event “Lev” Tanju couldn’t have known the impact his clothing would have on the sport and the fashion world at large in 2009. Before Tanju and co-founder Gareth Skewis founded Palace, apparel for skateboarders was exclusively designed outside the United States.
At that time, the apparel industry put very little creativity into what they outfitted their sponsored teams in. Never one to accept the status quo, Tanju and his skate team, the Palace Wayward Boys Choir, set out to create what they wanted to wear for themselves instead. That journey officially led to the birth of what we now know as Palace, which has morphed into a high-end, enviable model for what any design house or gutsy apparel brand can do to set itself apart from the pack.
A little more than a decade later, and everyone can see why Palace’s dynamic designs garnered widespread respect from skateboarders, and the larger fashion community—all while staying true to Tanju’s original vision.
In a decade where graphic t-shirts and hoodies are the new status symbols, Palace is a true statement maker that you should watch and emulate. Let’s take a look at the business lessons you can learn from this iconic brand.
Humble Beginnings in a London Flophouse
Palace got its start (and name) back in 2009 from a London flophouse that co-founder Tanju lived in. While staying there and working at the legendary Slam City Skates, Tanju met fellow skater Skewis, and they started hanging out at the local skate park. A bond grew between the pair from their shared interest in skating and fashion. “I was just a skateboarder… I knew I wanted a skate company,” Tanju says. “I liked clothes. I wanted to make a skateboard company without looking toward America for references. And to make nice clothes for myself to wear.”
When it came time to brand their new business, the name Palace seemed the best fit for a variety of reasons. One being the name of their skate team, which even had a YouTube show called “The PWBC Weekly News.” Another was the flophouse’s name, which had a funny juxtaposition between its plain appearance and the word “palace.”
And lastly, the duo was fans of a musician named, Will Oldham, who released music under multiple artists names using the word palace. (This musical tribute would later play out when Oldham appeared on t-shirts and Palace look books.)
Part of Tanju and Skewis’s early design aesthetic was the cross-referencing of other fashion styles. The influence of 1990s skater fashion on the Palace point of view evolved from a mash-up of pop culture, and other designers’ and brands’ work, to create something original. The brand’s skate wear styles greatly reference pre-Y2K pop culture, along with internet influencers and skateboard videos of the Palace skate team. This unusual hybrid of fashion would set the stage for Palace’s later, smash-hit styles.
Statement-Maker Lesson #1:
Understand the buyers who are part of your community. Who are you designing your apparel for? Who’ll wear it? As you develop your brand aesthetic, apparel graphics and apparel styles, design with those people in mind.
Then, develop your following and community, especially if you’re a startup brand. Think of it as a grassroots connection effort, so you can create a Facebook group or Instagram page, attend chamber of commerce meetings, reach out to influencers or hold pop-up shops where your ideal customer hangs out. That way, you’ll grow real relationships with your customers who’ll support you along the way.
The Carefully Designed Palace Logo
One of the most iconic aspects of the Palace style of clothing is its carefully designed logo. It’s essentially a variation on the 3-D triangle that seems to fold into itself endlessly. There’s no special “hidden meaning” on this, beyond the fact that Tanju thinks triangles are a powerful aesthetic shape.
The logo itself, which was designed by Purcell, is a Penrose Triangle with Palace written on all three sides. The Penrose Triangle is sometimes referred to as the “impossible triangle” because of its optical illusion nature.
The placement of the logo was especially important. In the early days, Tanju and his team posted very grainy skating videos online, recorded with early cell phones. Because these first videos were of such low quality, the logo had to be boldly placed on their clothing so it could easily be seen and identified from a distance. That in-your-face point of view is still a big part of the brand today.
Statement-Maker Lesson #2:
Clearly, Tanju and the Palace team thought long and hard about the brand’s logo and what it symbolized. When you develop your own apparel brand’s logo and graphics, stay true to your core identity and values.
However, don’t be afraid to experiment with other interpretations that you can decorate your apparel with; these can even be limited-edition pieces that your fans will line up to score. Aim to stay fresh and relevant, so your customers have a reason to always keep an eye on what you’re doing.
The Palace Design History and Philosophy
The basics of Palace’s design philosophy come down to this—skater apparel created for skateboarders by skaters who live, understand, and embody that life and mindset. The philosophy was also influenced by the mistreatment that Tanju witnessed with his pro skateboarder friends.
Many brands would sponsor skateboarders and then either underpay them or pay them late. Tanju wanted to create his own brand to elevate the skateboarding sport by treating professional skaters right. Tanju also felt that there weren’t any serious skate apparel brands out there, save for fellow Englishman James Jebbia’s company, Supreme, over in Manhattan. The Palace Wayward Boys Choir’s YouTube show on the Don’t Watch That TV channel debuted the aesthetic and vision that’s pure Palace. “I could support my friends better than what they were getting and pay them more than they would be able to get paid,” he says.
As part of its own clothing lines, Palace launches five collections a year. In addition, the design team produces multiple collaborations with other designers and brands like adidas golf. Palace designers also show off their “wild side” with mash-ups of styles that showcase the skateboarding aesthetic—including floral western shirts, tracksuits and camo Gore-Tex parkas.
Statement-Maker Lesson #3:
One of the ways Tanju has supported his immediate circle of skateboarding friends—and now a much wider worldwide community—is by introducing graphic designs and clothing that they actually want to wear. They can be authentically who they want and look good in the process. Design clothing your community feels great about wearing. Also try branching out once in a while by taking chances with new artwork and other apparel genres to keep things interesting.
Those All-Important Collabs and Partnerships
Another thing that sets Palace apart from other skate brands is that the team has been bold enough to collaborate outside of their usual niche, which has led to a wide range of celebrities sporting their gear, from music stars Jay-Z and Rihanna, to athletes tennis at the famed Wimbledon tournament.
While the skate brand has maintained stores in Los Angeles, New York, London and Tokyo, Palace has partnered with an impressive collection of established design houses and brands to create unique fashion statements you wouldn’t see anywhere else.
Like the heather track pants Tanju created for a collaboration with adidas (and ending up wearing everywhere).
As it turns out, Palace and the sportswear giant adidas Originals were a match made in design heaven, pumping out multiple collabs for tennis, football, golf, yoga and more. Recently they even joined forces to create a capsule collection made from upcycled and recycled ocean plastic.
They’ve also partnered with Umbro on a reproduction of a vintage English football shirt and Reebok to launch a new pair of kicks. Then in 2017, in a major score, Tanju met with the Ralph Lauren, to work on a collaboration that resulted in a co-branded collection which included a Polo Bear sweater, pajamas and slippers.
Time and time again, Tanju showed the fashion world that Palace could be much more than a skate brand, while still staying true to their roots. The company also has enjoyed memorable collabs with Mercedes AMG, Happy Mondays, Stella Artois, The North Face and Vans.
Statement-Maker Lesson #4:
Don’t ignore the opportunity to collaborate with other brands, celebrities, sports figures, musicians, influencers and more. While you should aim high, if you’re just starting out, look to partner with local businesses, bands, teams and micro-influencers. The wider an audience you connect with and appeal to, the faster and farther your brand reach will grow.
Why Palace Attracts the World Beyond Skateboarders
Tanju’s authenticity seeps into all his marketing and design styles, which are marked by his sense of humor. On one of his recent product descriptions for a camouflage hoodie, Tanju posted, “Weird how some people wear camo to not be seen then some people wear camo to be like hey everyone look at me.”
Even though most fashion house founders would delegate this type of social media posting and copywriting to someone else in the company, Tanju likes to give Palace posts his authentic voice, which helps his comments (and products) go viral in a massive way.
What makes Palace such a memorable—and meteorically heading toward iconic—brand is that it sprung from Tanju’s genuine desire to design clothes that he and his skater friends love. But, anyone can enjoy dressing in Palace’s street-aware, urban style.
“[Palace] is a brand,” Tanju says. “Good brands look after everyone and appeal to everybody. I like so many things. I watch football. I go skating. I just got into surfing… I'm not going to pigeonhole myself, and Palace is all about what we all like.”
Statement-Maker Lesson #5:
Your brand should stand for something special and create a container where your community can express themselves and interact with other like-minded people. As the founder, your voice and stamp should permeate through the brand, so even as your company grows and changes, the original intent customers fell in love with stays intact.