole show in there.
We spoke to a friend Mark, he gave us a shitload of beers. Another friend had an old van, and another friend had a sound system and generator. We were ready to go. Everything was painted on the walls so there was nothing to sell. So we just put an email up for people to email us. I told them, that every time we get some paintings ready, we’ll meet in the pub and sell em’.
Then like, once a month, we’d fill the car up with paintings and drop an email saying, “We’ll be in this pub. You can buy beer and you can buy a piece of art.” I know at one point my flat was fucking filled with paintings. I hate to think how much that lot was worth now [laughs].
It is mad that people just flock to anywhere he puts up. Everyone just flocks to take photos, and it’s mad how it progressed to what it is. It was good. It was on a roll.
You keep any pieces for yourself?
I’ve got a few juicy bits. A few bits that matter to me.
Now there’s a Clown printshop in the US, right?
Yeah, it’s called Circus. And what it is going to be is a social justice print house where we can bring people in, teach them how to print, give them the materials, and they can go and put it up in the street, slap it in a window, or give it out to people.
We can produce a board, a fan zine, a magazine, a book, events, and workshops. And the money we raise is put that back into foundation or charity. Or it can help buy skateboards, pay for lessons for kids, or it can go to a fucking food bank. We decide where that money goes.
Right now, who is the biggest clown in skating?
Well, that would have to be you guys for asking us to do this interview.
Interview by: Alexis Castro
Photos by: Reese Leung and Clown Skateboards
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