How Rob Dyrdek Built His Mega Fortune Off Sneakers

Complex spoke to Rob Dyrdek about his signature DC shoes, building a $100M sneaker empire, his pro skater dreams, MTV shows & how he remains positive in life.

Rob Dyrdek in 2021, still with his love for sneakers. Image via Publicist

Rob Dyrdek in 2021, still with his love for sneakers. Image via Publicist

Rob Dyrdek in 2021, still with his love for sneakers. Image via Publicist

Rob Dyrdek has a castle made of sneakers. The former DC Shoes pro rider, face of the brand, and designer was part of the company from 1995 to 2015, attaching himself to a large portion of DC’s output in some way or fashion. If you’re reading this, there’s a high likelihood that you don’t know Dyrdek for his skateboard accolades, or have never watched one of his video parts over the years. You probably know him as the star of several huge MTV shows: Rob & Big, Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory, or, currently, Ridiculousness. He’s also had his hand in a plethora of business ventures, and he attributes all of it to sneakers.

Dyrdek ties all of his financial success back to the money or opportunities that sneakers presented to him, whether it was being able to launch a streetwear brand like Rogue Status or being inspired by Bam Margera to restructure his sneaker deals for optimal revenue at the peak of his fame. 

We had the chance to talk to Dyrdek about how his dream of being a pro skater almost ended as quickly as it started, making millions off sneakers, his MTV shows, and how he remains positive throughout the crazy ride he calls life while working on the Dyrdek Machine.

I’m not sure if you were prepped, but I want to talk to you about sneakers.
It’s so funny even when I think about the way you guys do the show, and where it’s… I have thousands of sneakers, but I don’t consider myself an aficionado or collector. And really, I was inside that “design your own footwear,” “lead your own shoe” vision box for 20 years. And it was the joy that I got when I was finally free again to buy whatever shoe. I probably bought like 1,000 pairs of shoes. 

I saw that you started wearing a lot of Air Max and Asics. You just went and balled out on that when the DC deal was up.
I bought everything, but what the holy grail was for me was when Presto came out, before DC really started getting cooking. Then it literally retroed the day, the first new Presto came out after my deal was dead and it was almost like I met right up where I left off, like 20 years later.

I know you’ve had more DC signature shoes than people can count. But do you remember getting your first one and what that was like for you?
So, here’s the process right? We only wore Nikes and we had all these comfort, athletic shoes that we wore while we didn’t skate. So originally the concept was how do we blend that? ‘Cause the original DCs were just really plain flat soles. I hand-sketched all the original designs.

Rob Dyrdek DC

The big move that I made was the nylon lace loop. So up until that point, a nylon lace loop had never existed on any type of footwear, outside of a running shoe or a basketball shoe. I tried to make the sole have a little bit of… to me it was super athletic, but in hindsight it’s pretty plain with just nylon lace loops. But when I got to see it for the first time, when you see it for the first time, it’s just the most extraordinary experience. But the nightmare ensued where I’m like, “I fucked up, I fucked up. These nylon lace loops, people are going to hate them, if they’re going to try to skate in them they’re going to tear the loops. They’re not even going to be able to wear the shoes.” Back then they did not have the innovation technology to put a hole underneath the nylon lace loop. They’re like, it’s not possible. And I just assumed that I guess it’s not possible. You got to choose one or the other. And I stayed in my condominium in Pacific Beach, California, holed up. So scared that DC and my signature shoes and my shoe dream was going to collapse in one fell swoop in the first couple weeks that the shoe launched. But then it did the opposite and exploded.

I think you had mentioned to Steve-O that you had said that you had got to DC and they said, “You’re going to be done in two years.” So, it almost seemed like the dream was gone as quick as it came, but then it went on for 20 more years after that. Did you envision that would actually happen?
I think the cycle of that was I had two big signature shoes, right? Where now I went from making like, $50 grand a year to $300 grand a year. Then I started record labels and all these companies and all this different stuff and a skate shop and trying all this stuff. And I was losing my passion for actually skateboarding. And so really it was Ken Block at the time who saw how committed I was to designing that it was like, “Hey, we really think your best years are behind you. Would you be satisfied with a condo and an Audi in the garage and come become a designer?” And it tore my soul, but it was like, “No, I am so much bigger than that. I would like to double down on designing.” So over the next two years, I completely reinvigorated my entire career. I went from basically falling off to one of the top 10. I was top 10 in every contest. I was really evolved, but I also evolved. I did a deal at that time. After that two-year mark, let me go through the design process with the designers. And then if they pick my designs, then I get a royalty from them.

And they were like, “Alright, cool. He had this big resurgence and he’s even more focused than ever. Let’s let him design.” And at one point, I had like 35 shoes I got paid off of. I had designed a third of the entire DC line at one point and then again, to me in that era, I went to the great Dr. George Pratt, and I got hypnotized for success.

I found him and he was like, “At your subconscious level, you don’t think you’re meant to have great success.” He hypnotized me for success. And then I literally never went another year in my life where I didn’t progress and evolve to a higher level, year over year after over year, including with DC.

Until they got acquired by Quiksilver. Then eventually were part of the Quiksilver bankruptcy. And that was kind of my sort of zone of like, “Alright. It’s time for you to begin to transition without a DC logo on your chest.”

You say DC logo on your chest, but you had the chain with all of your signature shoes. How crazy was that to make?
I think about it, I look at it every day, it’s by my socks and I’m like, “This thing’s so sick,” because the sickest part about it was number one, I did it when I had already had 16 signature shoes. It was more on how insane that you have had that many signature shoes, but then I initially hired a guy to try to make it. And he tried to hand-carve one and it was this dumpy, frumpy. I found a company out of Milwaukee that would scan the shoe and make the molding, so that I could actually make it. And then it became, it’s a pound of gold. And it’s like, 16 shoes. But that thing was just too heavy. And then eventually I just grew out of being so over the top, as it related to rocking jewelry. And now it just sits next to my socks and it never doesn’t bring me joy. ‘Cause it is just like such a remarkable piece to own and have.

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Did you then have a connection with Nike though through Street League being that they were the title sponsor to it? What was that like?
Yeah. I mean, look, you got to talk about an awkward era and my walking the line history, because I had to basically negotiate with Nike while DC was the title sponsor. I knew how much more important it was to have Nike be the title sponsor of Street League than to have DC.

And it’s an unusual position to be in, but I had to call it church and state, and even then I was still shooting Fantasy Factory. At this point I had four or five, six signature shoes in a line and a giant apparel setup that sold at all the mainstream mall stores. I had to really even walk the line of how I promoted Street League and Nike as not to get it so messy, but it did give me an opportunity to be able to step back from the face of Street League at that time, with the excuse of, “Oh, it’s Nikes. I can’t, let’s push P-Rod to the front type of vibe.”

You mentioned the apparel. You were a co-owner of Rogue Status, which was a huge thing. I know Yohan recently actually passed away, too, but what was that like in the peak of Rogue Status era when the gun T-shirts were just going insane and you were the face of it?
It’s this unusual sort of era. Where it was like when I saw the gun print for the first time, because Yo, you know, God rest, was working at Undefeated at the time in Venice. And it just felt some type of way. It’s like the Gucci, the gun Gucci print. I had saw what was happening with Bam [Margera] as a whole of what was happening to every business he was associated from being on Jackass.

So I renegotiated my footwear royalty deals, my board royalty deals. And I was like, “I need to have a company that I can build through that lens, too.” So I did a partnership with me and Yo, and then we ran into Chris, Travis Barker’s assistant, at a grocery store and said, “We have this clothing line. We’d love to pitch Travis.” We took it to Travis and then Travis’s infrastructure with Famous Stars and Straps really allowed it to boom, really become a much bigger real company in that era.

How lucrative was it in the height of it?
It got pretty big. I think it still kind of always sat underneath sort of the scale of Famous Stars and Straps at that time. It peaked at $7 or $8 million in sales, a solid business, but nothing crazy.

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I think you mentioned too that all these business ventures that you’ve been in to some degree were kind of launched off of the sneaker money that you made. At some point, you just kind of exponentially let it grow. Is that kind of just crazy to you that it was just sneakers that let you build this $100 million empire?
The crazy thing about it is you could tie it solely to it. There’s no gray area to it. It is the money that I was able to create both from initial signature shoes that finally made me. I quit high school, became a pro skateboarder and made two, three or $400 a year to be guaranteed a $1,000 a month. Moved to California, when I was 17 to then getting a signature shoe with no understanding of what that even means.

And then all of a sudden you’re making hundreds of thousands of dollars. It created a foundation. And then all those years, think about it. Not only did it provide me with capital to begin to learn and scale business, but then it got bigger and bigger as DC grew. Then for a footwear company, I made a skit for a video because I knew that my skateboarding wasn’t going to be good enough. That became Rob & Big. That then put me on this entire other platform, because you got to remember DC sold, and grew to around $80 to $100 million in 2005. And then when Rob and Big launched and that exploded, it took DC from $80 million to $500 million in like, three years.

That throughline is what DC was able to deliver me both from the continual growth of the money that I continued to learn and build everything with, but also just like the amount of shoes that I designed in that period. I probably designed and brought to market over 100 shoes in that entire run.

Was that the goal from the start or is it just kind of snowballed bit by bit or did you kind of have a master plan that this was the endgame of it?
I think in that era, it’s very hard. Today I live in an extraordinarily revealed master plan. I live this extraordinary life and by design. But back then, you don’t even understand enough of the moving parts to fully even imagine what could happen. The same way I couldn’t imagine how much my life would change by making a signature piece of footwear. And then I could never imagine how truly next-level my life would evolve to after being on television. Now, I had foresight, right? So in the era before Rob & Big launched, I would get two percent royalty on the shoes I designed. I would get a 5percent royalty on my signature shoe. And when Quiksilver acquired the business, they were like, “This has to stop. We can’t pay Rob Dyrdek on 30 shoes. He’s not even a designer. We shouldn’t allow him to design shoes. This is ridiculous.” And so I could see the writing on the wall for that, as Rob & Big was about to come out. So in the process of that I renegotiated. 

There was a Stan Smith-looking sort of wave that sort of happened in the skate footwear zone and across the mall mainstream. I basically said, “I want my own version of this and a 10 percent royalty on it.” Betting that when I get on television, all the mall kids that love that style of shoe, here’s Rob from Rob & Big in his signature DC, that emulated that Stan Smith wave that was so big. And that’s then where I got another massive success. Because now I’m making millions off of royalties because it’s one of their best-selling shoes, and I have a 10 percent royalty.

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I always had foresight on how to maximize the different opportunities that I created. And again, when it went to Fantasy Factory, now I’m doing fully integrated content and programming around all my signature product and all of that stuff and actual design of footwear and campaigns. You might find it interesting that I shot a DC campaign with the guy from Tiger King, old Doc Antle, out in Myrtle Beach where I was feeding the liger and jumping off Bubbles, the elephant, for a Fantasy Factory episode around my DC line. It’s how far things got.

How did you balance all of that and not let the success and empire get to your head and kind of just become an egomaniac?
I’ve always been in awe of it the whole way through. When I got famous, it was like, “What? This is so nuts.” I remember I went to a UFC fight, and I had regular seats and the UFC people were like, “Come down here, what are you doing up there?” The show had only aired for three weeks. And so I’m like, “Oh wow, this is what it feels like.” They sat me two seats from the octagon and then Kid Rock turns around. He’s like, “Shoot a photo with me.” He’s like, “Now you’re famous.” I get back to my hotel room, the concierge calls me, he’s like, “Hey, a couple Patriots and Angels players would like to party with you.”

It’s never been about necessarily the rewards as it relates to material or experience or what would feed the ego. It was always like, “Man, look at what I could create out of this. How could I evolve this?” And then eventually it shaped its way into how can you take this opportunity and turn it into all the things that you love to do the most and turn it into a way of life that you can now live forever?

One thing I want to get your opinion on is, Virgil Abloh goes to Louis Vuitton, does the skate shoe for Lucien Clarke, and it’s like an old-school DC model, but it’s a Louis Vuitton sneaker. How crazy was that for you to see the first time you saw it?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s nuts. I lived the wave of choosing skateboarding and it being like, adapted to different, way next-level cultural things, as it relates to Pharrell and sort of things that happened along the way, I think have always been super fascinating. But there’s no doubt that’s pinnacle to me. But I also look at, a lot of people have an opinion from skate as it relates to Virgil’s love of CCS catalogs, and Droors, and like all this sort of old-school stuff.

Virgil’s skating all the time and being about it and doing this with Lucien, I look at it as like that. It’s amazing. And it shows the power of the quality of the way skateboarders were as creators and designers, and the way that they created their own lane that will forever be evolving and forever be emulated that I think is just manifesting itself at the very highest level. So, then in my opinion, I think it’s extraordinary.

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When you see something a brand like Supreme sells, or be evaluated for a billion dollars, I’m not saying that you feel you played a role in that, but that kind of just echoes to all the moves that you made throughout your career.
When I look at what Supreme did, it’s more like unwavering commitment to their own sort of lane of street luxury. They maintained their own position and what dope luxury should be until luxury caught up with them. And so you can say whatever you want, as they started as a skate shop and continued to have the skate shop, even after being acquired, but it is unwavering commitment to who they were the whole way through. And then the world just caught up with them.

And for them, the payout’s a billion dollars. The payout’s a billion dollars, which, make no mistake, not in year one, not in year 10 did they ever think something like that would ever even be plausible. So the fact that it even revealed itself like that, it unfolded like that, absolutely extraordinary.

The last thing I’m going to ask you is how do you have no negative thoughts? Like zero? How do you not have any?
It starts with understanding yourself at a super high level. ‘Cause at the end of the day, your mind is serving all aspects of where you’re headed. You experience today, basically what you’ve created in the past. You’re living in the experience that you’ve developed for yourself. And over time you have so many aspects that are like, pinning you, that, like, you’re just trying to find pockets of happiness before another thing pulls you back into your negative ways. And for me, when I started just asking myself every day, “Zero to 10, how do I feel about my life, work, and health?” And it’s simple, if I feel positive about life, it’s  six and above.

If I feel negative about life, it’s four and below, and five, I kind of feel neutral. And what I realized is, when I’m below I hate everything. Ten things are wrong. When I’m above, I’m super happy. I did that for years and what I began to discover is that the same sort of things were the things that brought me down. And then I began to clear all of those out. And then once I cleared all of those out, I no longer had what I’d consider sort of like, that built in institutional stress and triggers that always drove me to those negative places. Then I began to optimize for never being there again. And that was with clarity and systems and plans and getting up every day with intention.