Boxes Built to Spill

Dissecting the milk crate's strange place in street culture.

Of all the cultural happenings that went down this week, Tyshawn Jones and William Strobeck’s epic New York City crate challenge is still living rent-free in the heads of many people, even a day after Kanye West seemingly renewed his vows with Kim Kardashian before immolating himself at Soldier Field, replete with a replica of his childhood home.

Veteran skate cinematographer Bill Strobeck encapsulates what makes a documentarian of culture so good: Sometimes it’s just about shutting up, pointing a lens, and letting the action do all the talking. The crate challenge itself didn’t begin in skateboarding of course, it began in the hood where it proliferated among Black Twitter and other social media meta-communities, so it’s fitting that Tyshawn Jones would be the one to cross both worlds together.

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When Tyshawn Jones was crowned Thrasher’s prestigious 2018 Skater of the Year, the young legend-in-the-making was already talking about his tendency to do wild shit and just test the limits of his physicality. As a sober person, these were the kinds of vices where he found his fun.

And really, that’s why the crate challenge fits right in with skateboarding. It’s still pure, accessible to anyone, and incredibly hard to do well. Like skating, it’s an activity inherently based on failure, so when someone succeeds, let alone makes that shit look easy, you cannot help but respect.

That impromptu gathering at Sara D. Roosevelt Park on Monday night was also yet another “proof of life” moment that gives a middle finger to the persistent “NY IS DEAD” haters. The youthful energy of the crowd was palpable even to those who witnessed it off an Instagram screen, and the real hero of the night is Bill Strobeck’s phone battery, which managed to keep the stream going for a solid two hours—quite literally a movie.

The milk crate itself has an interesting provenance in street culture. Literally used to carry jugs of milk, the shipping containers are one of many things that have been repurposed for a second life. Some of the more novel uses have been nailing them to wooden utility poles and similar structures to create makeshift basketball hoops, and another is using them as record crates.

The latter is what Kyle Ng’s Brain Dead markets them as, and let it be known that the above installation at DSM Los Angeles definitely predates the current craze around the items—so much so that there’s videos of milk crates literally being chained together so no one takes them.

Alife is another OG NY streetwear brand that’s made their own iterations of the plastic containers, and well, anyone who remembers Karmaloop probably had a Milkcrate NYC bucket at some point in his or her life. Still kicking after 25 years, the label named after the meme object du jour was founded by Aaron LaCrate, a DJ who also has a music label called Milkcrate.

Of course, there have also been higher end reinterpretations of the humble container. Take for example, a Louis Vuitton record box designed in 1996 by Helmut Lang himself to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the recognizable monogram it’s adorned with.

More recently, labels like Billionaire Boys Club and Human Made (which seems to have a thing for storage containers) have made the collapsible crate a popular novelty item for their audience. The useful containers have become a canvas for brands to apply a utilitarian graphic treatment, appropriate in a time when storage is at a premium and well, the home office and regular office are more often one and the same, so it helps to have a place to put your shit.

One of the earlier examples of the collapsible crate design can be traced to HAY. Originally designed and produced in Turkey by a family-owned company called Aykasa Polimer, the foldable crate designs were meant for fruits and vegetables, then could be reused and stacked until they were needed again. The ingenious design is currently part of MoMA’s permanent collection.

All of this is to say that crates have long been part of the collective consciousness of street culture far longer than the current trend. Although the HIDDEN.PPF collapsible crates will be releasing next week (as always, PPF Pack members get early access), everyone can rest assured their utility and relevance will definitely stick around longer than the challenge might.