Alien Workshop: one of the most iconic brands in skateboarding history

Chris Carter had spent a good deal of time in the skateboard industry, and by the time the 1980s had finished, he was the team manager for Tracker Designs.

In 1990, a friend of his, Mike Hill, was working at Gordon & Smith, and he offered Chris a job.

Chris immediately took the job but, within a year, decided to change course. So Chris and Mike teamed up to form a new company.

"We wanted to have our own business, a place where we didn't need to ask permission," explained Chris.

The name Alien Workshop came from a friend, John Johnson.

In the days before the World Wide Web, John ran a bulletin board that discussed alien conspiracy theories.

One of the theories surrounded the Stealth Bomber.

It was believed that the bomber was not a product of the 1980s but instead had been built in the 1940s with technology made in "alien workshops."

So compelling were John's conspiracy stories that the name stuck.

Alien Workshop: the brand's name was inspired by the UFO conspiracy theories of the early internet era | Photo: Alien Workshop

From Ohio with Love

California is home to most of the world's skateboard manufacturers, but Alien Workshop set up shop in Dayton, Ohio, since Mike was originally from the area.

Being in Ohio also meant start-up costs and general expenses were much lower than in California.

Joining Chris and Mike in their eastern adventure was pro skater Neil Blender.

"Neil's career was winding down, and he wanted a change. So he was willing to move," said Chris.

Neil made an immense artistic contribution to Alien Workshop.

When AlienWorkshop started, the skate industry and the worldwide economy were going through a painful recession.

It was a tough go for a lot of companies. "We were eating a lot of pasta," recalled Chris.

A problem that plagues many new businesses is undercapitalization, and Alien Workshop was no exception.

However, over time, their dedication and original ideas started to pay off.

"We were unhappy with the whole marketing vehicle," Chris noted when questioned about the success of Alien Workshop.

"In the early 1990s, it was three ideas: rip-off logos, sex, and violence. Alien Workshop marketed with original ideas."

Marketing the UFO Enthusiasm

Alien Workshop was one of the first companies to start merchandising "alien" products.

There's no doubt there were several UFO enthusiasts who purchased a "Visitor" t-shirt or sticker, not realizing that they were supporting a skateboard company.

As things began to roll, changes were made to the company. Mark Erikson was brought in as a new partner, and an old warehouse was purchased.

This warehouse became half production workshop and half skatepark.

In October 2013, the company was acquired by Pacific Vector Holdings following periods under the ownership of the Burton and original team skater Rob Dyrdek.

Alien Workshop produced decks, wheels, skateboard accessories, and apparel until its closure in May 2014.

In 2015, Alien Workshop resurrected through Tum Yeto and presented an all-amateur team and distribution plan.

One year later, the legendary skate brand led by Mike Hill ended the relationship with Tum Yeto and returned to its original headquarters in Miamisburg, Ohio, as an independent company.

Alien Workshop is responsible for the release of several iconic videos, including "Memory Screen," "Timecode," "Photosynthesis," "Mind Field," and "Bunker Down."

Words by Michael Brooke | Skateboarder and Author of "The Concrete Wave: The History of Skateboarding"

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