As you may know, we have a collaboration with the ’90s cartoon Animaniacs releasing later this week. This is the second time we’ve worked with this property. Our first project together released in November of 2017 and was chronicled in my book, This Is Not a T-shirt. The night of the debut coincided with our breaking the bad news to our The Hundreds San Francisco staff that we’d be closing the shop. As Ben and I sat at the Clift bar at midnight, refreshing the Shopify app and corresponding with our Digital Director back in LA, we saw a new future for our brand opening up before our eyes. We had worked hard to get business back on track after a series of trials. The phenomenal success of the Animaniacs drop signified a third or fourth beginning. A new generation of The Hundreds followers were arising. Plus, this confirmed what we’d been anticipating – the promise of direct-to-consumer business. Three years later, as wholesale is paused, we are grateful for the head start with our online commerce.
Fast forward to 2020, our DTC operation is a well-oiled machine. Yet, here we are in a pandemic, as limited as ever on resources. It reminds me of the early days of the company. I’m not only doing photo shoots again myself, but I’m having to find creative ways to execute ideas since I don’t have access to models, elaborate production, or a crew to assist me.
So, I asked (forced) my sons to participate in the lookbook shoot for The Hundreds X Animaniacs. They conveniently serve as the brothers Yakko and Wakko. Our next door neighbor’s daughter was playing in the front yard; she was excited to play the role of Dot.
I’ve never put my boys on the Internet before, but I felt comfortable doing it this time because they’re COVID-disguised anyway. One of the oddest and unshakable parts of the pandemic experience is watching young children riding scooters and bikes in the neighborhood behind medical masks. So dystopian… Well, I wanted to memorialize this dark episode, while also playing up the contrast from the last photoshoot I did around Animaniacs (which, was fun and irreverent). Hopefully in three years, we get to revisit Animaniacs once again. I’ll be able to refer back to this entry and note how far I’ve – we’ve – progressed. Fingers crossed.
Somehow, I get to have a job where I create something new and different every day. Even if it’s the same task, there are nuances within. I’ve been doing this for 17 years and I’m still learning, growing, having so much fun.. I’m grateful.
Just making it up as I go along. One train track at a time.
In this room, exists
A mirage of Better.
An incessant reminder
that I’m not invited
In this room exists
Everyone I hate
Even if they aren’t in this room, their odor is pungent
I am one degree away from being told
of their terribleness
We will always share this room.
In this room, I lust
For places that aren’t here
For success that isn’t mine
For bodies that belong to others.
A lust like a cancer.
In this room,
I stumble in the dark.
I am misguided and misled
I indulge in half truths
My imagination fills in the blanks
with all the worst answers.
What about this room
A room that is mine
A room that is enviable.
With unsung corners
Free of secrets
Well-lit with adventures
A room where I’m fed
and can feed those whom I trust
In this room
In this room
I exist in this room.
The week that LA initiated lockdown, I was Facetiming my friend Ellen Bennett.
You know Ellen. She owns Hedley & Bennett, which makes aprons and kitchen workwear right down the street from us in Vernon. We’ve done a couple collaborations with her before and I also interviewed her for my podcast last year.
But on this morning a month ago, Ellen called to ask how I was personally managing the shock of the Coronavirus and how The Hundreds was bracing for impact. We broke down our options as business owners facing a mysterious and threatening pandemic. Ellen’s husband Casey was off-camera, saying Hi over boiling water. He unpackaged a ream of fresh pasta and we admired the box design together. I told Ellen that as far as her offerings go, people could use her product now more than ever. I’m a terrible cook – the only thing I know how to make for dinner is reservations – but I was increasingly finding myself in the kitchen. I was also quickly realizing how short I was on utensils and supplies. As our lifestyles reposition around our home, brands that cater to the great indoors will be in high demand: That goes for furniture makers, designers who make sweatpants, and cleaning supplies. So, Ellen and I casually discussed making another apron collaboration to re-acquaint – or introduce – our audiences to their stoves and cutting boards. Perhaps that could help.
The next time I talked to Ellen was this past Friday. Once again, she called me from the confines of her home but this time there was a different energy swirling around her. Right off the bat, I could tell she was invigorated and focused. She was still the same lively and spontaneous Ellen, but I was watching the boosted, upgraded version with the in-app purchases: Ellen +.
In the time since our pasta box phone call, while the rest of Los Angeles and 3/4 of the world’s population was off-kilter from COVID disorientation, Ellen pounced on a deepening need to be met. As soon as Mayor Garcetti engraved a hard line between essential and non-essential businesses, Ellen evaluated how else her factory could serve those in immediate crisis. It was in that hour she heard the national call for masks. Ellen’s facilities could sew, she had access to cool patterns and quality materials, and she had the skilled staff, office resources, and shipping logistics to contribute. In typical Ellen fashion, she hit the ground running, one of the first-to-market with a functional AND cool face mask (called the Wake Up and Fight mask). For every mask sold, she’d donate another. She’d leave the factory at 2am and be right back in place early the next morning. For the rest of us, the days have lost their designation, but for Ellen, those boundaries became extra blurry. Hospitals across the country were placing orders by the thousands. Her customer service requests boomed by 200x. Ellen bore down and pushed harder.
Last week, Ellen sent out an email to her customers. She was grateful for the support by her loyal community (She uses the word “community” a lot in discussing her business – that’s something we love to share as founders). Ellen was also proud to announce she’d be donating over 100,000 masks (since that’s how many she’d sold) to hospitals and health care workers on the front lines of the virus. A hundred thousand. In a week.
It’s easy to dismiss the mask as a fluke, an anomaly. But, Ellen quickly points out that we are watching our psychology and customs shift in front of our eyes. Face masks will not only be in common usage on airplanes and crowded environments, but it is probable that they will be required to wear in any kitchen. In 2020, a mask is as much a part of a chef’s uniform as a funny hat, a hairnet, or an apron. Let’s get over how weird, dystopian, and uncomfortable they are, because they’re here to stay. So, why not innovate it?
I wanted to share this story with you for a few reasons. First, to remark how Ellen not only created positive change in her own life by being a resourceful business person, but how it transferred onto employees’ livelihoods, hospital workers’ safety, and public health. Capitalism can be a dirty word, but I don’t think it’s a binary either/or when it comes to having a successful career while also doing good for the world. Of course, there are egregious limits to that argument, but there are ways where everyone can win.
More importantly, Ellen’s last month is a case study in preparedness. Entrepreneurialism is not just about work ethic and talent, although Ellen clearly has both. It’s also about humility and discernment. I’ve watched Ellen’s company weather the storm and through the years, she’s stayed vigilant in the night. There are so many forces that are out of your control when it comes to business – you can’t direct the trends, set pricing on materials, and you definitely can’t predict a pandemic. But, the one thing that you do have control over is how observant you are of demands and voids, and how quick you are to adapt when the market shifts unexpectedly. Ellen was using a lot of wartime analogies in discussing her work – how she had to turn her factory around within days to be a hub for medical supplies. So, I started calling her Rosie the Pivoter.
How can you use your creativity to solve a problem in the world? How can you use your ingenuity and resourcefulness to answer the questions within? And are you willing to put in the work? A lot of people are counting on you, not just yourself.
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
I had a long conversation with Ron Robinson today.
At 70 years old, Ron recently closed his doors after 43 years of retail – his timing was impeccable. Weeks later, the pandemic would force every store on the planet to call it quits. But, Ron left on his own terms, under his own timing.
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
Ron was quoting Dr. Seuss and it’s a proverb I’ve heard before. In this time of great transitions, it’s a subtle shift in perspective that can save the day.
Don’t cry because it’s over.
Because it happened.
I shot some moody flats of our SPRING LOGO collection yesterday here in the office. The colors of the clothing were bright and festive, but it didn’t seem right punching that up in this climate. So, I went with a warmer, nostalgic tone that also feels somewhat imagined. Daydreamy? Familiar and totally alienating at the same time – that’s how I see it.
The SPRING LOGO pack is now available HERE.
Speaking of my friend Britni…
She was the first to introduce me to John Prine when we were in high school. Britni lived in Abilene, Texas, and we were early Internet pen pals. Our song is “Donald and Lydia.”
Rest in paradise to a musical genius. You lit our lives up.
Now, I sit here with a tall glass of red wine to toast you. The window creaked open to let the chilled rainy air in. I’m blasting “Sabu.” Go John.
From 1902 to 1908, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote letters to another aspiring poet by the name of Franz Kappus. These short, 10 letters comprise “Letters to a Young Poet,” and reveal a textured mentor/mentee relationship between the two. Rilke writes a lot about the “aloneness,” and how realizing true Love is accompanied by solitude and periods of reflection. He also addresses the challenges that come with being a young creative and how to answer the calling. When I was younger, I read this book as Kappus. Today, I see it from Rilke’s perspective. Both vantage points are necessary to appreciate the whole truth here. It’s amazing to me that more than a hundred years ago, artistic youth were wrestling with the same questions and dilemmas. We are not very alone after all.
When life resumes,
the world will be so loud.
The traffic will growl and the airplanes will roar.
The rooms will be full and lively again.
There will be silverware crashing and playgrounds clamoring
And anyone closer than six feet will be HD and surround-sound.
Hugs will be invigorating.
In-person meetings will be dizzying.
I can only imagine the terror of a date. Or a music festival.
We’ll soon forget how we ever
Rode bicycles down the yellow lines during rush hour
Cooked so much and dreamt so vividly
How we observed the hours within minutes
and ate sandwiches on the porch
searching the sidewalk for signs of life.
Discovering the multitudes within us instead.
When life resumes
the world will be so quiet
of detail and introspection
of intentional relationships
established on substantive conversations
When life resumes
In many ways
Life will stop.
The only 2 times I feel bad in my life:
1. When I don’t get what I want.
2. When I’d rather be somewhere else or doing something other than what I’m doing at that moment.
The first is addressed rather easily. Grow up. You’re not a toddler. Life doesn’t always work in your favor.
The second is a little more complicated because it comes down to state of mind. Our high-paced culture is constantly in pursuit of a goal, a deadline, a future. We are dreamers and visionaries. We are also sentimental creatures, stuck in the past, tied to memories and traditions.
In that sense, it makes sense why it’s so difficult for us to focus on the present. I think we’ve trained ourselves to believe that if we are mindful of the now, that we stay stagnant. Or that we’re neglecting something important that came before. Or that we’re not going to be adequately prepared for what’s to come.
Like many deep-rooted issues that are being dug up and magnified in this pandemic, we are all now plagued with this nightmare of being stuck somewhere we don’t wanna be, doing something we don’t wanna do. It’s not just frustrating. It can be saddening and hopeless. It can be maddening. It often makes me angry.
But when I convince myself (and yeah, this often takes some heavy work) to appreciate what I have in front of me and take advantage of that window of time, life seems a lot lighter. It just makes more sense. If I can turn off my phone (the digital escape is a perfect illustration of us trying to be somewhere besides here), turn off the anxiety faucet, and stop living in the past… there’s an abundant reality sitting right in front of me*
*This is perhaps hardest for us daydreamers – we often use our imagination as a tool to teleport to another existence (raise your hand if you come from trauma), and I get that too.
So, while we’re stuck inside, separated from the people we love most, let’s consider what we have to explore: the feeling of pen on paper, the smell of an old book, a new way to scramble eggs. If you are living with other people, he or she is a dense forest for you to adventure through. Learn about yourself. You never give yourself the attention you deserve, and I’m sure you have plenty to say.
You can even start a journal and write down what you hear. Just like I’m doing now.
[Image: It’s my friend Britni’s birthday. She watercolored these mushrooms by the fireplace this morning.]
It’s OG Merf’s (center) birthday today.
This is an early spread in a Japanese street magazine of Ben and I with Merf, Gator, and Dom at the original Brooklyn Projects on Melrose. BP was our clubhouse and flagship in The Hundreds’ early days.
This T-shirt collection has got to be circa 2005?
Anyway, we miss you Merf. Hope you’re putting everyone in a headlock up there.
My favorite movies.
There are some obvious picks, considering The Hundreds has collaborated with them: Back to the Future, The Karate Kid, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Rocky.
Then there are the not-so-obvious ones, like Arrival, Memories of Murder, and Toy Story 4.
A consistent Top 5 choice is Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson.
There are many reasons why I hold this film near. It premiered after I had spent some time living in Japan and it captured the feelings of alienation and homesickness that bedeviled me. There are some cool streetwear nods like rainbow Nikes and a Hiroshi cameo. I also appreciate that as I get older and find myself more in Bill Murray’s HTM Wovens (vs. the eager and inspired Giovanni Ribisi photographer character), my relationship with it changes and deepens.
Lost in Translation is a love story, but not in the traditional presentation of Love with its syrupy romance and sex scenes and wedding bells. My friend Patrick used to have a blog called Love like Lightning, and that’s kind of how I see it depicted here. Love strikes unexpectedly, it’s glorious and awesome in its force, and it is gone. But, that’s not to say it wasn’t there. In that moment, it’s forever changed the earth and sky around it.
Most love stories actually end where the real work begins, so really what we witness is the promise of Love. In Lost in Translation, it feels like the promise IS the Love.
One of the most pontificated pieces of the movie is the final scene where the characters say goodbye and are separated. They reunite for a final embrace and Bill Murray’s character whispers something inaudible. 15 years later, when Coppola was asked what was said, her answer was sublime.
“It was between them. Just acknowledging that week meant something to both of them and it affects them going back to their lives,” she continued. “I always like Bill’s answer: that it’s between lovers—so I’ll leave it at that.”
We are enduring an onslaught of fear, stress, and sadness as this pandemic sinks its teeth deeper into our daily lives. Never before have we encountered such a threat to our peace and health. It’s entirely understandable if you are feeling overwhelmed, if not flattened, by the enormity of this thing.
Here are some things I’ve been doing to help me cope with the anxiety and disorder. (I’d like to disclaim that I’m not trying to downplay the horrors of the Coronavirus. There seems to be a growing sentiment that emphasizing progress and remaining positive in the face of a terrible disease are sins. I disagree.)
1. Relinquish control. Then, reframe chaos as a breeding grounds for creativity.
The world was never in control, and it certainly wasn’t under yours. There were routines and systems in place to help establish consistency and predictability in your life. But those were illusions. At any point, you were at risk of a sudden detour: getting hit by a car, falling in love, losing a job… The unsettling thing about the Coronavirus is we are all being up-ended at once, regardless of race, status, or location. It’s one thing to accept that an unexpected thing happens to those people over there (helps us to justify why it won’t happen to us), but when a vicious illness strikes bodies indiscriminately, we are confronted with how random the universe is. And the preciousness of our existence.
Structure and regularity are human needs, because they take the air out of fear. Before the Coronavirus, we were comfortable in our daily grooves. Now, we are being forced to look at our customs differently, and that requires some faith. It’s uncomfortable, it’s daunting, and it takes bravery to re-orient our realities. If that pushes us to think harder and be creative, maybe we’ll see advancement we never imagined possible.
As any creator knows, repetition is the death of ingenuity. It’s boring and we get soft. Fortunately, we’re blessed with problem-solving brains. We are most innovative in the absence of rules and expectations. Every morning now, we awaken to a bright white blank canvas. Consider this time of mayhem as an opportunity to experiment, improvise, and offer new solutions. We need them more than ever.
2. Chill out on the news. Wash your hands. Stay away from people. That’s it.
Chances are that you’re not a top expert in the medical, science, and economic fields. Everyone is getting the information at the same time, so let’s let our leaders – those on the frontlines – dissect and debate the facts. Our layman’s conjecture only spins anxiety and leads us into darker tunnels. We are not equipped to handle the weight of these numbers.
Since the beginning, the advice has been the same. Wash those hands. Keep your distance. And ask your community to do the same. That’s about all the average person can do to fight the Coronavirus. You do not get extra points for knowing bar graphs and what inane thing Trump said and which celebrity has tested positive but is asymptomatic. Usually, I’m all for staying informed. But this time, I just don’t see how all this extra noise contributes to a stronger immune system. Protect that spirit of yours. Check the news headlines once or twice a day to catch major developments, but otherwise, stay out of it. Even if that means unfollowing media accounts and friends who seem to thrive off the fear and speculation.
3. Smile. It’s okay to be happy.
If there are two philosophies on the matter – 1) that we need to stay grim and somber and do whatever it takes to frighten people into behaving appropriately. 2) Let’s uplift each other and focus on the bright side when we can. Then, I’m number two. All the way.
I’ve been shamed for admitting I’m in a good mood amidst a global pandemic. I’ve been asked how I can laugh when people are dying and losing their jobs. Look, I’m depressed and anxious also, but I hold fast to those rays of light throughout the day. You should too. Even though the media doesn’t get as much play out of happy stories, I believe it’s not just emotionally, but physically beneficial to emphasize the good news that is coming out of this: the advances in treatments, the revised timeline estimates, the 100,000 recoveries, and our ability to develop immunity to this virus.
(Here’s a cool Instagram that is doing its part to balance out all the alarming news that you’re being inundated with)
Take a walk, if you can keep your distance. Savor the moments of sweet life where you have it. Be thankful that the smartest people in the world are chipping away at this thing. And that every day that passes is not only a privilege, but one day closer to this nightmare ending.
4. Since you’re not reading the news, read other stuff.
We all need an escape right now. If Netflix’s Tiger King wasn’t enough, try reading a book.
Poetry’s not for everyone, but if you wanna give it a whirl. I’m currently reading David Whyte: Essentials.
Otherwise, I pick a different book to read together every month for my book club, Death Sentences.
And buy your books from independent booksellers in your neighborhood. Call or check in with them to see if they’re doing deliveries. If you can, please support my favorite bookstore in the world, Powell’s.
5. Listen to good music.
No surprise here. An evergreen antidote for any downturn. What are you listening to?
– My friend Justin (Free J Boosie Trio) has a weekly jazz playlist that is just looping away over here.
– I’ve never heard a Weeknd song I didn’t like. Abel’s new album, After Hours, on repeat.
– You know what, I’m gonna compile a Spotify playlist for you. That’ll be my next update.