You don’t know much of what happens in North Van. If you’re from Vancouver, it doesn’t matter what part, you’ve probably scoffed at the lil’ suburb thinking it has no more to offer than incredibly slow transit. From an insider’s viewpoint, North Van is family. You can step outside your house and run into at least eight people from your high school before you reach the next block. It’s a blessing and a curse. The suburb is small, but it’s rich in many more ways than just really good hiking trails. For my entire kid life, I have never lived anywhere but the places between Lions Gate Bridge and Honey’s Doughnuts of Deep Cove. Too young to drink legally, kids hide in the shadows of the evergreen trees at Eldon Park with their twelve packs of Pilsner, harassing anyone’s silhouette they don’t recognize to identify themselves. If the cops come, the dense forest has your back but you are probably too drunk to navigate your way through the thicket. Sometimes you’ll abandon the anonymity of the bush, and head down to the nearest skatepark. This is where I find myself now. I’m sitting on a bench made completely out of skateboard decks with Matt Bruce of Chimney Fish at Griffin Bowl, the rec centre I learned how to swim is now just one giant hole. Even though it’s a nice day out, it’s just Matt and I plus one kid with his scooter testing out his courage at this local spot.
Bruce started the idea for clothing brand Chimney Fish in 2013 after a phone call to a friend, “in the summer, we were skating down at a spot and I call someone up and I’m like what are you up to and they’re like “we're just chimney fishing” like what do you mean “well we're just smoking like chimneys and drinking like fishes” and I’m like “that’s fuckin' awesome””. Since that phone call, Bruce decided to adopt the Shake Junt ideal of “by the homies for the homies” but go bigger.
“We always wanted to do some sort of skate oriented company, clothing accessories stuff like that...Obviously [Shake Junt] had a lot more connections with guys that are pro and shit like that and distributors but that’s how it started; "by the homies for the homies". That was their sort of thing about it. We wanted to do the same but we wanted to do “by the homies for the world.””
Matt Bruce is the kind of honest that makes you feel like a coward for not usually speaking so bluntly. He doesn’t shy away from any subject or say anything he does not feel completely genuine about. When asked what he thinks is unique about the North Van skate community, he just says “fuckin’ nothing” as he pulls on another cigarette. It might seem like a harsh statement, but maybe Matt Bruce is just honest enough to admit that there is very little that distinguishes skate communities, “[they’re] good guys, everyone can relate, everyone can skate”. Sound familiar?
Bruce taught himself how to screen print every original design by watching YouTube videos. His creative process for graphics is simple, he doesn’t have one. The ideas just come to him. Drawn and printed by hand, Bruce gets as close as he possibly can to his product. Chimney Fish prides itself on their slogan of “no two of a kind”. He feels that it is a brand friends, parents and even grandmas can relate to, “people will come up to me and say “yo I love Chimney Fish, I can relate to it, I can relate to smoking like a chimney and drinking like a fish” like no shit, fucking everyone can.”
There is a certain pride in staying local, and it has really paid off in Matt Bruce’s case. There isn’t a party you can go to in someone’s parent’s house where at least three or four dudes are wearing Chimney Fish. Matt Bruce loves North Van. “It’s fucking great here. I don’t ever plan on leaving”. Like many of us sheltered and angsty after too many years between the ocean and mountains, Bruce felt the need to get the fuck out and as far away as he could, to Australia. After two months, and working on a sheep shearing farm for a week, Bruce heads back home.
“I had been up for 30 hours and haven’t had a cigarette and I was going a bit insane. Going outside and having that smoke was just the greatest fucking feeling. It was pouring rain, it was five in the morning, it was super shitty, but I’ve never felt that good. I love North Van [leaving] made me realize how much I love it”.
Chimney Fish is finally what people defined by the restricting suburb limits can be proud of. Matt Bruce established a sense of pride in coming from North Van. Every Sunday in the summer, Bruce and his friends throw BBQ Sundays at Griffin Bowl. It started low key with the biggest turn out being about twelve guys, growing to what everyone was doing, or wanting to do, with their Sundays. There will be bands, skate competitions and nothing but a crowd of familiar faces.
“I like to take it more into my own hands and just really show people I take a lot of pride in it. It means a lot to me. I can make money off ordering t-shirts [online] but it’s not what it’s about to me. It’s wanting to grow something”. And let the record show, Bruce barely breaks even with sales; considering his own investments of time and money into the company. He says he is staying afloat but still isn’t making a fucking penny. Even after approached by what Bruce describes as “suit dummies”, he refuses to give up the brand for profit. A realist, Bruce is still trying to balance school and the business resulting in a ton of sleepless nights in a windowless basement where all his creations come to fruition. In the red eye hours of these late nights, Bruce has sometimes considered giving the whole thing up. What stops him every time; “I love it, I love doing it”. He has stepped up from hustling off Instagram and selling products by meeting on the North Shore to launching an online store, now live.
Keep it real, stay local- buy Chimney Fish ;)