Both channeling personal feelings, and recognizing the need within streetwear for more social and political commentary, Eddie Huang created Hoodman clothing with Ning-Hsin Juang in 2006. A strong collection last year, with in your face politics, received a positive response among buyers whose demand has led to more of the Hoodman stock finding itself in retailers, both online, and in the street. Format speaks with Eddie about why itâ€™s important to say something when given the opportunity.
“The name is meant to be a reflection and counter to Bergdorf Goodman and the big money dominant culture fashion that they and others on Madison Ave push.”
Format: Who is involved in Hoodman clothing, and what are their respective histories relating to fashion, graphic design, etc.
Eddie: Hoodman started with myself and Ning-Hsin Juang. I don’t have a fashion or graphic design background, but I’ve always been involved with social commentary through different mediums like film or journalism. I’m definitely not the traditional clothing designer, but Ning had a lot of experience. She just graduated from the University of Michigan and she’s done graphic design for board games, magazines, children’s books, set design, and wardrobe. Recently, Steven Lau and Leo Li also came on board. Leo’s a sick illustrator and he did the character illustrations for the Mario shirts and Ning did all the background and fonts. Steve is the hustler; I’m bad with money and give away too many shirts, so Steve is the money man now.
Format: How do you feel the name Hoodman reflects your brand?
Eddie: With Hoodman, I try to deal with things that are accessible to people in their neighborhoods that don’t get recognized by traditional outfitters. We have all been reading about Oba-mania for a year and half or so, but people didn’t want to alienate anyone by putting him on a shirt. I personally didn’t see a problem with Hoodman taking a stand and saying, this is our guy so we did it. But, to make the message digestible, I made sure to team Obama with hip-hop cultural artifacts like the 4th and Broadway record and the Chicago font since he’s from Chicago and he’s in the ’08 Presidential Race. Creating layers to the subject allows people to find something that interests them in the shirt and possibly draws them to a person like Obama they may not have sought out or informed themselves about. Obviously, the name has to do with the hood, but we don’t limit ourselves to hood commentary. The name is meant to be a reflection and counter to Bergdorf Goodman and the big money dominant culture fashion that they and others on Madison Ave push.
Format: When coming up with the name Hoodman, to what degree were you concerned about the possible limitations of such the name, as per securing major distribution, etc.
Eddie: I really don’t want major distribution unless I’m doing it myself to be honest. I got a job so, this brand is for social change and personal expression. Growing up in Virginia and Florida, I was the only Chinese kid in school for the most part and I spent half my life trying to negotiate cultural boundaries. Straight up, I’m done. I love what we got going with Hoodman and I won’t be curbing it for major distribution anytime soon. It is what it is.
Format: Hoodman’s tagline is “Small-time Gadflies Hustlin’ for Big Change.” What are some of the biggest obstacles you have encountered being a small business entering such a large market?
Eddie: Well, because I had no background in the industry, my sales pitches in the beginning were straight tomfoolery. I would show up with sample tees in like fruit stand grocery bags. I remember I rolled right into DQM sometime last year with samples and they were like, “linesheet please.” Itâ€™s just hard to figure out the sales pitch and get all the business materials you need to communicate your products stores. Ning helped out a lot with that because we designed a catalog and Steve started making the linesheets. Itâ€™s also just foul because a lot of stores don’t even want to see a new brand right now. Itâ€™s understandable cause everyone is trying to put their own line out, but because people come weak, these stores are more resistant to newcomers now.
Format: How have you overcome these obstacles?
Eddie: Well, I just listen when store owners talk to me and school me on the whole business side. I got organized, documented everything, and I just make sure to create any materials that make it easier for stores to get a sense of the brand.
Format: Hoodman’s mission statement includes the sentence “clothing provides a canvas for commentary on the underdog experience and a presentation of issues that are passed over by commercial outfitters.” How does this manifest specifically in your designs?
Eddie: Well, up until the end of 2006, democrats and even Obama, were the underdog. Obama is still 15-percentage points behind Clinton, so, that’s one example. I still feel like he’s got an uphill battle to fight and I’m interested to see how his identity is addressed closer to election time cause it’s been relatively tame so far. Even though the majority of Americans want to pull out of Iraq according to the polls, we’re still there, so, that’s another cause that needs to be mentioned. It’s talked about everyday on the news, but whatever your opinions are, no one has to know if you don’t want them to. People can easily hide their opinions and detach themselves from causes. There’s that old don’t talk about politics or religion thing and I’m fine with that rule at work, but outside work, I think we need to have more communication about the issues. Our clothes represent us and they should say more. Putting the shirt on ties you to the cause and you broadcast, thereby carrying the political burden to a certain extent.
Format: It seems like your last collection was more political, or social in nature, but that the Summer line has abandoned these concepts in favor of a more aesthetic quality. What inspired that change?
Eddie: Well, that’s an illusion. This line is arguably more political. There are more layers to the Mario Kart designs. We came heavy handed with the first line because we didn’t want there to be any question about where we stood. But this line is about identity and negative treatment of hip-hop identities and characters.
The first purpose of the Mario Kart line was to take identifiable hip-hop characters with representative personas. DMX had to be on it because he flipped the script on everyone when he came out with the pit bulls, 3-wheelers, cage scenes, barkin, and screamin’. For a minute, he was NY hip-hop and along with Swizz Beatz really changed the game. I loved it, but people will take his character and hold it up as a negative stereotype representative of his community. DMX has been the target of negative media treatment for his arrests and his music, so, I wanted to portray DMX in a different light.
People still today, complain about negativity in hip-hop. Its not just hip-hop that’s negative. Look at Bowser from Mario Kart, he barks, breathes fire, he’s bucwild, he beats the shit out of Mario, but parents aren’t trying to censor Mario Kart. Why? Because there’s sugar for the medicine. The character is housed within a children’s game context and it’s acceptable for him to be this raging character because he’s an animal. But, if they want to know where kids first learn to fight, scrap, and develop definitions of good and bad, look no further than Nintendo. All my life, parents, teachers, everyone talked down about hip-hop. So, I said, cast it in this so-called “innocent” context and see what people will think. In this context, DMX is less threatening, but itâ€™s still him. Itâ€™s all window-dressing. Obviously, DMX has always been hardcore especially on Flesh of My Flesh but violence is everywhere and hip-hop receives an unfair amount of criticism. Martha Stewart is a bigger crook than anyone in hip-hop, but again, because of the presentation and supporting reference group, she didn’t get nearly enough time.
The second aspect of the Mario Kart shirts is that there are no black characters in the game or almost any Nintendo game for that matter. It’s ridiculous. Do the Right Thing had black people with Italians, why can’t Mario Kart!? Just kidding.
Format: The combinations Hoodman has in the line include DMX and Bowser, Snoop Dogg and Wario, and Andre 3000, The Princess, and Toadstool. How did you choose these particular artists and characters, and how did you decide who would ride with who?
Eddie: I wanted to deal with characters first that represented different genres within hip-hop. DMX, that hard hitting gritty, East Coast, NY hip-hop. Snoop has that laid back West Coast drop-top thing going on. Andre is a ladies man, and he’s about the Cadillac too, but I used the gold car from the game for him and put him with Princess. Secondly, they had to be artists that were into cars in their own individual way, which all three are.
Format: In addition to the three video game inspired shirts, you have the “Lucky Cat” tee in your summer collection. The tee seems extremely out of place. Please explain its inclusion in the line.
Eddie: Well, that is not a Hoodman shirt. That’s our first Rotten Bananas shirt. Steve and I have been sneaker re-sellers for a little bit and we call ourselves Rotten Bananas. I’ll let people figure the name out for themselves, but if they need help, look up Nitasha Sharma and the article “Rotten Coconuts, and Other Strange Fruit.” My dad has been saying Rotten Banana since the 80s, but Sharma was the first one I saw to write an article. The idea with that shirt was to take an Asian cultural artifact and pair it with hip-hop culture, i.e. the Fat Joe song, “I Make it Rain.”
Format: Anything we didn’t discuss that you’d like to add?
Eddie: Yeah, one sentiment that some of my customers express is that some of this is over their heads. I got kids that come by the apartment to buy sneakers and they see the shirts. Usually, I don’t sell at the apartment cause I send them to Digital Gravel instead. Either way, some people see the Mario stuff and ask me the questions you ask. I explain the concept and it’s just too much, which is understandable. Sometimes, you just want fresh gear and that’s why the shirt wasn’t overt. If you want to delve deeper, itâ€™s there. If you just like DMX, rep it.
But, I want to encourage people to get involved with social commentary. It doesn’t have to be through a t-shirt company, music, writing, or film. It could be as simple as showing up to a KRS-One concert, showing love, and then bringing back the message to your people. I didn’t go to many shows before I came to NY, but even if you’re in the middle of nowhere, start social organizations or join existing grassroots groups for whatever the cause is. Basically, get involved, it ainâ€™t that hard. I know this isn’t “cool” to talk about, but if you’re corny and need someone cool to associate with an activity before you get involved yourself, listen to Nas, Rakim, KRS, Dead Prez, they shout-out books, philosophers, and social movements all day everyday.
More Info: Rotten.firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by: Freddy Mejia