Story: Robert Howe
Images: MotoStuka Nation
There are very few constants in life. Relationships die, jobs get lost, pets run away, etc.… But, if you’re lucky, you have something that you are so passionate about, that you can always count on it to ground you when the whole world seems to be a swirling shit show. For me, since I was 8 years old, it’s been motorcycles.
The end starts a new beginning...
Rewind to late December 2011, while working as an industrial designer for a big U.S. consumer electronics company, a facility wide “meeting” was called. Our entire department sidled into the enormous conference room that, up to that point, was used for parties, news events, or whatever. It didn’t feel like a party that day. No, it felt a little like we were being led to a cliff. So that day, a few days before Christmas in 2011, this huge American company that espouses its dedication to its employees and “keeping jobs in America”, eliminated our entire development team. It was a fucking gut punch, and after HR dropped the bomb, a mob of 50 or 60 engineers, designers, admin and support staff ran back to their cubicles and started making the sad phone calls to friends and colleagues at other companies in the hopes that they had positions available. This was not the first lay off I had experienced in my 17 year career, and to tell you the truth, I was angry. I didn’t call my friends to grovel for a job, I didn’t get to work on updating my resume, no, I started MotoStuka.
At that time, I had no clue how to start a “brand”. I had little or no skills needed run my own business. What I had was a passion for motorcycles, and the burning desire to never again give control of my life to the “suits upstairs”. Creating a moto-lifestyle brand, in theory, made perfect sense.
I built a studio in my backyard and got to work designing a line of soft good for the DIY bike-builder. I chose that segment of the bike industry, because I’m a member of that segment. My thinking was, “If I think something is cool, my customers will think it’s cool as well.”
I had a severance package, and my wife had a good job, so the kids weren’t going to starve while I developed product designs, materials, graphics, finishes, etc. And I managed to have a product line designed in about 6 months. The line consisted of tank bags, travel bags, tool kits, shop wear, and of course, gloves.
The gloves we produce, Shanks, have become the flagship product for MotoStuka. When I first started making them, I had no idea they would become the catalyst for huge positive changes in my life. Shanks are the reason I don’t have to wear khaki pants and dress shirts every day. It is because of these gloves that I have been able to feed my family, send two kids to college, meet amazing people, and travel all over the world! I think they’re cool, and fortunately, so do my customers.
Today, we make most of our products in our studio/workspace outside of Austin, Texas. We wholesale them to moto-lifestyle shops around the globe. The vast majority of MotoStuka sales goes to Europe, we have retailers in Russia, and as far away as Australia. Thanks to the globalization of E-commerce, I am frequently shocked at where our products end up.
In 2022, MotoStuka turns ten years old. I’ve been doing this longer than any other job I’ve ever had. I work almost every day, but I don’t feel consumed by my work. I mean, I’m obsessed with making the best possible products I can, but I don’t dread Monday mornings like I did when I was a cog in the machine. And I’ll NEVER lay myself off a couple of days before Christmas!
I hope this doesn’t come across as boastful or arrogant. Rather, I hope that my story inspires someone to break out on their own, to plot their own course, and pursue a passion that keeps them up at night.
It’s great if you have lots of experience and the skills needed to build a successful brand. But, after ten years, I can say the greatest assets you can possess are unrelenting determination and the ability to control fear. In the end, it’s not about making money, it’s about being proud of what you do, and being free to make choices.
I honestly believe that there has never been a better time to create something all your own. Taking that first step is a little scary. And it will be the hardest work you’ll ever do, but that’s why it’s great!