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Imprint Culture Lab: The Aftermath

I spent all day at the Imprint Culture Lab conference yesterday. I was among what I felt was one of the most eclectic and far-reaching group of people in the online and streetwear industries. Never mind the fact that they were almost all Asian. I knew from the moment I walked in that this thing was planned to a T by interTrend and Giant Robot. The breakfast spread was fresh (literally, no stale bagels here) and you had a wide selection. They gave name badges and goodie bags and there was a bunch of little stuff around the lobby to keep you occupied such as a giant Twitter station, wireless Bluetooth photo printer (for your cell phone), and QR Code.

After an introduction by interTrend CEO Julia Huang, John Jay, a partner at Wieden + Kennedy gave his keynote speech. The man has a very interesting history and it’s interesting to see someone who is both proud of his heritage but (as he admits) was a little ashamed. He said he overcompensated too much in order to fit in and even as an adult, it seems like he’s Super-Americanized, for lack of a better term. It was also hard to tell when he was in candid mode and when he was in marketing/PR mode. I guess it’s like they say – never not working. I took some scribbles down in my Moleskin and after each section, I’ll post my notes. They’ll be short and sweet but things I’ve found interesting.

  • John Jay knew he should finally accept Wieden’s offer to join W+K when he saw a Newsweek article in 1992 that named of the W+K employees as one of the “Cultural Elite.”
  • Amy Spindler, the late fashion editor of the New York Times had a very important quote in an article titled “Do You Otaku?“(February 24, 2002) which she claimed Japan was the fashion capital.

A modest proposal: Tokyo is the real international capital of fashion. Not Paris, which has claimed the title for decades; not New York, which clings to its market domination for the crown; not even Milan, where industrialists make the business an art.

Being the capital of fashion isn’t about who has the boutiques or the runway shows or the fashion magazines, although Tokyo has plenty of those. To be the true capital of fashion, fashion must dominate everything. It must be the passion of the masses and the connoisseurs. It must be the primary mode of expression beyond art, film, music. It must be a place where fashion is treated as a necessity, not a luxury. And that is Tokyo, a city where — outside the most obscure underground shops — lines form for the latest T-shirt. It’s the only city in the world where creating fashion is treated as an intellectual pastime. Ask who the greatest living artist in Tokyo is, and a surprising number of people won’t name a writer or a painter; they’ll name Rei Kawakubo. Or Junya Watanabe. Fashion designers.

  • He called shops, such as Colette in Paris, “select shops”
  • He said that the world wants opinions because there are too many choices. People want you to help them with decisions.
  • “Create culture from the inside”
  • He started W+K Toyko Lab for experimental music.
  • Japan:Music; China: Art
  • “No separation between the product and the brand”

Afterwards, Eric Nakamura of Giant Robot showed us a film titled “50 Years of Asian Pop-Culture in America” which was very well produced. I don’t know how much time they spent on it, but it was really well done. At 10:30 we started the Speed Scribe section which was a panel of bloggers which included Brian Lam (Gizmodo), jeffstaple (Staple Design), Danny Choo ( and Rob Heppler (Weekly Drop). The session was moderated by Josh Spear who gave a pretty cool presentation before it all started. I liked it better than his Google Zeitgeist talk. I found Danny to be really forthcoming and honest. Brian seemed a little angry, but maybe it’s just how he is (permapissed?). Jeff and Rob both didn’t really have serious blogs and just did it for fun so they couldn’t contribute as much to many of the questions. I am not sure if he was joking or not but when it came to the topic of companies paying for posts, Heppler said he definitely takes the deals regularly. Again, my notes:

  • The channels to reach people are changing
  • Danny Choo started blogging to document his Gundam collection. He became interested in SEO. He started a trial run posting Amazon affiliate ads with a goal of making $60 a month to pay for his cell phone bill. He ended up making enough to buy a home in Japan.
  • Brian Lam never blogged before Gizmodo. He was an editor at Wired.
  • Blogs allow you to measure metrics in ways print can never do.
  • In one year, Gizmodo went from 11 to 52 million pageviews.
  • Jeff Staple was sued 96 hours after posting his Uninsu(red) shirts. Within 4 days he had a cease and desist in his hand.
  • RE: Pay for posts. Brian said that companies know better than to try that with Gizmodo but Samsung once asked how much it’d cost for a favorable review. Jeff said he was asked to eat dinner with Giuliani “casually” and if he decides to he could “casually” blog about it and they may or may not “hand” him an envelope.
  • Heppler said that being featured in blogs such as Hypebeast or Weekly Drop really can bring legitimacy to a store. For example, his friend’s store could not land any accounts including Nike but after Heppler featured it, companies started banging on their doors.
  • Staple sees himself as Casey Casem, pointing people to cool stuff.

The next panel was titled “The Pushers of Fabric (Street Fashion)” and featured Jennfer Yu (New Era), Bobby Hundreds (The Hundreds), Jeff Staple (Staple Design), Alyasha Owerka-Moore (Fiberops). I think even moreso than the first panel, this one in particular is really a who’s who. I thought each of the characters were interesting. Staple made Alyasha describe his history and it was like out of a story. At each turn it was how he happened to run into [insert famous person here] or he got a call from [insert industry mogul here]. Jennfer Yu didn’t say much. She only joined New Era 6 months (?) ago and she seemed pretty shy. They showed a picture of her with some celebrities wearing New Era caps and she had on the same green dress she wore that day. She played it cool and cracked a good joke that got everyone laughing. The person I was most impressed with was Bobby Hundreds. I never was impressed with him or his label but I sure am now. He is obviously very intelligent and has a very carefree (not stoner) attitude. He mentions repeatedly that he just wants to make clothes he likes for everyone to wear.

  • Staple started using screen-printing on t-shirts, illegally, with his friend by breaking into their school (Parson’s) late at night
  • On his birthday, March 7, Staple wore his shirt into what was then a boutique store, Triple 5 Soul and the owner ordered 10
  • Staple Pigeon Dunks – First time a Nike shoe had appeared on the front page of a newspaper (NY Post)
  • The Hundreds are focused on community and cultural grassroots
  • Moore’s mother is a textile restorer who does work for museums. He collected Paul Smith clothing (wow!)
  • It was Moore’s idea to change Russell Simmon’s Phat brand to Phat Farm.
  • New Era used to only make fitted caps for baseball. Staple explained how they started making it for fashion (which I don’t think Jennifer knew). The story goes: Spike Lee always wore a Yankees cap to basketball games. One day he called New Era and asked for a white cap with red lettering and they refused but eventually they made him one figuring it couldn’t hurt. He wore it to the games and next thing you know New Era is inundated with orders. Jennifer said you wouldn’t imagine the number of requests she gets daily.

After the session was over, we broke for lunch. Before leaving, I spoke to Jennifer Yu of New Era. First of all, I have to say, she’s really cute. Anyway, I asked her about how companies go about getting accounts with New Era. I told her how I asked 3Sixteen why they made their Suit Pack caps in-house rather than with New Era and Andrew (the founder) explained that they didn’t have an account. What I learned is there are two types of partnerships. For licensing agreements, such as when New Era produces Disney caps, they (New Era) goes out and seeks permission from Disney. In this case, Disney is the top dog and New Era wants their business. On the other hand, with collaborations such as with The Hundreds or Staple Design, they have to come to New Era. New Era is in a powerful position in that they can just sit there and people will come asking them for help. She explained that they are OEM’s but I countered saying they are different because they also do self branding. The example I gave is as follows: ASUS manufacturers Mac Books for Apple but most people don’t know that. But when you wear a cap from The Hundreds, there’s a recognizable New Era symbol on the side. There’s no mistaking it for something else. She said the relationship is mutually beneficial since having your cap printed on New Era buys it legitimacy. Finally, she agreed with me that fitted caps, other than New Era, “just don’t fit right.” I’ll write more about that in the future when I talk about my new Official Shemagh cap.

We walked across the courtyard to the Japanese American National Museum for lunch. In true Asian fashion, we had Japanese box lunches. They were great! They had sliced beef and asparagus, macaroni/potato salad, rice, an orange slice, chicken cutlets, etc. I sat next to a guy from Fox Sports West who took the day off work to come to the conference. He told me how much he wanted to change his career and may be in a quarter life crisis. Poor guy. I sat at at the same table as John Jay and his supermodel assistant. Seriously, this girl was gorgeous. In the center of each table was a tree sculpture with an Uglydoll in the center. Under one of the seats was a sticker and if found it, you could take the entire thing home. I think some people cheated.

David Horvath, the creator of Uglydolls, gave a funny presentation during lunch. He and his wife both went to Parsons (see a theme anyone?) and after many rejections, Uglydolls finally made it big with the help of Giant Robot. Towards the end of lunch, the staff put platters of Beard Papa on each table. They were delivered fresh from Hollywood and Highland. I spoke with David after, showing him my Sennheiser contest and he recognized Cinko immediately. I got him to sign it for me. He told me he had just seen the photo earlier that day on a website. Pretty cool.

The next session was probably the most interesting one of the day. They basically had Jeff Staple and John Jay sit down for a conversation. The idea is that it’s just two guys talking and the audience listens in. It was pretty amazing and they played off of each other pretty well. It started off pretty boring and reminded me a lot of the format you see on “Inside The Actors’ Studio” where the host asks very basic questions like “Where were you born?” Once the ball started rolling, it got interesting. One interesting piece of trivia is Jeff talked about how he stole these subway ads from a Nike NYC campaign and how it was the turning point in his career. It turns out that the NYC campaign was the first thing John Jay did after joining W+K. He was assigned it on the first week on the job after Phil Knight’s son, a rapper in New York believe it or not, called his dad and told him Nike was losing credibility on the streets.

The rest of the day was kind of boring. They had celebrities in a segment called “The Star Power – The Rise of Asians in Hollywood and New Media,” which included Dan Nakamura (The Automator), Daniel Wu (Asian superstar), Andy Wang (UFC), Justin Kan ( The Automator sounded really out of it like he was hung over. He seemed kind of upset to be there and joked the only reason he was invited was because he is Eric’s cousin. I thought Daniel Wu was a good guest. I never heard of him before but apparently he’s like the Brad Pitt of Asia. This cat used to date Maggie Q. Not shabby. He was very honest about making it in Asian cinema. And Wang, the UFC fighter, was well, very stereotypical. And Justin Kan sort of was exhibiting some anger or annoyance. I was looking forward to what he had to say since I think his idea was fresh. He barely touched on anything.

The final panel was YouTube stars. They had David Choi (musician), Christine Gambito (Happy Slip), and XIN Sarith Wuku (urban ninja). Fairly boring people. Choi acts exactly like he does in his videos, like a stoner. He’s obviously very talented but the “I just woke up” act gets old. XIN was so cocky. He suggested that his style was not parkour but instead he invented it and that he and his people have been jumping from trees in the jungles long before parkour was invented. It got so bad that the moderator started cutting him off. He is definitely very talented though. For his introduction, he flipped out of his seat, down to the stage, ran up the wall and flipped and did two more in the center. Before leaving, they showed the results of Track 2’s work which was a PIKAPIKA video. Very cool. I want to make one myself now. I just need to get some colored flashlights or LED’s.

By this time there were news crews everywhere. I am not sure who they were there to see. Everyone started lingering outside and I talked to Danny Choo for a while. Such a nice guy. I also, finally got to speak to Jeff Staple and I asked him about his clothing line. I said that while brands like The Hundreds lives and dies by their clothes, Staple has a marketing/consulting aspect so are the clothes just done “because he can?” Staple Design has always put out somewhat risque items so does he even cares if it sells? He admitted that he feels sorry for brands that are bound to those types of restrictions and while he does have some freedom, the clothing line accounts for 50% ($1M) of Staple’s revenue. But at the end of the day, even when his marketing manager tells him that a shirt will not sell, if it’s important, he says “It doesn’t matter. This needs to be made.”

And that’s why I respect the man.

Here’s what others had to say about the conference:

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