How Kyle Matthews turned skateboarding into suicide awareness.
By Shay Gauthier, Carrie Watt, Melvin Horsford and Max Riley
BROCKPORT, NY– By the time he was 14, Kyle Matthews knew he wanted to start a business. Little did he know that becoming a young entrepreneur would help him change the way people talk about teenage suicide.
In 2014, Matthews was in a skate park with his friends. Obsessed with skateboard clothing stores like Vans and DC Shoes, Matthews and his friends wanted to make their own clothing line. As just a few kids with a big dream, they found it difficult to get started. The dream started to fade for some of them, but it stayed with Matthews.
Matthews’ company, Infamous Street Co. was created in July of 2017. Matthews began his experience as a young business owner at only 16.
“At first it was completely illegitimate. It was just us making some t-shirts, selling them at the skate park for 15, 20 bucks,” Matthews said. “A lot of different people saw potential in it. It’s grown to be something a lot bigger than just, you know, four kids out on the street skateboarding.”
Matthews’ business profits and equity have grown 500% from when he first started the clothing line. Having his business grow that quickly over a mere two years prepared him for what would be his biggest project of 2019.
While Matthews’ name was becoming well known around the Brockport area, there were other names in the community being talked about. During the first two years of Matthews’ company, Brockport experienced several tragedies. Three of Matthews’ peers, Hannah Testa, Chase Marshall and Brendan Ratcliffe had all died by suicide.
“It was unfortunate to see that, you know,” Matthews said. “It impacts a lot of communities and, you know, it really doesn’t hit close to home until it hit close to home.”
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) almost 1,700 people have died by suicide in 2019, making it the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and the second leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 34.
Suicide rates among young people are on the rise in the United States. Given the statistics and his personal connection to suicide, Matthews knew he needed to do something that raised awareness for suicide prevention.
With the help of his business partner and now friend Nate Riexinger who has his own band, Element-36, they decided to hold a fundraising event.
“Nate has his own band and I have my own clothing company, so we figured we would put our heads together from two different aspects of a business world so that we could come up with something that would benefit a lot of people,” Matthews said.
Riexinger also had a personal connection to the deaths. Testa was one of his close friends, Marshall was his best friend’s brother and Ratcliffe was a co-worker.
“I was sick of sitting back and watching nothing change while struggling with it all myself. So I came up with the idea with Kyle and we took it head on,” said Riexinger.
Four months later, Matthews and Riexinger put on the event The Skate to End Hate. Matthews decided to have the event at Redman Road Skate Park, where his business ideas for the clothing company first began. He knew that his skating community was going to be there in support of the event. Luckily for Matthews, the first Skate to End Hate was much bigger than a few people skating in Sweden.
“There were almost 500 people in attendance, we had 18 sponsors and seven performers. It was a success in every sense of the word. We raised $1,600 dollars for AFSP,” Matthews said.
Riexinger says that he and Matthews had a vision. Had it not been for Matthews’ business experience, the event would not have happened.
“Kyle was a great guy to work with for Skate to End Hate. If I was like, ‘Kyle, can you call the town and get us a meeting to secure the date,’ his answer was always, ‘I’ll call as soon as I leave your place,’” Riexinger said.
The two originally started as business partners and now Matthews considers Riexinger one of his closest friends. Matthews did not expect to become friends with someone he did business with.
“Over the last few years, just because of running my own business, people have seen different levels of success through me. I know people have come in and tried to kind of invade on it, so I have to keep the circle small,” Matthews said.
Matthews trusts Riexinger as a friend and as a business partner. The two have already started working on The Skate to End Hate 2020.
At 18, Matthews knows that many people have preconceived notions about what he can and can’t do. He says that this project has given him an opportunity to showcase his ability.
“It’s pretty cool to prove a lot of people wrong about what you can do at such a young age. A lot of people don’t take teenagers seriously and it’s pretty cool that we can come out and do an event like this and change some lives,” said Matthews.
Unfortunately for Matthews, there have already been some issues with the planning. Even though the first Skate to End Hate was received well by attendees, residents of Sweden were not too happy.
“Residents complained that it was too loud and that it ended too late, which I thought 9 p.m. was pretty decent for a Sunday, but I guess not,” said Matthews.
Even though the next Skate to End Hate will be relocated, Matthews is certain that the event will happen.
“We’re going to relocate. We’re going to do it, you know, by all means there’s going to be a Skate to End Hate 2020,” Matthews said.
Even with a few roadblocks, Matthews understands that he has a responsibility to continue to connect with the community. Matthews never thought that creating Infamous Street Co. would set him up for success as a young activist. Now that he has a platform, Matthews wants to always give back to the community.
“I like to compare it to Christmas day when you know you’re getting all these presents and it feels great, but it feels even better watching other people open the gifts that you bought them,” Matthews said. “It’s a great feeling to have knowing that you’re changing people’s lives.”
When Matthews goes to the skate ramps now, he looks back on the moment he wanted to become an entrepreneur. Fourteen-year-old Matthews had no idea that his idea for skating apparel would become something much bigger than a teenager selling clothes. Matthews is now a proud activist for suicide prevention and he has every intention to continue spreading his message to as many people as possible.