Featuring controversial messages that have been called â€œracistâ€ by some, Too Black Guys is one of the first companies to push fashion with a â€œstreet twist.â€ Whatâ€™s now become a worldwide phenomenon and known as â€œStreet-wearâ€, the brand that began on a $2,000 investment now holds distribution in the States, Canada, and Japan.
Launching the Jim Crow Couture collection for Spring/Summer 2008, TBG examined â€œthe theme of segregation from both a historic and contemporary perspective. Graphically it explored times when we were the most separated and how that separation affected society. It also challenged some of the notions of what makes us different.
“The Internet has almost completely eliminated borders so the challenge now is to identify where in the world your customers are, and to figure out how you can get your product to them.”
Format: Tell me about whatâ€™s going on with TBG lately?
Adrian X: Weâ€™re fortunate that the brand is continuing to grow. We are developing new customers in our markets and building brand awareness. There are constantly new marketing initiatives, and we are regularly getting approached with opportunities. I know that is a vague answer but I canâ€™t talk about specifics. Timing is everything.
Format: How many people currently work for the brand internationally? Who are your key players?
Adrian X: Right now there is only one employee: thatâ€™s me. I work with a distribution company in Montreal that handles the back-end of the business. There is a U.S. sales and marketing team based in L.A. and a Canadian team based in Toronto. There is also a distribution company in Japan that facilitates the operation there. I work with an agency that provides art and graphics, and several Canadian manufacturers that deliver product.
Format: You started with an investment of $2000 getting you 250 T-shirts to sell. With todayâ€™s inflation, could you have done the same in the market?
Adrian X: I think that the way the market is today it would be possible. That would not have been true a couple of years ago before the market began to embrace independent brands. Also, brands werenâ€™t capable of using the Internet to market themselves so effectively. Today the market opportunity is instant and international. Itâ€™s not impossible to launch successfully if you have the right product at the right time.
Format: As a Canadian designer, how difficult is it to break into the international fashion industry?
Adrian X: The Internet has almost completely eliminated borders so the challenge now is to identify where in the world your customers are, and to figure out how you can get your product to them. I think that as long as your brand speaks to a market that is bigger than your own local perspective, then there is an international opportunity for Canadian brands.
Format: Have you found that the strength of the Canadian dollar has helped or hindered TBG?
I Adrian X: tâ€™s not so much that the Canadian dollar is strong as it is that the American dollar is down. That has been a problem for me because I manufacture in Canada and sell globally in U.S. dollars. I donâ€™t want to bore everyone with economics and formulas, but the net affect was about a 20% dip in my top line.
Format: It’s been almost twenty years since your inception as a brand. How has the company evolved since 1990?
Adrian X: Although a lot has changed, I would like to think that the brand is still true to the reasons why it started. The brand started with the goal to deliver something to the market that wasnâ€™t being offered, and to try to use tees and product as a means to express ideas and start conversations about things that matter to us, a community. I would like to think that the collections that we have delivered since the 2006 re-launch have done that in a way that is still relevant.
Format: Do you ever regret leaving TBG on hiatus to work for Roots? Why did you leave Roots?
Adrian X: No. When I stopped working on TBG, I was frustrated with the direction that the market was taking, and I didnâ€™t feel that there was a way that I could continue the brand the way that I felt comfortable with.
The Roots position came at the perfect time. I got a chance to design for one of Canadaâ€™s most popular brands and designing the Olympic collections gave me an international stage.
I left Roots to take a position at Ecko in New York as the design director. That position wasnâ€™t a good fit for me and as a result, I wasnâ€™t there for long. I donâ€™t have any regrets because first of all, they made me an offer that I couldnâ€™t refuse, and secondly because making that move forced me to improve my design skill set.
“The brand started with the goal to deliver something to the market that wasnâ€™t being offered, and to try to use tees and product as a means to express ideas and start conversations about things that matter to us, a community.”
Format: What challenges have you encountered since you re-launched TBG post-Roots?
Adrian X: Now that we are no longer doing our own retail, it has been difficult to present an entire collection to customers. We have to work with retailers who buy what they think will work for their stores and sometimes that means that the story or the theme does not get told the way that we planned it.
And although it is also an opportunity, the market pace has also been a challenge. Trends donâ€™t last for seasons, but instead only for months and customers are constantly looking for new product. It is a strain on development and it makes it difficult to build inventory.
Format: Will you ever use a Caucasian or Asian model in your look books?
Adrian X: White, Asian, South East Asian, Martian, anyone that we think will help convey the brand message or tell the theme or story.
Format: Why did you use the term â€œOrientalâ€ as opposed to â€œAsianâ€?
Adrian X: Youâ€™re referring to the â€œSome of my Best Friends are Orientalâ€ tee that we did in a series for the Jim Crow Collection. We chose the term â€œOrientalâ€ because it highlights how absurd that statement actually is as someoneâ€™s justification that they are not racist.
Format: What is the most controversial comment that youâ€™ve ever heard about your clothing?
Adrian X: The most controversial comment that Iâ€™ve heard is that Too Black Guys is the most socially important brand to ever come out of North America. That comment was made when we still had a store in New York, and it is more controversial to me than any of the comments that I have heard about how potentially offensive some of the pieces weâ€™ve done can be.
Format: What is the story with Canada Goose? Are you still designing for the brand?
Adrian X: Canada Goose is a great Canadian brand and a great Canadian story. I have been designing for them since 2006 and it has been a great experience. We are currently working on developing new product for fall 2010.
Format: You stated in a previous interview with Format that the line now tries to ask questions rather than answer them. What are a few questions that the brand asks? What answers did the brand give previously?
Adrian X: I think that there is an underlying question that we can ask every season through our various themes: what can we learn from historyâ€™s mistakes that will help us build the kind of society that we all talk about aspiring to?
Previously, the brand attempted to answer questions. The problem with that is that there are no answers.
Format: Whatâ€™s coming up next season with TBG?
Adrian X: Next season is called â€œThe Beautiful Boogeyman.â€ It takes a look at how fear is used to push political agendas and sell product. Weâ€™re introducing five pocket jean styles in â€œDickiesâ€ fabric and weâ€™re also doing sweatpants. Weâ€™re pretty excited and it should hit stores at the end of August.
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