Today we’d like to introduce you to Santiago Fileta.
Hi Santiago, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
Rogue Van Company began exactly as it is named, marketing and rugged branding aside, we were total and complete rogues. With no plan or ultimate goal in sight, I flew to Brooklyn, New York, to camp out at my cousin’s apartment, scouring the internet for vans all over the New England area. In the following weeks, I crisscrossed the Northeast buying any and all Sprinter vans I could get my hands on; from the Bronx to Philly.
In the end I managed to scoop 5 in total, none with license plates, all of them being constantly shifted and moved around New York City to avoid getting towed or ticketed. My cousin, a NYC public defender, demanded that I keep her card with me at all times, stating that if I managed to pull this off and not get arrested, it would be a miracle. I made a Facebook post asking if any of my friends wanted to fly out to the east coast for a road trip and to my surprise, many of my friends were willing to drop everything and caravan with me; they all flew out, we drove, we explored, we came together and the rest is history.
After the great exodus back to the Northwest, I began working out of a little storage unit with some friends in Portland, Oregon, where we started honing our craft. We really didn’t have any models to go off of, nor much professional experience, besides construction work in our teen years. I personally had almost no formal training at the time, besides my leatherworking skills and my innate engineering fundamentals that were handed to me from my parents who were mechanical and electrical engineers respectively. Slowly, we began figuring out what worked and, sometimes, very quickly, we learned what did not. Those first two years were extremely formative – we were essentially in a self-contained incubator of build exploration.
I am a great believer in the internal creativity and resource we all have within ourselves and I was adamant that our creative and fundamental drive and structure be natively sourced from within us, not from YouTube, or random “DIY experts”, but from our own original thoughts, ideas and dreams. Sometimes they really were dreams, on several occasions I can remember going home with a problem and dreaming about the solution in my sleep. Mostly however, we were really in uncharted territory in many ways since this was before the van boom, before the internet, social media, and Pinterest were inundated with #vanlife. We were, at least in our minds, something akin to pioneers in the bespoke conversion world.
Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
After a few years in Portland, I decided to move the shop to San Diego. I was tired of the rain and gloom of Portland’s winter and the sunshine felt like the next frontier for us to explore and immerse ourselves in. What proceeded were two of the hardest and most difficult years of my life. When you start a project like Rogue, the work is your life. All your dreams, hopes, desires, inspirations; they all play out in your work. For me, this was doubly manifested by the intense physical and mental effort building custom van conversions demands. A variety of circumstances forced me to choose my project’s integrity over life-long friendships, putting some on hold and terminally ending others.
All of the upheaval at the shop caused me to spend countless hours away from the love of my life and in the fall of 2019, I lost my closest and dearest mentor, Osamu Sato, of Okinawa, Japan, who taught me, among countless other things, leather work, speed, and dedication. Prior to this gauntlet of hardship, I had experienced a relative amount of ease and success. I always worked hard and took risks, however I had never faced so many difficult things all at once. These challenges naturally turned me inward, causing a near-obsession with my work as a way to cope with the losses I had been dealt. Through this, I was given a valuable perspective on life, as well as fuel to reinvent and improve my craft and direction.
Having navigated my way through these traumas, today I feel stronger but also more aware of the fragility of life. This fleeting instance of existence we experience are like bright little flares of near insignificance when viewed through the lens of time, yet so personal and engrossing from our individual perspectives. These recent years have changed my outlook and direction on life, helping me to prioritize my close relationships, family, and above all, aligning my passion and goals with ultimate satisfaction in my daily life.
Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I think that the term “artist” more clearly defines who I am and what I do, whether it be creating custom van conversions at Rogue Van Company, or doing custom leather working at my leather goods business, El Gato Montes. Generally speaking, I strive for an extreme level of quality, precision and durability with anything I create. This aspect of my character is reinforced by my nearly suicidal level of commitment to any project I undertake. I think that above all else, that is truly my lasting footprint and renown in all spheres of my creative and professional life. I don’t do things in half measures, I fully put myself into any concept I believe in. As a whole, this attribute has greatly helped in my success, but it has also had its drawbacks.
I believe that every person is capable of incredible things, however, almost as a rule, we hold ourselves back from pursuing our deepest desires and dreams. I have the opposite affliction, I so thoroughly believe in these ideas, aspects and projects, that I’m consumed by them; I can’t rest until they are fully realized in the flesh. Despite the fact that there have been so many late, late nights for me, pushing my skills and experience to their limits, I honestly can say that I regret none of it. At the end of the day, our lives are a summation of the little moments we string together – the minutes, the hours, the days we spend toiling on whatever it is that holds our focus; for me, that time is a priceless monument to the total, uncompromising pursuit of my dreams.
Do you have recommendations for books, apps, blogs, etc?
I read about a book a week, almost exclusively fiction. I find it extremely cathartic to lose myself in the books I read and have done so since I was very young. Some of my favorite authors are Dostoevsky, Stephen King, Ursula Le Guin, Mark Twain, Brandon Sanderson, Alexandre Dumas, Frank Herbert, China Mieville, Kurt Vonnegut, Alex Haley, Scott Lynch, Robert Jordan, and Patrick Rothfuss.
- Email: Inquiries@RogueVan.com
- Website: www.Roguevan.com
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/RogueVans
- Other: www.ElGatoMontes.com