This summer is going to be crazy
I knew it leaving China, and I'm feeling it now. But crazy is good! The last 3 months were pretty laid back, so it'll be nice to have a change of pace and make a bit of cash before I head back in August.
Today I tried to get everything ready for the big show tomorrow. I really love what the Indie Craft Experience people have done with their shows so far, and weather permitting (it was incredible today, hopefully it'll behave again tomorrow!) I think it'll be pretty killer.
There's a couple of things I'm doing differently this time around that should be interesting to see in action. One new feature is the "Linty Fresh Styleguide", which is basically a laminated menu which will serve as a quick reference to perspective customers. As my inventory has expanded, it's become impossible to display everything, so it's crucial to come up with new ways to show a customer all the goods without having piles of junk on the counter. (If you've seen my video on doing tradeshows, you know I like keeping things tidy.) The styleguides are also nice because they tell a little bit about each item, which is a reflection of both the website and the brand itself. I've really tried to set myself apart from other brands by putting a lot of meaning into each product, and it's important to me to convey some of that to attendees at a show.
Another new feature this year is a discount rack that will have items dating back to December 07. I debated for some time whether or not to do this, but I think it's good to have low price points for people who are there to bargain shop. Of course, they won't be getting what full-price-paying customers get. In some cases, these discounted tees are simply so old that they're no longer congruent with the LF brand. In others, they've got either printing or manufacturing flaws. Either way, they're $10, and I hope to move them all if possible.
In other news, tonight I was reconnected with a Chinese business contact from last year (no connection to this new one). He wants to partner up with the brand and take it into the world of custom sneakers. A year ago I felt this was a pretty far-fetched notion, but now I'm feeling adventurous. We're meeting next week. Who knows?
posted by Mr. Linty @ 8:02 PM, ,
Here I am
My last day here, sitting in the Pudong airport in Shanghai, waiting on my delayed flight back home. It was funny to watch the other passengers' reactions to the news of the setback. The flight seems to be about 25% senior Americans, who were on the verge of lighting torches and storming the check in desk. When the announcement came through in Chinese, the locals looked at one another, shrugged, and started reading or sleeping. I couldn't think of a more appropriate setting to illustrate the fundamental difference between these two cultures. After three months, I've learned to chill out a LOT. It's the Chinese way. It's probably why they live longer.
When I got up this morning at 8:00 I packed up a few things, got dressed, did a bit of work in preparation for my shows, and headed out for the airport. There were a number of options to get here, the most obvious being hiring a taxi. But at 160¥ I decided to try something else, something more... adventurous. And cheap.
Those two options were a airport shuttle and the Maglev train. Since the shuttle was only 23¥ I went for that first, but couldn't find anyone that knew where the nearest stop was, and the directions online were sketchy. Since I was lugging around over 100lbs of my crap, I decided to just go for the Maglev. That meant braving the subways with luggage and a couple of transfers, but I went for it and relished the fact that it was a good way to end the trip.
I finally got to the Maglev station, bought a 50¥ ticket, and hopped on. I wish it took longer to get to the airport since it was so comfy, but at 430kph, I was only sitting for about 6 minutes. Boo.
Anyways, the trip ends here, but I'm going home feeling so different about things than I did 3 months ago. The opportunity to open up Linty Fresh here and the countless adventures it'll bring is absolutely irresistible, and I can't wait to get back here and go crazy with it. The contract's first draft will be written up tomorrow once I send in one last file I'm working on, and from there they'll start on production. The website goes up in a couple weeks, too. Craziness.
Aside from business stuff, I've learned a ton about Chinese culture and the people behind it. I've made some stellar friends, and we'll be keeping in touch as I tour around the US for the next few months. What an incredible 12 weeks it's been!
posted by Mr. Linty @ 2:46 AM, ,
A concert in Shanghai
Before coming to China, I did a little research online about the indie music scene here. I'd had conversations about it with friends prior, and we'd all surmised that the underground Chinese music scene was like the US scene a decade or so ago. There, and growing slowly, but not thriving. The radio sufficed.
Upon doing some poking around online, that hypothesis turned out to be pretty accurate. In this article written by Chinese indie musician and writer Wan Li, a very detailed explanation is given for the current state of the indie scene here. This quote pretty much sums it up:
What controls circulation is capital. The distributors' only thought is to make money, fast, so they have no interest in nurturing a market, building for the long-term. They'd rather spend millions to snatch up Dao Lang's latest record rather than spending ten thousand to buy a record of rock music.
Interesting, but not surprising. I think the same thing could be said of practically any young indie scene. Too much risk for the labels, too little money, and too few listeners. But China is a big country, so there was bound to be some good indie bands, and some good venues to showcase them. Most of them, it turns out, are from up north in Beijing, but there's a couple of places in Shanghai that they occasionally come to play at, so I made it a goal to check one out while here.
So yesterday, after lunch, my roommate (who decided to come join me for the few days in Shanghai) and I navigated our way across the city and found the venue, which was strangely situated in the corner of a public park. From the outside, it seemed very Chinese, but as soon as we entered through the hanging plastic-strip doorway, it was all very familiar: black walls, photographs of previous shows on display, a billboard littered with band flyers (all in Chinese except for the band names, which were all English), a thin bar lined with stools, a slightly elevated stage, and the band that would headline that night in rehearsal. So. Awesome.
We asked about tickets and were told they'd go on sale at 8:00 at night, and that they'd be 40¥ (about $6 US). Score!
So after a day of shopping and dining at some of Shanghai's many sprawling malls, we caught a cab and slid our way back into the venue, grabbing a Qingdao beer and settling into a spot in the back just in time to catch the opening band.
They were just ok; a punk cover band that did a bunch of 50's and 60's American rock classics with a faster tempo and more distortion. The levels were kind of out of whack so it was just noise a lot of the time, but what made it cool was that the lead singer and drummer were Americans, and the guitarist and bassist were Chinese. For me, it's just cool to see how music can bring people together like that, even on stage.
I think one of the most interesting aspects of the show, though, was the mixed crowd. There were a ton of American ex-patriots, and you got the feeling that they were there all the time, missing home and looking for anything that felt familiar. So you had your middle-aged, middle-class couples, your hippy backpackers, your weird guys dancing by themselves in the corner between songs, and your foot-tapping, brooding wallflowers. Normally, I doubt they'd all be found at the same show back in the states, but here they were, smiling and getting along. But the crowd was far from just American. Between songs I could hear people speaking French, Russian, and Japanese. And aside from foreigners, half the crowd was local Chinese, representing every possible cross culture in existence from your post-emo technicolor kids to plaid-jacket v-neck hipsters, B-box boys, and would-be club DJs. And then, randomly, you had a handful of upper-crust Chinese girls in velvet-y dresses who appeared to have mistaken the venue for a wedding reception.
The headlining band, Casino Demons, were all Chinese, and much better than their opener. Their music wasn't groundbreaking, but it was well rehearsed so their sound was very tight and there were some catchy riffs that had everyone dancing and cheering. And on top of that, all the lyrics were in English! I'd almost forget where we were for awhile, and then the song would end with some banter in muffled Beijing Mandarin, and only half the crowd could laugh.
Then, when they were finished, a line of new musicians filed in from a side doorway, carrying cow-hide drums and various other percussion pieces. They were dressed in what looked to be traditional African garb, and sure enough, that's what they played and sang. I'm no expert on African music so I'm not sure what region it was specifically, but suffice it to say, it was awesome awesome awesome.
On the way out, we asked the bartender if the music was usually this varied. He shook his head in a look of amusement that mirrored our own, and it was obvious that he dug the music as much as we did. We finally left the building to find that some locals had set up a little grill and were cooking up chuars (meat skewers). What an amazing experience. China never ceases to amuse me.
posted by Mr. Linty @ 6:09 AM, ,
I. Am. Exhausted.
Flew into Shanghai today at 9:30 in the morning, and got into a friend's house an hour later. Crashed till 11:30 in the back room of his apartment. He's on the 17th floor, so there's a nice breeze that comes in through the window and it was perfect for a nice, long, nap.
When I got up we went to grab lunch in an area called XinTianDi. I swear, I have had some of the best food of my life in the last three months in China, and today was one of the highlights. There was this amazing spicy peanut noodle dish, dumplings, dim sum, duck egg soup, and on and on. Incredible.
But I gotta say, Shanghai is so different from other Chinese cities. Where I was previously, no one really spoke English, so knowing a bit of Chinese was really useful (though I wouldn't say really necessary for a visitor). But in Shanghai, a LOT of locals speak English, and they speak it well. At the table next to us in the restaurant, everyone was using English, even with the waitress, and they were all Chinese! It sounded good, too. I was impressed. On the other hand though, it's a weird feeling to be around so much English again.
Thing is, there are TONS of foreigners in Shanghai, including lots of Americans. It's weird to say this, but I have to admit that now I feel like a foreigner when I'm around them rather than around Chinese people. I've gotten really accustomed to the Chinese styles of interaction, manners, and behavior, and to be back in the company of Americans is a strange, almost jarring experience. I've got this feeling that adjusting back into US life is going to be really difficult for me.
One of the things that I find exciting about life here is the challenge of it all. Whether it's speaking, reading, or simply understanding the local culture, it constantly feels like there's something to be discovered, something to be conquered. It feels SO GOOD to be able to try something new, visit a different place, or have a conversation with a local and know what's going on, and it's a huge motivation to keep working on it all. And with the innately encouraging nature of the Chinese people, it's less of an uphill battle and more fun.
But back home, life is life as life has always been. There's not a whole lot to be discovered, not a whole lot new. I'm not saying I can't learn anything from it, but I just feel... restless, ya know?
The funny thing is, I knew this was coming. When I was 13 years old my folks moved our family from Hawaii to California. As you can imagine, I was bummed about it and pretty resentful of the whole situation for a year or so until I realized all the benefits that came from experiencing a new life for a change. Two and a half years later we moved again, this time to Atlanta, and this move was instantly better than the last. It was here that I finished high school, started and dropped out of college, and started Linty Fresh. I've loved it since arriving, but poking at the back of my consciousness was the realization that one day I'd move again.
And here I am!
posted by Mr. Linty @ 10:21 AM, ,
Putting the cart before the horse?
In any case, things are moving quickly, so I'm just hanging on and seeing where it leads.
After doing the factory tour they asked me to show them thumbnails of the designs I wanted to print so they could get a quote to me. Once that was out of the way, I got them measurements for the tees since they will be producing them from scratch (!). This was something that I think is especially important here, because often times the tees are cut too short or the sleeves are fit weird on Chinese brands. This way I get to specify everything that I want. It'll be the same for hoodies, jackets, and anything else I produce down the line.
With that out of the way it's just a matter of opening a webstore, which is even easier here than in the US, so that'll be up right after the tees are printed (early July, it looks like). I'm a little apprehensive about being overseas when all this happens, of course. Kind of feel like the dad that misses his kid's first steps... But all should be well. I really trust the folks that are going to be running it for me till I get back. I actually met with one of them today, who helped me get a bank account set up locally. How will I ever pay back all these favors? I have no idea.
Anyhow, with all these wheels in motion, I realized that getting a bigger place was pretty essential. The place I'm in now is roughly 1,000 square feet, which is actually big for China, but still not quite bit enough to run a storage facility and shipping operation, even a small one. So we (my roommate and I) put the word out to some friends and today arranged an appointment with the owner of a former cigarette factory that is being renovated into a small community of lofts, restraunts, and shops. Unfortunately it was a bit far from where I want to be, but the rooms were absolutely massive. We checked out one 2,000 square foot place with a 20ft ceiling that was amazing, and super reasonable. We'll see. I've always wanted to live in a place like that, and now I have the perfect excuse!
After touring around we grabbed a quick lunch and then got a massage at one of the nicest places in the city. Private room, giant flat screen TV, someone dedicated to bringing us fresh tea, and super nice masseuses. Does it get any better? Um, no.
So here's my plans for the next few months - on Friday I fly down to Shanghai and kick it with some friends for a few days. I'm actually catching a concert for a Chinese indie band I heard about in the states, too. Stoked! Then on Monday I fly back to Atlanta and have exactly 3 days to prep for the Indie Craft Experience on May 30th, 31st. After that I head up to New York for Renegade Brooklyn and the next week I'm in California visiting family and friends. Then it's back on the road for a couple of shows in North Carolina and New Jersey. Then, if I'm still alive, I hop on one final one-way flight back to China, where I begin the next chapter of both my life and Linty Fresh.
It's crazy how much has happened in the last 3 months since coming here, and I truly never expected to love it this much. Every day is a new adventure. I know it sounds cheesy, but I really feel that way. I've met some great people here, too, some of whom have really made everything possible for LF to this point.
Man, I'm gonna miss it here.
posted by Mr. Linty @ 3:03 AM, ,
Across the street from the apartment there's this row of shops and restaurants that we frequent for groceries, snacks, and full meals. One of these shops has a little cart out front that sells Jianbingquozi, a local favorite snack and approximate equivalent to a burrito back in the states. But what's remarkable about this cart, or specifically, the lady that runs the cart, is that she's out there 7 days a week, 15 hours a day. Rain or shine. Not only that, but she's always smiling and super nice to her customers. My roommate said that I ought to write a song about her. So I did. More or less, anyways. A lot of the details I made up and added extra elements to it, but it's based on her, at least. Enjoy:
She's Not Unhappy
posted by Mr. Linty @ 12:18 AM, ,
LF Chat 5
Stoked to be announcing the 5th live Linty Fresh chat. This one will is sponsored by WatchTeeV.com, meaning that there should be a bunch of new faces and questions. Since the question queue is usually pretty bogged down, feel free to post questions in the comments section here and I'll try to get to those first. See you next week!
LF's Ustream Channel
posted by Mr. Linty @ 2:41 AM, ,
The Big Tour
Can't believe I let 2 days go by without blogging about this, but it's been an insanely busy weekend, so you'll have to excuse me. Man. Where do I even begin?
I guess I ought to start by saying a big thank you to Jiale, a friend of mine whom I met back in the states that was able to get me the contact for the factory. A lot of business here is done via connections, so without her help it's likely I would have never had the opportunity to tour and get this far with things. So thanks!
The day started downtown around 1:00, when I met the contact in a small noodle restaurant on a busy corner next to the bus stop. We chatted a bit in Chinese and English and talked about the city, my business, and China. When we were done there we hopped in a car driven by the manager of the factory we were about to tour and drove north, away from the city.
It's crazy how quick the scenery can change here. I have it pretty easy here in the city since a lot of things have been Westernized and modernized, but just a few minutes away it becomes farms, rivers, and traditional country-side villages. And then it all changes again, and the surroundings were all very commercial and industrial - huge factories and sprawling business complexes. After winding our way into the heart of the city, our car finally squeezed its way into a narrow alley that opened into a courtyard filled with a scent I immediately recognized - screenprinting ink!
The owner and a few other managers led me into a small but comfortable room with a long table and invited me to sit down. As I did, a young aide slid up behind me and delivered a cup of hot green tea. I sipped it as we began to talk about Linty Fresh, my goals for the company, and what I was looking for in China. Soon the table was piled high with clothing samples from Disney underwear to trendy Japanese skirts. They did it all! Then we started the tour.
It began with a walkthrough of the post-production/stitching floor, where dozens of young (college age) workers were running all sorts of sewing machines. They explained that they also did all the tagging and bagging of the garments, too. I think I was drooling at this point, but it's a bit fuzzy. Next we went to the oversize printing floor, where a team of guys were screenprinting a 100-meter stretch of fabric with a 1x2-meter screen. It was nuts, and so incredibly fast. My mind was spinning with ideas for things I could start producing with these types of contacts at my disposal.
After touring this facility we jumped back in the car and headed over to a second location, which was owned and operated by someone else. While the first complex we toured impressed me, this was something else entirely. Instead of pulling into a narrow driveway, the entrance of this place was huge, clearly meant for constant traffic of goods. The factories were immense, too. I'd say each floor was 200 meters long by 50 wide. And there were 4 floors per building. Needless to say, I felt way out of my league. Instead of a 16 or even a 24 station press, there were literally hundreds of stations on each line, and the workers were so efficient in laying down the ink. It blew my mind.
One thing that really impressed me was the working conditions. I was dreading walking into some dimly-lit rat-infested sweatshop straight out of a stereotype, but I was pleased to see that the workers were surrounded by natural light, a really comfortable breeze (plus overhead fans), clean conditions, and even some music. I later asked how much they made per month, and was further pleased and surprised to find that it was fairly good money (by Chinese standards, of course).
The tour finally ended with a meeting upstairs in the second factory, where we discussed quantities, colors, garment sizing, etc. I even threw out some really bizarre requests just to see if they were willing to experiment, and while some of them were received with puzzled expressions, the answer was almost always yes.
Now, all that said, there are still no guarantees about any of this. Because my starting quantities are so low they've had to adjust the quote (plus they're making the tees from scratch, so they need to experiment with a few things). There are other variables in the mix, too, and of course there are the copyright issues than need to be addressed. So we'll see. But I'm stoked. The sky is literally the limit here.
More pics on my Flickr photostream here!
posted by Mr. Linty @ 9:21 AM, ,
"Have you thought about ________?"
When I printed my first tee back in 2006, it was nothing more than a way to get one of my designs out there. I thought it was a cool tee, and just having it produced in real-life was reward enough. It wasn't meant to be a hugely profitable thing. However, I had in the back of my mind the realization that if they did sell, the profits would allow me to print a second tee, and so on. That eventually did happen, though it took awhile. The mentality, though, stayed pretty much the same for the first year and a half. Although I used the name Linty Fresh for the storefront, it wasn't a brand.
Of course, as 2008 rolled around, things began to quickly change. I switched to a newer, more versatile shopping cart provider and focused entirely on branding myself. As this happened, LF quickly picked up speed, and I started getting more pointed feedback: "You should start making _____!" "I wish ______ was available as a ______!" and so forth. But the one comment that always really struck a chord was: "Your stuff would do great in Asia!"
It struck a chord because I knew it was true. Blame it on my half-Japanese ethnicity or just an individual preference for cartoon iconography, but the fact remains: my stuff definitely lies on a similar plane with Asian pop culture.
Of course, the notion of expanding into places like Japan or China was kind of ludicrous to think of. Although I had friends in those countries who wanted to help out, none of them were really in a position to do so, and with the language and distance barrier, it was impossible to attempt it on my own. Sigh.
But then I came here.
To be honest, I didn't think anything much would happen for LF here. My Chinese is just barely above survival level, and trying to hook up with a clothing manufacturer here was terrifying (to put it mildly). Who'd want to tour around some American kid with a few tees in his apartment back in the States and a pipedream to go big in China? So I kind of put off the idea. I brought some of my stuff along, of course, and wore it occasionally, but was here primarily to enjoy the experience of my surroundings.
And that's when the bull that I neglected to take by the horns charged. People started asking about my brand, my clothing, and where they could get it. I actually started getting orders on my site from here in China, which was a first. And above all else, I kept hearing echoes of what I'd been told all along: My stuff would do well in Asia.
Well, here I am, 10 weeks into my stay here, and things are finally rolling. I've got a price list in front of me for a first batch of tees (5 designs) and I'm touring a local factory on Friday. The tees will be custom made to feel and fit similar to AA back in the states (tees here tend to be too short in the torso). This, of course, is not a 100% guarantee anything will happen, but even to get this close is exciting. It's a fresh start. A new slew of marketing strategies (very guerilla here!), ad campaigns, and overall branding experimentation that China is ripe for.
posted by Mr. Linty @ 9:18 PM, ,