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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

29 Nov 2021

Text by Tiffany Chung

ØLÅF CITIZENS: Emmanuel Lawal

29 Nov 2021

Emmanuel Lawal is a man of many talents: model, DJ, music producer, brand consultant, but first and foremost, creative entrepreneur. In this edition of Citizens, the born and raised Londoner tells us about his city, career, and latest project – The ACS Show.

 

Hey Emmanuel, how’d you get your start in music?

“In terms of knowing what I wanted to pursue in my career, it was from being at fashion events and afterparties. I wanted to do more than just be a guest. I knew I’d love to be part of it, do nights, program nights, DJ, and everything else. But my actual start in music was just from being around musicians in general and having a community of musicians that gave us the opportunity to DJ for them, produce for them, and get immersed in their own careers."

 

How did you and your business partner, Ashton, meet?

“We were signed to the same agency when we first started modeling. I was 19 and Ashton was 16. Going to Milan, Paris, all these shows in Europe and America, we just created this bromance from traveling, living, eating, and working out together. Being like-minded individuals, we decided to join forces to create something."

Photography by Travis Gumbs.

With Ashton.

 

How would you describe your partnership?

“Whether it’s business, creative, or financial, we both do the same stuff. In terms of role and character, I’d say Ashton is the good cop and I’m the bad cop."

 

Tell us about The ACS Show.

“We were doing a lot of radio shows in London, both commercial and underground, NTS, Rinse FM, Capital XTRA and BBC Radio 1Xtra. We had these small residency series off the back of DJs that were already on those shows and what we wanted to do is to create a show within those spaces but realized very quickly that we had no creative freedom. So, we decided to just make it ourselves and do something that feels a bit more us. Be in a position to pick the guests and tailor it to our own interests. We just wanted to give people inspiring, insightful conversations from people that kind of look like us and speak like us."

 

 

Is there anything that you want to try next?

“Not really. I just want to keep carrying on with the broadcast and keep creating spaces for me to breathe in when it comes to fashion, music, and lifestyle. Everything else is just up to destiny. I'm just happy with where I'm at now."

 

Music, fashion, travel, sport. If you had to give up one for the rest of your life, what would it be?

“Easily sport. Music is something I listen to every single day. Fashion is something that I have to think about in order to get ready. Sport is something that I do when I have the off time, it's a bit of a hobby, and I'm definitely not making any money from sport haha."

Fashion is something that I have to think about in order to get ready.

Self care.

 

 

What is the best and worst advice you've ever been given?

“Worst advice is probably somebody telling me somewhere along the line of ‘this is impossible, and you can't do this’. The best advice was ‘move towards it’. It wasn't even advice; I was speaking to one of my mentors at the beginning of the year and saying how much juice and energy I have at the moment and how much I wanted to create. His response was actually just ‘move towards it’ and it made me realize that even a step forward is better than a step back, even if it's a tiny step forward. "

 

What has been your favorite brand to work with?

“Prada. I loved Prada since I was a child. From the age of 12 to 15, I wore Prada to school. I didn’t go to an affluent school where people had unlimited pools of money, I saved up so much money to buy it. So, it was one of those full circle moments working with them. It wasn't something I did for the paycheck, I'm proud to wear the stuff because of the child in me that just loved to wear them in school."

 

Working with Prada.

 

 

 

What's your staple fashion item?

“My staple item would probably be jewelry because we change clothes. So, I would say somewhere between my Cartier bracelet and my Rolex."

 

Three songs that best represent you.

“At the moment:"

 

Name your favorite part of London.

“Greenwich, probably. I grew up there and it’s so different anywhere else in London. It’s not super fancy and it's not super hood, it's just normal. It’s so diverse, it’s got both historic and new monuments, and the O2 arena. It’s a good balance."

 

If you were to live in another city, what would it be?

“Berlin. We love Germany. We haven't been able to go back for a while, but we’ve been fortunate to play a few things in Berlin. It's not like there is a massive hip hop presence but the kind of people there just love the music and are there to have a good time."

 

Emmanuel with the ØLÅF Puffer Jacket.

 

Best music venue ever?

“The Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. I’ve never been there but I’m dying to go. It's incredible, from the layout of it, to the chairs, the light, acoustics, the whole thing. The design and architecture make it the best venue in my opinion."

 

 

Name a person, place, and thing that inspires you.

“Person. That’s a hard one. Can I say God? I’ll say God."

 

“A place that inspires me is London. Naturally. London has so many success stories whether it's football, music, fashion, community lifestyle, culture, business. So many people have made it here."

 

“In terms of a thing that inspires me, I would probably say, it’s an idea. The idea of achieving everything. Knowing that you could possibly achieve what you put your mind to. Even if you haven’t achieved everything that you want to achieve or know how to exactly, it keeps you going, getting to one hurdle, conquering it, then another. Then you realize everything can be done. I think that is so inspiring."