Sitting Down with the Boss
Meet Bobby Ruiz, head of Tribal Streetwear...

Everyone always seems most interested to know about Tribal's more humble beginnings. Tell me how things began here...

I've always been involved in street cultures. I was never really much in to the organized sport things...I can remember my first encounters with low-riders, graffiti, music and skateboarding. My brother Joey and I saved beer cans to buy our first "Black Knight" skateboard when we lived in L.A. in the early seventies. And then, when I was 9, we moved to San Diego. I didn't really start to notice lowriders and graffiti until I moved to San Diego.

I remember hanging out around the south San Diego neighborhood where I lived watching these vatos from the Casinos; Brown Image and Latin Lowriders doing there thing and again, this was still just the Seventies. I was fascinated with the colors, the image, the movement of the cars and their lifestyle; not to mention the music they would play. Stuff like James Brown, Kool and the Gang, Santana...And they had graffiti letters too.

By the time I was fifteen, I bought my own ride with money I made working at the 'Swapmeet' and with my Dad's small business. I was repairing hydraulics and lifting cars by the

time I was 16. And I did the whole car club thing. I was one of the first members from Groupe Car Club in San Diego. I showed my ride, did the party thing and went to school. But I still did well in school. I had to; my Dad put that fear/discipline in me.

Tell me a little more about your graffiti background.

I get asked a lot about my graffiti background. Most people think I have none because I don't do 'hip hop' style graf. But I have been doing gangster and neighborhood styles from the West Coast since the mid-seventies. Strictly letters and blocks. I still mess with hand styles. I didn't see any hip hop style graf in San Diego until the early eighties when I was already in college. I think those who say that they do 'old school' graffiti on the West Coast should be able to do or know about the varrio or gang styles because its been around longer than most people think.

Obviously the West Coast, and more specifically, Southern California, are some of your biggest influences.

I'm a product of the Southern California lifestyle, I was down for whatever; I didn't care if I was the cholo, homeboy lowrider who skated and liked to rock out on occasion. I usually just did whatever I thought might be fun or cool. But lowriders and the homies were mostly my thing.

You talked about the music from back in the days too...

We would listen to more than just soul, latin and funk back then. Since it was the eighties we would also listen to a lot of punk, ska and rock bands. That's what was happening. My first hip hop music experiences were from like the Sugar Hill Gang, Solsonic Force and the old Def Jam stuff; Slick Rick, Run DMC and the Beastie Boys to name a few. I'd say that it was 'Raising Hell' and 'License to Ill' t
hat really got me into hip hop. Then when N.W.A. and Cypress Hill dropped, I felt that...I could relate.

Explain in more detail the relationship between you and your partner Carl, why things have been gone so successfully for you.

My brother Joey [who is still a large part of the business] and I started Tribal in 89.' And I hooked up with Carl while I was looking for sponsors for a graffiti art/benefit show I was curating at the San Diego Food Bank in 91.' He had a silk screening business and he was down to sponsor the show. It was at that point when we became friends and started to talk about him getting involved with Tribal. Joey was going through some substance problems and I wanted to keep Tribal going. I had a concept with artwork and one thing just kinda lead to the next. We'd work hard, late hours, two jobs each. We had bills to pay. Nobody put a recipe in our hands and showed us how to do it. We made alot of mistakes, had financial problems, kinda trial and error but pulled through it all without bringing anyone in from the outside. We call all our own shots to this day.

To me Tribal is unique in that you guys keep things fresh and try to transcend all of the biting, hating, whatever, that goes on within the industry. To what do you attribute Tribal's ability to stay down and respected in the so-called underground?

With us it's a conscious effort to transcend boundaries and stay at least two steps ahead of the biters. People we work with recognize this and aspire to make that transition to the next level... always to the next level. As the evolution of art and music grow and merge; we're right there with it and have been there with it. Some people get it, others don't. Those that hate are ignorant to what we represent, have represented and who we are collectively. Haters aren't worth the time or attention they yearn for. Not to sound cocky, but we represent some of the worlds biggest and best in graffiti art, music, b-boying, lowriding, etc...don't trip...don't hate...that's real.

We've got history since before Tribal even began. As individuals whose accomplishments and talents have brought us together.

Grafically, we've worked with artists from Japan, Germany, Italy, France, Holland, Denmark, England, Switzerland, Canada and all over the United States.

Musically, we get support from rock to hip hop..(see press gallery).

We've got a crossover appeal that I don't think any other clothing line truly has. The reality is that b-boys and graf writers don't just listen to hip hop and that skaters don't just get into rock...I think part of our underground appeal stems from the inability to find the entire line in any one place other than our warehouse. It's not easy to get Tribal and I think this is what makes it even more desirable. We won't sell into certain stores and we don't operate with a 'sell, sell' mentality. We feel like we have a certain responsibility to those that contribute and represent. They don't want to see their graphics or what they wear in Target, Millers Outpost or JC Penney's or some other whack store.

So during this past decade, you've probably personally accumulated some ill artwork...

Yup, we have accumulated a substantial collection of pieces from around the world. We plan on showing at least part of it within the next couple of years. It consists of canvases, boards, panels, paper, photos, t-shirts, digital graphics and old cars. We archive everything and we buy artwork too. We own pieces by Doze, Chaz, Mode 2, Erni, Delta, Cartoon, Zodak, Daim, Stohead, Daddy Cool, Toast, Giant, Kinsey, Shepherd, Saber, OS Gemeos and on...

What are some of your favorites?

The collection is a collection of our favorites.

I think it's kind of dope that people on the outside look to you and Carl as examples. Like, 'If these can achieve something like this, I might be able to something like that too.' How does that make you feel?

I never really look at it that way, but if people do then that's cool and I appreciate it as I'm sure Carl does too. But its true, if we can be successful then so can others. They just need to find whatever makes them happy and pays the bills. Be original.

I don't measure success with money. Money is cool and you need it to survive and be comfortable, but I know a lot of people who have a lot of it and still can't find their happiness. I think to be happy within yourself is being successful. Having free time, family, friends and being able to do as you wish is also a part of success.

So its about the family when you're not at Tribal...

I have 3 kids and a great wife. I like to spend time with them, cruise the 59' and just hang out with the family. I work around the house and enjoy being at home. I love to take naps. Being at Tribal is like my second home, my life never really gets outside of Tribal, I live it. I'm blessed homie.

Does anything besides the business take up your personal interest? You've mentioned that you've done a lot of traveling as well as some public speaking...

Yeah, I've traveled quite a bit and I have a few trips planned as we speak. I've been all over the world. I do public speaking at some local universities, junior colleges and high schools. I've also done a few things with native American and Chicano youth organizations.

Do you see yourself running Tribal forever; or do you see yourself getting into other things like teaching, speaking, whatever...

I think I will be a part of tribal for as long as Tribal is around and I'm alive. I plan on teaching it to my children. Hopefully, they will get into it. But yeah, I might like to teach, curate art shows, direct film or video and travel with my family in the future, God willing.

Any shouts?

Oh man, that's hard. All I can say is MAD respect and thanks to all of those who have represented, continue to represent, contribute and support what we do. Big ups to the homie Duke. Mom, Dad.

As far as the future of Tribal is concerned, I've seen some of the new stuff you guys have put together and its really tight. Some new styles, the latest video (dvd), "Beyond the Four," etc. What are your thoughts behind your new designs as well as the video's release?

All that will speak for itself.

So what direction is Tribal going in from here?

Moving ahead, transcending, evolving...

And you?

I'm just happy doing this and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with and get to know so many dope people. Like I said, I'm blessed.

by jesse shamshoian