The first iteration of Monologue – in the sense of photography, musings and poetry – was actually not The Hundreds’ blog, but my Tumblr, which I stopped updating almost 4 years ago to the day.
I transmitted from there between the years of 2011-2016. I shot this photo in 2012.
You can still read the entries here.
High school cliques in the ‘90s were fascinating because the youth were segmented along music tastes, interests, and attitudes. Subsequently, it was easier to identify people by their style of dress. You knew the ravers by their beaded bracelets and cartoon character necklaces. The skaters in their big colorful pants and bleached hair. There were the jocks in jerseys, the preps in plaid, the band geeks, the punks, the taggers… and I was the hummingbird, cross-pollinating. As a teenager, I was curious, if not obsessed, with teenage tribes (I dreamt of one day writing a book or movie about them). How friends would clump together and adopt badges and uniforms to express who they were… and who they were not. Why didn’t the b-boys play tennis? Why were there no gangbangers in theater groups or cheerleaders sporting mohawks? I was trying to explain this to my son this weekend while we watched the Travis Scott Fortnite concert together. “You know, you’re pretty lucky to grow up in this time, because kids who were into video games used to be considered nerds.” He was shocked. “Nerds? But, video games are the coolest thing! Everyone plays video games.” And he’s right. I mean, we were watching the biggest concert of the year on his Nintendo Switch.
These days, high school cliques are still very much a thing, but it’s gotten harder to tell who is who – not just ideology-wise, but by clothing. Maybe it’s due to the Internet or maybe people just aren’t as narrow-minded, but you can listen to whatever you want in 2020, without it pigeonholing you as belonging to a certain social group or lifestyle. You can be into social justice and MMA and cooking, and that’s totally acceptable. The fashion is just as universal, even across genders. You can dress like a hypebeast one day and an emo kid the next. Even better, just mix it all together, bending genres and crossing boundaries.
“Cliques” by The Hundreds and Puma is a discussion of high school cliques over the past couple generations. We modeled each sneaker and its corresponding outfit along three silos of ‘90s teenagers: “jocks,” “preps,” and an all-encompassing “party crew.” The fourth profile is the modern youth who is an aggregate of all subcultures and niche interests. He/she/they are a worldly figure, reflective of their ecosystems, openminded and inclusive. And beyond labels and classifications.
The Hundreds X Puma “Cliques” drops Thursday, April 30.
Almost 20 years ago, I bought my first painting for $100. I was at my friend Dave Kinsey’s new gallery, BLK/MRKT, in Culver City. Kinsey and I knew each other from our San Diego days, then we reunited in LA when he was one of the first to open in what would eventually become a big arts district. That evening, Tiffany Bozic was having a solo exhibition themed around hummingbirds. I was not only there to support her work, but to interview her for our new website, thehundreds.com.
At the time, I couldn’t afford most of the paintings (they were priced in the thousands), but she had this one series on the wall of a group (a flock? a gaggle?) of individual birds in squares. There were probably 50 of these, priced a hundred bucks each like I noted, and unsurprisingly, most were sold out. By that point in my life, hummingbirds had come to signify something very special regarding deceased family and friends. My dad had passed on his belief that birds carry spirits of loved ones and so when his father died, I was the first to see a bright rainbow hummingbird visit outside our window as we ate breakfast the following morning.
But a hundred bucks was a lot for me and as a struggling artist myself, I couldn’t justify spending that much cash on someone else’s artwork. In my self-centered head, I was like, “I could just paint that myself!” (Which, I eventually attempted. And failed miserably at!).
After hemming and hawing for the duration of the show, I ponied up and adopted this bird. There was a tinge of buyer’s remorse when I had to pay that month’s rent, but at that moment, I felt like a grown-up. I hung that wooden board proudly by my front door and studied it every day as I reached for my keys and wallet. Since then, I’ve moved three or four times – from a bigger studio apartment, to a 1-bedroom, to a house, then another filled with a family. And the hummingbird has always come with me.
Always by the door. Always heading out into the world.
Best hundred dollars I ever spent.
The writer – and one of my favorite people – Elizabeth Gilbert has another unique perspective on the hummingbird. She believes that some of us are “hummingbirds” – driven by our curiosities, which takes us from place to place, person to person. And it is through us, that ideas are cross-pollinated and “the culture is aerated.” Watch.
Disclaimer: As it turns out, the scary and unsettling byproducts of pandemics aren’t just limited to unstoppable viruses and contagions. The movies conveniently leave out the parts about not being able to hug your grandparents or anti-Asian racism or that glaring bit about half the population losing their job, their purpose, and identities. Maybe these side effects just don’t compare to the umbra of grisly death, but portions of this feel like a living hell. So, let me preface this essay by remarking that Life and health are most valuable and worth fighting for. After that, the economy (which, is also a public health issue) must be salvaged and redefined. When human beings are being trampled by a merciless disease, streetwear is inconsequential. Yet, for many of us, streetwear is inextricable from life itself. It’s our livelihood and recreation. It’s our people and point of view. And so, the conversation must be had. How does streetwear continue and prosper in a pandemic?
Earlier this morning, we released a collaboration with Animaniacs, the irreverent ‘90s Warner Bros. cartoon. It’s looking like this will be the most successful drop in the 17-year history of our company, but we aren’t surprised for a couple reasons. For one, we’ve been down this road before. If you read my book, you’ll remember that we worked with Animaniacs on a smaller collection in the fall of 2017. The anecdote puts a bow on a series of trials The Hundreds survived as we re-established ourselves amongst a new generation of customers and competitors. And, like many businesses at the time, we were pivoting harder into our online sales over physical retail.
The afternoon of that first Animaniacs release, we broke the news to our San Francisco staff that we’d be closing our Union Square flagship after a decade. Mere hours later, Ben and I sat at the hotel bar and tugged at the Shopify app, refreshing the escalating Online Shop sales as The Hundreds X Animaniacs unleashed to the world. While one chapter was closing, another was unfurling into an open frontier. By ending my memoir with this story, I was not only memorializing a turning point for the brand but documenting what that digital segue meant for greater streetwear, the fashion marketplace, and the global economy. However, I was still convinced that while e-commerce would continue to eat up the majority of transactions, actual stores were necessary for introducing one’s product to niche markets, providing a face to the brand, and designating a grounds for culture to flourish. I refused to envision a world where retailers were absent (especially with the community-powered streetwear that I championed).
By February of 2020, I didn’t have to use my imagination. On the 17th, I half-jokingly tweeted: “If streetwear really dies this year, it’ll be because of the coronavirus.” Many businesses, like ours, who rely on overseas manufacturers, had already been dealing with the ramifications of COVID-19 since the New Year. With production stalled in Chinese factories and travel restrictions clamping down, there were brows furrowing across the industry. Would our Summer collections arrive on time? Can we get to Fashion Week? What most of us failed to foresee were the ensuing stay-at-home lockdowns, how they would shutter wholesale accounts worldwide and chill future seasonal bookings. Soon those questions unraveled into, “Will people ever shop in stores again? By the time there’s an appetite for it, which retailers will have survived?”
I’ve been sitting on this essay for weeks, waiting for the ground to stop shaking before I give an assessment on how streetwear best fits into the new normal. But, the tremors are relentless, the new normal is yet to be normalized, and it will be years – if not decades – before we have clarity and see this thing for what it is. Therefore, I’ll begin by addressing what streetwear was, then perhaps we can get to a place of what it is, before I make an attempt to hypothesize what it might be.
For the last couple decades, streetwear captured the imagination of youth culture, larger fashion, and the entrepreneurial generation for three reasons: authenticity, roots in community, and artistry. Streetwear’s recent, mainstream appeal foamed as a Veblen good – where scarcity and scrappiness collide with image and luxury. But, as I like to say, “Streetwear without culture is just fashion.” The special distinction – that X-factor – that separates Streetwear from anything else out there is the personalities involved. There’s a heritage to heed. An attitude to traffic in. It can’t be explained, it can hardly be earned. But these are the social nuances we picked up by hanging out at stores.
Although the digital forum has amplified streetwear, most of us can trace our formative beginnings to a specific shop (or shops). Even if we didn’t have access to a streetwear store, we were well versed in the language and politics of these underground spaces. Ben and I learned much of streetwear’s ins and outs by hanging out in the smoky backrooms of SSUR in New York or Brooklyn Projects on Melrose. We read A-ron’s GLOB on the aNYthing site. The generation prior to ours can tell you tales about Behind the Post Office in San Diego, Animal Farm in Miami, or Union NY. Kids today can speak on watching the Round Two show on YouTube or lining up at Supreme on Fairfax.
Regardless of generation and geography, streetwear stores are a breeding grounds for creative youth to gather and share ideas. They are clubhouses but also laboratories. If you’re a disaffected square-peg, it’s hard to dwell in these rooms without daydreaming about your own future brand. If the biggest labels and shops are architected by unpolished artists (not savvy businessmen), then “I can do it too.” Thus, shops are also incubators. Just some of the relevant figures who used to work in – or hang out at – our stores: Dillon Francis, designer Danielle Guizio, Luka Sabbat, artist Matt McCormick and Odd Future. Some went on to build their own brands like Quinn from The Good Company and Joshua Vides. Even if they weren’t associated with our brand, the shops gave the kids somewhere to go: to skate, to smoke, to make friends and make lives.
Streetwear was also founded on airtight branding principles. I can’t pinpoint where exactly this stems from, but perhaps it has to do with New York coolguy elitism, streetwear’s love affair with luxury, or Japan’s self-restraint. Regardless, the name of the game has forever been longevity. Discipline over dollars. Forsaking immediate gratitude for the promise and potential of a lasting legacy. We learned a lot by watching brands like Supreme and A Bathing Ape. They were meticulous about treating run-of-the-mill T-shirts as art pieces instead of disposable goods. This shit was meant to last forever. The distribution models reflected this degree of control and care. Limited wholesale, if any. Even tighter runs on production.
As soon as LA locked its doors in March, we went on sale. Most small businesses are sitting on enough cash reserves to last them a month or two (for restaurants, it’s half that). The Hundreds has no investors – it’s still just Ben and I – so there’s no pillow to catch our fall. We were already watching our European pre-books for The Hundreds’ end-of-the-year collections stutter and knew the worst wouldn’t hit us until this Fall or Winter. We had to shore up immediately, downshifting to conserve fuel anywhere we could in the business while making money to buy the most important commodity of all: time. The restrictions were changing as fast as developments around the virus. With the goalposts moving every morning, we knew the window of opportunity was shrinking. The staff started working from home, our sewers began making masks, and the warehouse moved at a glacial pace by following safety protocol. But at any moment, COVID-19 could shut us down entirely and so we went from planning for tomorrow to focusing on today.
Streetwear is all about brand-building, and brand-building is all about maintenance and endurance. But, what if you don’t have 50 years anymore – you have 50 days? You are suddenly unfettered by the usual creative restraints. You now have the latitude to say Yes without the fear of long-term repercussions. You can go on Sale, you can make the edition unlimited. And go ahead, lean into that guilty pleasure. This is a time of no judgment. Nobody is watching. Everyone is more concerned with shoveling water out of their own boat than laughing at your leak. So, take advantage of this rare moment to experiment, think freely, and stretch the limits of brand and business. How would you play your favorite game if you could re-write the rules in your favor? You now have the permission to do that.
Amongst business experts, there is one word that sits on the tip of everyone’s tongue: Survive. If you can tough it out, if you can be here this time next year, you will win by virtue of attrition. Even if it means making compromises or unnatural moves with the business. Nothing is natural anymore, relatively little makes sense. When you’re trying to outrun a tsunami, you’re not self-conscious of style points. You’ll dance once you’re on higher ground.
I have no idea what business will look like in a month, let alone a year. But, like every self-appointed expert these days, I can doodle some guesses. One thing is for certain: if you weren’t a DTC (direct-to-consumer) brand already, you are now. Perhaps we would’ve transitioned all commerce online at some point in the next five to ten years, but the coronavirus expedited this shift to a Ready Player One virtual existence literally overnight. ESPN is broadcasting e-sports, classes are held in grids onscreen, and live DJ battles are experienced together on our phones. Even if this isn’t a permanent change, we are getting a hard glimpse into what the future could be. And for many – like companies who are finding success with WFH and parents who see the fruits of homeschooling – this could be an awakening.
There will be lesser stores in the future and even fewer of those being streetwear boutiques. In many ways, the American economy never fully recovered from the 2008 recession and any veteran physical retailer can attest to that. So, the ones who do bloom post-pandemic will need to prove themselves as marketing vehicles above all else, which in itself will make leases a luxury for larger companies. Once shoppers and shopkeepers are accustomed to the convenience of buying specialty pieces online, it will be hard to unring that bell. It’ll be an uphill battle to motivate customers to IRL shop again, so shops must be re-imagined as communal spaces, art galleries, or lounges. Just like how restaurants have transformed into grocery stores (with some making more money selling produce than they did serving dinner), maybe clothing stores will also be where you dry clean your clothes, source the materials to produce your own, or re-sell them. Sometimes, we are so tunnel-visioned as to product and purpose. We allow a brand to be classified as one thing or a store to sell one type of way. What if it we didn’t look at it as a streetwear store, but as a black box theater? A gaming café? A workspace or day care center? What if it were all those things?
This is where streetwear excels, because for most streetwear boutiques, it was always about the culture over the clothing. Looping around to a point I made earlier, these stores were essentially clubhouses, so why not take it literally? Shops can survive by turning into social houses with memberships. Once you’re admitted, you have access to workstations to print shirts for your own brand, attend speaking events, or skate the ramp out back. Oh, and maybe you’ll be inclined to buy a shirt or two while you’re there.
Or not. Why relegate streetwear to, well, streetwear? Streetwear’s advantage is that the lifestyle comes first, so you can sell any genre of product against it. The kids just need somewhere to go and something to congregate around. For all of those headscratchers wondering why a high-schooler would sleep on the sidewalk to re-sell some sneakers, they don’t see the relational bonds that come from that experience or the social badges that come from being a player in the game. It can be Nikes or hoodies but streetwear can also be bananas and computer parts. Streetwear is the most adaptive and responsive industry out there. Yes, we sell T-shirts, but we can also sell you a brick.
And we can sell it to you online, over Twitch, through our app, or a text. Direct-to-consumer doesn’t just stop with sales. It encompasses marketing, cultivating trust, and most importantly, community building. Lockdowns may not last forever but society may be hesitant to re-enter the outside world anytime soon. That means designers and brands will have to meet their customers through technology, and I’m not just talking about an intrusive IG Live or a 40-minute Zoom session. Travis Scott is doing a live performance on Fortnite as I write this. Faze Clan is ruling YouTube, e-sports, and NTWRK drops. For those of you who have been texting my personal number (323) 310-2844 since December, you may have noticed more personalities telling you to save their contact. The next generation of SMS marketing is being beta-tested by a few different apps and will change the social conversation by the end of 2020. It’s the anti-algorithm – less mass and more personalized. Ideal for a generation exhausted by targeted ads and disingenuous influencers.
If you recall from the start of my essay, I was saying that we weren’t surprised by the success of our Animaniacs collab for two reasons. The second reason we expected this project to sell through is that outside of wholesale stoppage, our online business has been weathering the storm. At first, we thought it was a fluke. Maybe buying patterns would change once customers lost jobs. Yet, they continue to hold steady. It reminds me once more of the 2008 recession and how our business was largely insulated from the crash. In fact, it wasn’t until 2-3 years later that we saw sales slump (and I’m not sure if that had as much to do with the economy as it did with brand fatigue). At the time, we assumed that if it weren’t for the economic downturn, we could have gotten even bigger (but in hindsight, we were peaking at our max, with or without a recession). My theory remains, whether back then or a decade later, that our young clientele are generally unrattled by world events in comparison to their parents, and their shopping patterns are evidence. Not that they’re sociopathic or ignorant. They just see the problem from a different angle.
The first couple weeks of stay-at-home in Los Angeles, I was texting my followers about how they felt regarding the coronavirus. I have thousands of contacts but only a handful expressed alarm over the virus ravaging Italy at the time. I’m not sure if it’s because they considered it (errantly) an “old person’s disease” or because of lack of awareness, but most of my fans were instead fixated on when the Blue the Great collaboration was dropping or if I could critique their brand. This didn’t sync up with what I was experiencing in my immediate world as the news spun out of control and my neighbors drew their curtains shut. It was another two weeks before I saw a rise in texts on the subject matter of COVID-19, but even then, the dialogue was less distressed as it was with my peers.
One of my customers Terrence confided, “I lost my job today, so to make myself feel better, I bought some clothes.”
“Oh no, I’m sorry to hear that man,” I texted back. “I appreciate your support, but you need to take care of yourself right now.”
“Thanks Bobby, I understand where you’re coming from. But, this is how I take care of myself. I love The Hundreds.”
I was reminded of how old I am and how I’d lost sight of what it means to be 19, spirited, and invincible. Although COVID-19 can infect anyone’s health, regardless of age, it really can be an “old person’s disease” when it comes to mindset. As I get older, I’m more attuned to my body’s aches and pains. I am constantly fretting about my children’s well-being. I stress about the news like Kevin’s dad at the breakfast table in The Wonder Years, except I do it all day long. And I compare notes and anxieties with other responsible grown-ups. All of these serve as daily reminders of mortality and finiteness. Terrence, meanwhile, is infinite.
The reason why streetwear will prevail is because its fate is in the hands of young survivors. This generation was born in the fire, and so this new chaos is another puzzle to solve. So far, these kids have outlasted the recession, school shootings, devastating climate change, and a polarized nation. Now they are ripped from their schools and friendships in the most formative years. They are watching their grandparents die from afar. Yet, this generation is also the bravest, the most inspired and impassioned, because they know nothing else but disillusionment and struggle. While my childhood was wrapped in Happy Meals and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, these kids were born on 9/11. Streetwear is their playground, their blank canvas to throw paint at. Streetwear isn’t inconsequential, but for them, the problems associated with it are. They’ll be the first ones to get back in line to support the retailers. They’ll build brands ABOUT this. Like I said in my last essay, the Streetwear generation is about regeneration. Pivoting and adaptation are what we do.
Finally, what about design? After the last recession, streetwear toned down its flamboyance. There was a short hiccup where Americana menswear took center stage in streetwear retailers. Basic chambrays and selvedge denim silenced heavy logos and fleece. We couldn’t sell a graphic T-shirt for the life of us. It was all about neutrals, blanks, and miminalism. I’ll argue, however, that you won’t see the same trends emerge this time around because the same gatekeepers aren’t dictating what’s getting made.
In the early 2010s, e-commerce and DTC were still not commonplace and so brands were dependent on retailers to carry their goods. Store buyers ultimately – and confusingly – called the shots on what got designed and produced in the marketplace. Since they theoretically knew their customer best, they bought according to their insight and the brands either catered to that or forewent the dollars. So when the recession struck, shop owners transferred that fear onto the brands. They declared that It wasn’t the appropriate time to experiment with design. The buyers played it safe by curating conservative stock. The designers tempered their artistic expression with universally appealing collections.
In the new world, the consumers are in control. There is no middleman who determines what’s best for the brand or the customer. As long as the customer feels adventurous, adventurous design will be supported. Likewise, if the customer gets scared, design will play it safe. For the time being – and I can only speak for today – the customer is still active and engaged. How that sustains is contingent on how this virus manifests and how the leaders in charge respond.
But, we’ll take it for now.
That’s the overarching thesis here. Nobody knows what’s happening now, let alone where this is headed next. Most experts didn’t see a pandemic coming. They are just as speculative as to where it’s going. Accordingly, my essay might be moot if a vaccine is discovered tomorrow or COVID-19 is found to be most transmissible through Jordans or a meteor hits our planet. All I do know is that until now, we managed our best to live under the illusion of structure and predictability when life has proven to be anything but. This time, it’s just different because we all got up-ended by the same thing at the same time. But life was never a straight line – there are car crashes and heartbreaks and bad sushi that can upset our night, our months, our entire lives. Yet, somehow, we adapt to the circumstances, say goodbye to yesterday and accept the morning. Every single day.
It’s funny. In some ways, streetwear is a virus in itself. It’s novel and innovative. It needs a receptive host to share it with a community. It’s infectious and resilient and mutates over generations. And although it comes and goes in waves, no matter what the world throws at it, it’s almost impossible to extinguish. It survives.
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.