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Tiffany Chung

04 Nov 2020

Text by Tiffany Chung

ØLÅF CITIZENS: MIKE CHERMAN

04 Nov 2020

Think fast, act faster, constantly hustle. Mike Cherman embodies the principles of what his streetwear brand, Chinatown Market, was built on. The founder and creative director is known for unapologetically creating work that causes a cultural stir and encourages a new generation of designers to create what they believe needs to be created. In this episode of Citizens, we discuss what running a business looks like in 2020 and get Mike’s thoughts on creativity.

Snap from "How Chinatown Market Seeks to Challenge the Status Quo of Collaborative Projects.

 

Hey Mike, how is pandemic life for you right now? Still working from home?

“You know I’ve honestly been pretty normal, well not normal, but we’ve been working pretty actively in my office for awhile now. We do weekly testing. We have a lot of protocols in the office to keep people safe. And luckily, knock on wood, we haven't had any issues. So all around, I think it's really about how we keep each other safe, more than making sure that no one comes back into the office. But luckily, we’re also in a big open air loft kind of space so it allows for us to have that kind of environment."

 

Has 2020 affected your business in a negative or positive way, or both?

“I think for the positive to be honest. You know, I think that when the pandemic happened, it kind of forced us to organize, have way more meetings and structure. We couldn't just go fly by night with ideas because we all now had to be sitting on computers, having meetings, coordinating, getting on the same page. So, you know I think when that all happened, it was a really good moment for our company to be challenged to think differently. I think also at the same time our online business catapulted in a big way and I think we just realized why not invest in ourself. I think a lot of times you get caught up in these ideas of all the cool stores and all this other stuff you can do. For me, it was a big eye opener of how we could really double down on us and see that investment come back."

 

Capsule collection with Mike Tyson.

 

Creating brand experiences, connecting with your audience, building a community, has been a big part of Chinatown Market. Do you think this has also helped you thrive in Covid-times?

“I definitely think that we are lucky to have a team that’s part of everything that we do. Every kid in my office, whether they are in a photoshoot or creating some kind of content, they are a part of submitting ideas of what we make. There is a really succinct 360 effect to what we have. A lot of companies have a separate warehouse, people who do they’re photoshoots, and all the things are separated. Where for us it's all under one roof, so when this all happened we were able to vertically operate 100%. So, it was a really interesting time and actually showed that we were in a good spot, we just needed to get more optimized and continue to get smarter. I mean obviously we’re fortunate to be in that position because I know a lot of people not so much. To me, it just depends on whether or not they were ready to innovate and I was lucky to have a great partner, someone who pushed to get organized because this was such an unknown thing."

 

So, you’re based in LA right now.

“In Los Angeles now, yeah. I haven’t really gone much of anywhere except for Colorado once to go see my mom. I drove 16 hours."

 

But you grew up between New York and California. So, is Chinatown Market influenced by both these worlds?

“I would say that Chinatown Market was more influenced by New York City Chinatown. The idea of the stores, the t-shirts, the rapid commerce that happens. Not just the idea of bootlegging because I think that’s just the easy scapegoat of what Chinatown is. There are so many clever, fun, and amazing things that come out of these marketplaces that were always so interesting. Every day I'd be on my way to school or work and I’d go to appreciate the amount of different things that were coming out of these places. Every week, these dudes would have a new pun t-shirt that made fun of the most trend-based, new age thing. They were just on it, but they weren't getting the credit they deserve. So, it was kinda like a funny moment where I took a step back and thought ‘You know what? Some of these shirts are some of the most classic shirts ever’ because we’ve seen them since we were young. Now even the classic ‘I Love New York’ shirt, rest in peace Milton Glaser, but the other kind of funny ones, ‘I’m with stupid’ or whatever, obviously that one is a dumb shirt forever, bad example, but they’re a nostalgia point and really interesting in that sense."

 

Citadium, Paris."

 

So, in a way you’re paying tribute.

“You know in the initial creation of the brand, it was the idea of that innovation and that constant creation that really inspired what we do. Looking at what Chinatown Market is today and it’s still what that is. We have an entire innovation lab, all of our kids are in there, always creating new things, we’re constantly putting out new ideas, and there's a new product created every single day. It's truly that kind of spirit that is what Chinatown Market is referencing. It’s not referencing Chinese culture. I think a lot of times there are misconceptions and I have to draw a clear line. It’s a very serious thing to me to be culturally sensitive and respectful of those things."

 

You’re someone who has seen amazing results from taking risks. For example, the Frank Ocean X Nike shirt. As your business grows, becomes more established, and collaborates with bigger brands, do you still feel capable of taking the same level of risks you once did when you first started out?

“Yes, but it’s also hard to stand out. Even online; everyone on Instagram is influencing each other in a way, and the algorithms push it even further.

I think there are definite risks in a lot of this, but it's a calculated risk. It's the idea of asking for forgiveness not for permission. For any young creative, I'm not trying to help you go bootleg, I'm more trying to say go shamelessly create what you believe needs to be created, and if you believe it needs to be created then go make it. If it needs to be made, then it needs to be made. I put a swoosh on a pair of Converse and we didn't make it so I could sell thousands of swoosh Converse, but it ended up on Lebron James. He wore it before the finals last year and it became this crazy moment and it was literally just a funny idea. I'm not the first one to do it actually, but it became a thing we’re now known for."

 

Jay-Z.

Mike and Erykah Badu.

 

 

SMILEY GLOBE PUZZLE.

 

Are there any projects you’re particularly proud of?

“Honestly, this last one is the most proud I've been of a project coming together and being executed at the highest level. It was this Grateful Dead project we just did. Basically, we did everything, we bought a 1969 VW campervan, we got a guy to fully gut it, wrap the whole thing, fully custom, the entire interior was done too. It was one of these moments where we planned to essentially recreate the Grateful Dead experience where you go to these different spots and you can experience the music and buy this bootleg merch. The whole idea was how can we do that now during Covid-times? Go get a parking lot, only allow a certain amount of people, bring the van out and create an experience. I think with the Grateful Dead though it was also because...and I hate to keep saying Lebron James, but...Lebron James wore the stuff before one of the games again recently and it created a huge moment for us. I think being able to work with these iconic properties, as a brand like Chinatown Market while sure we're growing and building a bigger fan base or whatever, we're still tapping into a totally new crew of people that have never seen us before."

 

You seem to really want to empower young people. Why is that important to you?

“The biggest thing to me, beyond just empowering the business side, is empowering these kids to make decisions, to step up and say stuff. When I was coming up, no one wanted to hear my opinion and no one wanted to get my thoughts, it was like, you do what we tell you and if we ask you then sure say something, otherwise shut up and go over there. While as our company grows there is a little bit of the ‘shut up and go over there’ because you can’t have 100 voices in everything, I do believe we created an environment where we have a team meeting every week, everyone submits an idea, we have a challenge, there's an ability for someone to walk over to the design area and say ‘I have an idea to do this’ and literally the next day we have a sample of it. To me, that’s the beauty of what we do. Anyone can affect our business. One of our warehouse kids came up with a t-shirt idea one time and we sold hundreds of units of it, and so it's like a beautiful moment where we were like ‘Yo dude, amazing! You literally came up with this in a team meeting and now look what happened, the shirt is real and now you can see your idea went from concept to creation."

 

 

When you first tried to land a job, you created a guerilla poster campaign to get Jeff Staple to hire you. Have any young creatives tried stunts like that on you? Did it work?

“None have done it really well. They’re always lazy. I’m like come on man you can’t try this, do exactly what I did and not do it better. I'm going to be pretty critical, I had to sit in a New York City holding cell for a night. It's just ridiculous with any of those things, so, yeah it's definitely happened but it's always disappointing. Not to be a snob or anything, it's more like if you’re going to do some shit like that, go do it."

 

Let it burn.

Chinatown Market's office.

 

You’ve pretty much been on your career path since highschool. Was there ever a moment where you doubted what you were doing?

“When I dropped out of Parsons I was living in this person’s second bedroom and I was getting graphic design gigs off of Craigslist. I took the subway up to the Bronx, did this flyer for this cell phone store and it was a nightmare for 50 bucks. It's just funny to think about the things I would do to try to make some shit happen. I can’t say there was ever a time where I was like, I don't think I can do this. But I think there were so many times where I was like, no one cares. I think it's part of the self-deprecating thing you have to do to yourself to keep going. I always build up this idea that the ship is always sinking, so I have to keep pushing hard."

 

Would you describe yourself as an introvert or extrovert?

“I’m an introvert but extroverted in a comfortable setting."

 

So, how does it feel to be a public figure as an introvert?

“Well, I guess there's a beauty in the fact that Chinatown Market is not just me. Luckily, I'm not like the Willy Wonka, sure I'm technically a part of it and the leader of it, but I also believe it's about the community and the kids that work in my office and those guys are also going to become big things. It’s bigger than just me and at a certain point it's going to transcend me. At the core of what Chinatown Market was created on, you can say I was there, but it's going to transcend me because it's about the evolving culture of creativity and kids loving apparel. I try to make it less about the ego side of all these things because I also recognize and am grateful for the fact that I get to make clothes every day."

Rug in collaboration with ABSENT.
You make clothes every day, but what do you wear every day?

“You know, there’s companies like Teatora, a brand in Japan, and it’s really interesting because it's not designed for the modern runner or cyclist, it’s for the modern office worker who is sitting at a desk or flying on a plane. Everything is so functional and built for your everyday life and that's what I wear now because I want stuff that functions 100% for me. But usually I wear all black and a white pair of shoes. That's it. Every day the same thing. It almost looks like I’m wearing the same clothes every day. But, I literally have 50 t-shirts that are black and 4 pairs of these pants that I wear. I know it sounds psycho, but it's basically easy for me and I just like the way it looks."

 

Tell me about some of your tattoos.

“Uh yeah, I guess this is a funny one. Basically, I have this tattoo on my ribs. I did my grandmother’s name and I misspelled it. So, I went back two weeks later and I crossed it out and I redid the whole thing. So, that has always been one of those shameful moments in my life of like ‘goddamn it, why did I rush this?’ I called my mom for the spelling, wrote it down, and obviously didn't write it down correctly. I was probably distracted. So, yeah that's a fun story."

 

Last question, outside of the streetwear and fashion world, where have you been drawing your inspiration from lately?

“A lot of architecture and Frank Gehry design where he takes really cheap materials and makes something really beautiful out of them. I don't know, just plants and cactuses and the idea of surrounding yourself with plant life and all those things. I was lucky enough to get a home this year and have a yard and plants around me. It's the biggest gift I've been able to have, somewhere I can truly have my own space and just be with me. I was in apartments for so long, sharing apartments, roommates, and like its nice to have peace."

 

Article image by: Christina Choi

Tiffany Chung

15 Jun 2021

Text by Tiffany Chung

CITIZENS: TYLER ADAMS

15 Jun 2021

Tyler Adams is a multidisciplinary artist specializing in photography, art direction, and casting with a wide array of clients such as Def Jam Records Opening Ceremony, Beyoncé x Adidas. In this edition of Citizens, the LA native tells us about his early creative beginnings and shows us that there is more than one way into the industry.

 

Hey Tyler, you wear several hats. Put these three things in order of importance to you: photography, creative directing, casting.

“Oh wow, okay so photography is definitely the most important because it's what led me into the other avenues of my creativity. After that would be casting and then creative directing. Uh, wait, no. But that's hard to be honest because when I first started shooting, I was doing all these things in my personal work. I wanted to create images, but I wasn’t seeing the type of people that I wanted to shoot, so I started casting for myself. I didn’t have budgets to go to a showroom and pull clothes, so I was either putting together things that friends or the talent were bringing or even pulling out of my closet and putting that together. So, all of it is kind of important to a degree in order to make art. But I guess photography is the most important because that’s how I got into all the other things."

 

Why did you gravitate to photography in the first place?

“It was kind of an innate thing. I say that I've been shooting since I was 5. Growing up, my grandma had an old school Polaroid 600, and I would just run around with it, create, and shoot things. It's always been something that was there and that just started my fascination with it. I've always been a visual kid."

 

Tyler in Mexico.

 

What would you say makes a great photograph?

“Great’ I feel can be subjective. I think perspective is very important, not so much composition, but I mean like my personal chase. Like what I may think is a great image may not be a great image to you. You may be into colors or compositions or location, but all of that has to do with your perspective and what makes the most sense to you or what you move to personally."

 

Do you have a favorite photograph?

“Yes. Actually, I do. My favorite photograph of all time – I get so excited thinking about it – is Richard Avedon’s portrait of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar before he was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In New York, it's a picture of him on the basketball court. He's tall and lanky. His posture and everything is so elegant and beautiful. It's the freshest thing. I've tried to recreate the essence of it in my own work a couple times."

 

So, do you prefer to photograph people?

“Professionally, I do shoot a lot of people, like fashion portraiture. But I still have some weird tether to wanting to photograph cityscapes, different vignettes of buildings, or graphics and shapes. I usually try to make them both kind of work together in my work – people, spaces, and architecture."

 

Drake Jazz by Tyler Adams.

 

You've worked with a lot of brands. Any favorites?

“That’s a tricky one. I don't want to play favorites but if I had to choose...Opening Ceremony was one of my first big fashion clients. Just being a fan of the brand, that was like one that I really wanted to work with. I shot with them for a while, I did some social and editorial stuff. Then, they let me shoot fashion weeks and I worked on a couple of their shows. So, that may be my favorite one because that got me to where I am today."

 

Was it hard breaking into the industry?

“Oh my god, yes. My friend and I laugh about it now. Photography has changed. It's mind-blowing how different photography and the whole industry is now versus what it was like 6 to 10 years ago. At the time when I was in college, the mindset was that you went to school, you built your book, you took your book and you moved to New York. It wasn't until you worked in New York that you would pop off and actually get to work. But out of college it was like you assisted somebody for years and then at some point you move from being 30th assistant to 1st assistant before having your break or whoever you are assisting being like, ‘I have a job that I don't want to do, you can do it’, and then that's you’re beginning. I didn’t go that route because I was like if this is what it's going to take for me to put food on the table, it’s going to take a while. But I didn't want to move outside of my creativity.

SO I started helping a really close friend of mine who was an upcoming stylist. She occasionally needed help and I feel like that’s what changed it for me because being on set in that capacity is different from being a photographer's assistant. When you assist a photographer, they don't want you to speak to the client. But everybody else has a different relationship, when you're with the stylist and those people for 8 hours on set, you actually get to know people by name. It allowed me to build relationships and be like, ‘oh you know I'm helping the stylist, but I actually shoot.’ Photography assistants can’t do that. They can’t say, ‘yeah check out my work’ because it feels like he's trying to take the photographer’s clients."

 

Opening Ceremony by Tyler Adams 1/2.

Opening Ceremony by Tyler Adams 2/2.

 

 

What’s your most memorable shoot?

“My second time in Paris was pretty memorable and cool for me because the first time I went to Paris I didn't shoot which I was bummed out about. I always try making an effort when I go somewhere new or somewhere different to actually create work in those spaces. So, I was with Kendall, and we shot in the Tuileries Garden. There was a carnival, and he just grabbed his skateboard, and we were just chilling. It was an evening in June, so the light was amazing, the weather was nice, it was a good time."

 

When you cast people for a shoot, do you keep diversity and representation in mind?

“Always. That's the first thing. When I was starting out there wasn’t any. Even now, if clients ask for diversity, there aren't a lot of options of people who look like me or people who come from the areas I come from. In general, I'm usually trying to extend opportunities and bring more people in, to experience being on set and working, or being in front of the camera. The cool thing about today is that you don’t have to look like a runway model to book a campaign or to get work."

 

TStyling for Highsnobiety Magazine.

Styling for Exit Magazine.

 

 

What do you do when you're not working?

“Not working? I don't know what that is. Ha. I don't know if this is a good or bad thing, but I feel like my work isn't necessarily work all the time. I'm usually at home or I go to the beach, I go for drives and look at architecture, I see my friends every now and then."

 

Instagram filters. Like ’em, hate ’em, or no opinion?

“I don't use them in my work, but for stories and selfies they’re super fun. I don't get tripped up by that shit, they’re fun. Also, Instagram is a tool. If you have a business or if you’re an artist, it’s a quick way to get going."

 

Complexcon photo with Pharrell.

Maison jumpman. paris, 2019.

 

 

Do you see things in black and white or shades of grey?

“Wow, that's deep. Definitely shades of grey. I think that two things can be true at the same time, it's never as cut and dry as things may appear."

 

What's the last song you listened to?

“Introverted Intuition by Lance Skiiiwalker."

 

Name one thing in your closet you can't live without.

“Damn, I can't live without any of it. I'm not a hoarder and I don't have a crazy amount of things, so none of them can go. I do have this pair of cargo pants that are always in the rotation, and I wear a lot of shoes. I’m a shoe person.">

 

Young Tyler.

 

Can you name a person, a place, and a thing that inspires you?

“My mom is really inspirational. She encouraged my creativity and to do the things that I wanted to do. She wasn’t trying to get me to be the person that she wanted me to be. Instead, she gave me the tools to be who I am and to develop the things that make me happy. I haven't been to Tokyo. Tokyo inspires me from a distance. I feel like they live in the future. It's 2021 here, but it's like 2025 there: technology-wise, lifestyle, and how they lay out their space. Being a digital kid, it just always felt like that was the future and everything is cooler there. It’s just a city that looks cool, there's a different light there. It just feels cool, clean, peaceful, and modern. The thing that inspires me is architecture. That's where I get most of my inspiration from now. It makes me happy. I like how people think about the allocation of space, how people interact with space, and how cities are laid out. All that stuff is super inspiring and drives me crazy. I go through a rabbit hole of architecture and design and when my day is over that's usually where I'm at. "