This story begins with a skateboard. Not any skateboard, a very specific skateboard. No one knew it at the time, but when Bryan Arii’s parents bought their 5-year-old son this skateboard, they were laying the foundation for his entire life.
“Powell Peralta, Mike McGill, Skull and Snake, that fucking did it for me,” Arii says. “That was it. That thing hooked me. I don’t know what it was, but snakes and skulls, that Mike McGill board, it just blew me away. That was the moment.”
The metaphorical snake wrapped around Arii’s young brain and it never left. As a kid just discovering his love of creating art, Arii would end up doodling the snake and skull hundreds of times. Then, as art director for Element Skateboards, Arii designed a deck paying tribute to the iconic board. After so many hours spent drawing various riffs on the design, Arii eventually had a take on the motif tattooed onto him.
The design on the board wasn’t the only thing that resonated with Arii, as he also fell in love with the sport. He dreamed of eventually becoming a pro. But like 99 percent of kids with aspirations of being a pro athlete, Arii realized he wasn’t quite good enough. “I wanted to be a part of skateboarding any way that I possibly could,” he explains. “But if you do board graphics for the pros, then you get to meet the pros. You get to work with the pros. You get everything that you ever wanted.
“For me, the biggest part of skateboarding is the board itself,” Arii continues. “It’s cool that everyone is going to see that graphic underneath the board.”
The life of a skateboard graphic is notoriously short. Not only do boards get broken on the regular, but the graphics get scratched and defaced constantly. Unless it’s hanging on a wall, a clean board is never what you want to see. “It’s disposable art,” Arii says. “You know it’s going to happen, but you willingly do it anyway.”
Throughout his career, Arii has been guided by his passions. The old cliché may be, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,” but that’s not true in his case. Doing what he loves is the very thing motivating Arii to work all the time. His passion for skateboarding led him to walk into an interview at Element with more than 20 pieces of art already created—basically putting in the work well before anybody expected him to.
Now, Arii’s passion for sneakers led him to launch Moondust Studio. Arii works alongside his wife Lindsay to create custom sneaker boxes for serious sneaker heads. When a collector is throwing down four figures for a pair of Chunky Dunkys, they’re not going to be content keeping them in the cardboard Nike box and throwing them on the shelf.
“What it really, really comes down to is [the box] is the first thing you see,” Arii explains. “You know there’s something interesting inside of it, you know there’s something cool, but there is always a mystery to the box. For the collector, it lets you put your limited shoe on a pedestal. In a reseller’s world, if I can have a themed box for my themed shoe, it adds an extra $500 to $1,000 to the value.”
Arii made the first box for himself, showed it off on Instagram, and in no time everything exploded. Collectors started hitting him up for boxes of their own and brands reached out to collaborate.
It’s interesting to ponder the two very different mediums Arii has used for his art—one designed to be destroyed, the other designed to not only be preserved but to preserve the art it holds within. Then, of course, there is the permanent art on his skin.
“It’s so crazy,” Arii says with a laugh. “One part of me is totally in love with this permanency of having these tattoos. And the other part of me is like, well, I’m making skateboards, they’re just gonna get broken.”
Not all skateboards are going to get broken. The Powell Peralta Mike McGill Skull and Snake board that launched Arii’s entire passion will endure, as it is tucked away safely in his closet.