CA: How did you use social media to create to your following?
Jason: We started off as personalities. The personality goes out there and gathers followers. Just have content. Content, content, content, content. Which is great but if you are a business, you need to lead with what people actually want. We had the idea and we gathered enough eyes. You simply can’t back off, go into production and not say anything. Make it look like we abandoned the project. We had to stay active on social media while building (usually up to 70%) to reveal what you have. It is all simultaneous.
Reggie: Both of us are quasi-perfectionists in our field. He is more of a perfectionist than I am. In terms of our fields, we want to make sure we have a good design or we have a good plan. We were sitting there and say so what’s the plan. Brands will go out with a good design (or even if they don’t have a good design) and push and push and push the brand on the people. We didn’t want to have to sell you JG. Here is a shirt that is 26 dollars, please buy it. We want you to be apart of JG because you understood what we are trying to do. Not so much that you buy a shirt but you go into our story, our background to understand why we do this. Then you become a part of it. It wasn’t really about making a hoodie here and a shirt there. It was more about coming into this lifestyle really. We were at odds with this because we knew we were a business. I consider myself a creative (I hope I am) and I couldn’t abandon getting people on board with a message. I couldn’t abandon that thought process. We still have to sell and have them understand what we are trying to do.
Jason: When I think about the experience that I have with retail and all of the things that encompass a brand. With what we are doing, what would help us is having a flagship store/spot. They can see what we have online and come in to see it manifest (in person). That is the dynamic we have right now. If we have that, it would be so much clearer. Right now, it is far away so they have to get it (purchase the item to see it).
CA: What does ‘Be Around’ mean and why is it deeply connected to what you guys want to express to your fanbase?
Jason: Be Around is the very nature of what started JG. Be Around is the short way of saying to be curious, be open. We wanted to really conform it to something the phrase that encompass all of that. So being around is having the afternoon off and going about the neighborhood (or going about the world). You are not going to the resorts, you are not going to the party specifically, you are going to see what happens. You are just around. Anyone who knows me, knows that is the most fun you will have with me. I come across random stuff and we have thousands of photos from all the debauchery. It is just crazy times, having fun, and chilling on rooftops (rooftops we didn’t know were available). We just wanted to walk down this street and we come across an art gallery. They said they were doing something at 6 (had free drinks) and we run into someone we know. Something else is happening at 8 and this all happened because you were around.
Reggie: Instead of trying to figure out a schedule, you actually went out and did something. Half of the time when you go out, your most adventurous times is when you are not going out trying to find something to do. You are just going. I live in LA and we did a photoshoot a while back. We randomly met this guy on the street. Black dude with deep blue eyes and he was asking us questions on the brand. He said he would love to help out and we put a shirt on him. We would have never had that happen if we weren’t being around.
CA: Where did you start JG, NY or LA? What made you decide to go in that direction with your clothing and movement?
Reggie: I was in Atlanta at the time, I made up the brand (Or the aspects of it that were Japanese Girlfriend). It was a line which was part of a bigger brand. One part was JG and another was this idea I had. I told Jason about it who lived in NY and he told me we should make a brand called JG and steer away from the other idea.
Jason: This was around the time Karmaloop was starting up and you sold most of your clothes through catalogs and emails. He was making this brand to sell other stuff. We had this one hoodie, this concept hoodie that we made and…….
Reggie: This design we still haven’t made only because we changed directions but the minute we put it out, the reaction was crazy. People would be like “I need that hoodie, I need that hoodie, where can I get it?” It was just a mock up so I would tell people it would be around soon. It shows people what we are trying to do with the brand. Jason tells people it is called Japanese Girlfriend and he said that should be the name of the brand. I pondered it a bit and I agreed with him on the name of the brand. At the time, I was in Atlanta and I was on my way to Japan. I studied Japanese in college and I was really into Japanese culture. I went to Japan for two years. You go there with the intention of observing the culture, the area, and the style. Tokyo is very segregated based on the part you are in. Similar to NY, where you see the difference in fashion and styles but it seems more clear over there. For example, the men wear all the same kind of suits. In the summer, they dress in business casual by wearing the suit minus the tie and taking one button down from the top. They have ties and socks in 7-Eleven because Japanese men go out late at night, drink, and wake up to have to buy a new tie for work. I came to the conclusion this brand could be based on the culture there (because originally it wasn’t based off that). That is why when it comes to us being Tokyo, LA, and New York, it is based off how we started. Born in LA (I was born in LA and I create the designs for the brand), Raised in Tokyo (where the brand was developed during my time in Japan), and Made in America (we make the products here in the states).
CA: If you had to choose between NY, LA, and Tokyo as your all time favorite city, which one would you choose and why?
Jason: I say NY because it has a little bit of everything. LA and Tokyo are more “wholer” in a sense. They are literally on the other side of the world. Plus we are talking about three different “coasts” and one of them have all of that culture here. We have the Japanese here and other types of people in NY.
Reggie: As for me, Los Angeles is always home. It is where I live and where I stay. For the brand, I don’t think it fits a particular city. We had a post on our blog about LA being the quintessential place to start a screen print brand. Because of the weather since it is mild to temperate all the time. We decided to move it over to NYC because we feel it encompasses more because you can wear layers. New York is putting things together with simplicity and placing accents on it.
Jason: It is also a product of design (Unity and composition). When you look at a city as busy as this and you can stay stand with simplicity. You can’t have a busy shirt with a busy background. It drives me nuts. It might fit into some people’s styles but not ours.
CA: Where do you get your influences from on the designs and concepts for your brand?
Reggie: It all starts with what I was introduced to. My father was in the Navy so we traveled all the time. My caretakers, when I was little, were Asian people (Filipino) and I used to call one of them her Auntie Let. I would sit in their house and look at all the images and patterns. This was when I was first introduced to Asian culture and fell in love with it. Skip forward till now, most of the designs are a byproduct of me learning design and being influenced by Japanese culture. I watched a lot of Dragonball Z, Naruto, stuff like that. If I could somehow take that and use something that is recognizable to people a little bit to make them like it through our designs. It is still cool to you because it is not attached to this genre but more so our work.
Jason: We are students of typography. We look at letters and how can we make the spacing better. Looking at the cloud shirt, we had a brush on photoshop with a cloud on it. Since we were looking for a new logo, I asked Jason how he felt on it. He said there was a lot going on so I reworked it to become simpler. I ended it with a period at the end. The original girlfriend has a beauty mark on her chin. Yes, there is a real Japanese girlfriend (laughs). My girlfriend happens to be Japanese and does have the mark on her chin. I have the period in the cloud logo to pay a homage to her because I feel it should be celebrated. Growing up, she hated having the beauty mark on her chin. I see it as something to look fondly upon and I brought it into the design (she loves it by the way).
CA: What do you feel is the biggest asset that you guys have right now?
Jason: International appeal. If you too focused or too small, it becomes something only a few people can get to. We don’t really believe in it being that exclusive. We have experience with dealing and working with people all over the world.
CA: And the biggest challenge you have today is what?
Jason: The industry itself. There are a ton of externalities that are affecting the industry making it difficult to make it viable. You have people who believe you have to buy everything on a discount all the time. There is a certain system that is pushing people to a lifestyle that is against what they even want. People are doing what they can do. You keep going for discounted stuff while you are not getting a raise, rent is going up, and it is no longer a steal. Low prices are regular life now. You don’t want quality anymore so it is a real challenge to keep up a brand.
Reggie: H&M is making a killing because they are creating things at such a discount where normal people can look nice. Streetwear is so exclusive you either have to wait on line for it or have to pay a huge markup price. We can’t wait on line because we have work. This leaves us with the generic stuff or what is available. We went JG to be available but we don’t want people to wear only our clothes. Like we mentioned earlier about accenting the style. It is like choosing playstation or xbox. You should choose one, not both. It is overkill if you get both. We decided to copy the Nintendo approach. Everything is in house and we make the price work for us. We have to have better designs, good quality to justify the prices, and to have a voice behind the brand.
CA: How does your brand stand out from the rest of the competition out there?
Jason: I went so far into it to find out what streetwear really is. We maybe similar to one, we would be different than another. There are different types. They are some that are expressive and don’t have a meaning/mantra. No definite message but more of a feeling. Ripping logos and using pop culture to feed them. They aren’t bound by an aesthetic. We have something we represent as in this is what we mean and this is what we are. That is the big difference between us and a lot of brands which makes us stand out since it is not what a lot of people are doing.
Reggie: Jason focuses more of the branding while I focus more on what trends are coming out. Recently in LA, we have a lot of brands coming out with the baseball jersey. Not sure if it has reached the east coast yet. The point is that the baseball jersey is the hot item right now. Can I wear that two years from now? Most likely I won’t be able to because it is not apart of the trend. We didn’t want to become a slave to trends because once you start, you have to stick to it. If I make a different kind of shirt with a different fabric, we can still be around longer because it isn’t following the wave. We are in a sort of bubble. The model of every aspiring business is to make money and to gain new customers. It is great to have a user base that is loyal to you but you still need to be able to draw in other people. We wanted to create a brand where Sally Susan can wear our shirt and Tyrone Biggums can wear our shirt.
CA: Where do you see the brand going in the future?
Reggie: We want a flagship store and also have stores in major cities internationally. Main goal is to make JG the brand to have an experience where you feel comfortable (makes you want to stay). It isn’t about the clothes but the movement. We can think of doing a JG showcase and pick up people in a bus heading over there. Just being apart of the lifestyle of being around.
CA: What made you guys decide to get into clothing?
Reggie: When I first was interested in clothing was when I played the game called Jet Set Radio. Originally, I wanted to name the brand Shibuya-Cho off of a location in the game. I scrapped the idea because I didn’t think people would get into it. I was later inspired by Bleach. Bleach is known for their characters and their distinct styles. They have a book solely for the outfits on the characters. This author is a clothing designer creating Japanese cartoons. I wanted to make something similar with JG.
CA: What is the best advice you can give someone with a strong desire to create a brand?
Jason: What are you about? (When it comes to your brand). Before you engage the consumer, you need to listen and understand who they are and what they want.
Reggie: We knew our voice but we kept changing it and changing it. By pure luck, we got to where we are now. To be honest, it was about Japanese Girlfriend. It was only going to have things about Japanese girls. The nightlife and experiencing things. We got older and learned more (we couldn’t get around that). Don’t expect to start a brand and be a hit after a year or two. We have been working on this for years and it was process which took so long to do the right thing. This is why so many people are latching to it right now (and everyone can get behind). When you do the research and know what you are about then you can go into your design. Design isn’t a big part of your brand. You can outsource that work to your designer. Whenever I help some people with their brands and they can’t tell me their three primary colors that represent it. That is a problem. If someone asks what are the colors for JG (red, white, and black). You can easily learn what JG is about. You have to create a slogan for your brand. You need to know everything your brand is about to get the most about it.
Jason: You have to really know yourself to excel. This goes back to Wing chun and when you are learning it, you have to learn about yourself first before going into combat. You need to know how far your arm extends to execute correctly. Similar to why you like shows like Breaking Bad which is because of the characters. The writer has to know how the characters how the person will react to a situation. You have to know yourself to that extent to know how things will go.
Reggie: I came from the school of thought you do it for the love then do it for the love. If you do it for the money, make sure you are honest and do it for the money.
Jason: Fail fast and be willing to learn from your mistakes.
Reggie: I feel like you can’t start a brand until like 17-18 (unless you are a designer by trade). If you are between 18-25, those would be the ideal situation to start. You also need to master personal finances before you can effectively run a business. How will you excel in running a business when you can’t even manage your own wallet?