Stephen Lee, director of operations for Not For Everyone (N4E1), is a Toronto raised, Hong Kong transplant that lubes the nuts and bolts of N4E1, a clothing company that prides itself on preserving a unique experience. â€œGold and diamonds is a N4E1 trademark, we like to outshine everyone!â€ says Lee, adding that by limiting items from N4E1 means â€œwe donâ€™t want the whole neighborhood wearing the same clothes.â€
With its headquarters in China, N4E1 has a direct experience with the manufacturing industry that fills the American consumerâ€™s appetite and ships a majority of the clothing streetwear fiends crave, globally. Lee says American manufacturing limits its scope and, in comparison to China, its costs are outrageous. â€œChina, on the other, hand is filled with plenty of factories that produce nothing but garbage at a fraction of the cost,â€ says Lee, adding China is the â€œwild westâ€ of manufacturing; â€œOn the other hand if you work hard in America, you can turn sand into gold,â€ Lee says.
Whether or not N4E1â€™s clothing is not for everybody or for a chosen few is not a debate. What N4E1 has to offer is simple: â€œWe like to call it, â€˜the modernized American dream.â€™â€
“â€œâ€¦if you plan on operating in China, youâ€™d better build a solid network unless youâ€™re the type that gets a kick from burning money.â€”
Format: Please explain the creation of N4E1.
Stephen: When I first set out to create N4E1, I took a good look at what was out there in the market in order to gauge what kind of competition I would be up against. What I found out was way too many brands pushing their image focusing only on the hype around their line, but paying no attention to quality. Personally, I dislike the idea of printing on pre-made garments simply because the quality is never up to par. The idea behind a clothing line isnâ€™t merely selling a unique image or a look, but making the customer feel like theyâ€™re wearing something special. I wanted to create a premium label from the get go, not something that merely nailed the looks but fell apart as soon as you wore it. The only way to achieve that level of quality was to manufacture each and every piece to our exact specifications. This meant that every product we make has to be cut and sewn using only the best materials as well as techniques. The whole concept behind N4E1 is to elevate the brand to a different level. We donâ€™t want our customers to think that weâ€™re just another hyped up street label, but a company that is known and respected for our quality and attention to detail. Nobody wants to wear something that looks good but feels like shit, weâ€™re here to change that. Also, I had a great team of friends and partners to back up this project.
Format: Recently, communist China has attracted a lot of negative press for its exports: poisonous pet food, tainted seafood, lead paint on children’s toys and faulty baby cribs. If relations between America and China were to halt, how would your industry, the street fashion industry, recover from its severed connection to cost-effective manufacturing?
Stephen: I think itâ€™s safe to say that the industry as a whole would have to re-evaluate their position on manufacturing, especially in regards to safe cost-effective alternatives. However, we were never too concerned to begin with in terms of any sort of stalemate between the U.S. and China. We would merely adapt to the situation and shift our production to another country such as Japan or Singapore should the relationship deteriorate. Our business model has always been built around pushing the boundaries of design and quality first. We can always pick up and relocate our manufacturing elsewhere so long as our products maintain or exceed our standards.
Format: How are manufacturing quality control standards and the laws that enforce the standards different in China than America?
Stephen: In America, there are limits on the variations you can apply to the design and in most cases it will cost a fortune to produce either way. The only constant is the quality, primarily due to more stringent rules and regulations. China, on the other, hand is filled with plenty of factories that produce nothing but garbage at a fraction of the cost. Everyone knows that itâ€™s essentially the wild west of the manufacturing world and looking for the right place can turn into somewhat of a mission. However, that doesnâ€™t mean that there arenâ€™t places that can match or exceed those in the U.S., you just have to know where to look and who to talk to.
Format: There are a lot of misconceptions about communist China and how businesses are allowed to operate. What are the differences in how N4E1 operates compared to their peers who operate in America?
Stephen: We run our operations out of Hong Kong, so technically weâ€™re not under total communist conditions. But I can definitely tell you that if you plan on operating in China, youâ€™d better build a solid network unless youâ€™re the type that gets a kick from burning money. On the other hand if you work hard in America, you can turn sand into gold.
Format: The acronym for N4E1 means Not For Everyone. Why is N4E1 clothing only right for some people and not all people?
Stephen: I remember when we first started, Rob Heppler of Weeklydrop e-mailed me and said, â€˜Not For Everyone, huh? Well you just wear it right out there on your sleeve! Most places just act like itâ€™s not for everyone!â€™ This is exactly what we set out to do. We target consumers who know quality when they see it and enjoy the lavish lifestyles they live. We like to call it, â€˜the modernized American dream.â€™ Everyone tells us our T-shirts are â€˜Going out certifiedâ€™ â€“ T-shirts you can walk into a nice hotel or an exclusive club without worries of getting your ass thrown out.
Format: The packaging that N4E1 uses is high quality. Why is it important for N4E1 to set the bar high with its posh packaging?
Stephen: During the first season, we packaged our products in these ultra chic gloss black boxes with gold foil prints on the inside and outside. We wanted to introduce the N4E1 brand into the industry on a completely different level than everyone else. However, the boxes really hurt our retailers as they were way too heavy to ship, so we decided to discontinue them. These days we use metallic gold neck labels, and gold foil swing tags. What can I say, we love gold!
“â€œGold and diamonds is a N4E1 trademark, we like to outshine everyone!â€”
Format: N4E1 has an Asian feel in its designs and operations. Does N4E1 have an Asian-centric consumer base?
Stephen: We have a large Asian consumer base, but we also have other ethnic consumers.
Format: How has N4E1’s experience been at trade shows?
Stephen: We scoped out MAGIC this past August and the foot traffic was crazier than we anticipated. However, we didnâ€™t stay long at the show, because we did a private viewing at the WYNN hotel. This February, we might showcase at one of the private shows or project.
Format: Does N4E1 consider itself streetwear?
Stephen: Iâ€™ve never been one to believe that one should conform to a certain image, or style. There are always different areas and ideas to explore, we always strive to innovate and create. With N4E1, there are no boundaries.
Format: Clothing brands have to be selective with the retailers they choose to do business. What characteristics does N4E1 look for in its retailers?
Stephen: We look at the brands they carry. We never go out of our way to find something thatâ€™s similar to what we offer, simply because there is nothing out there. What we do look for are brands of a certain caliber, something we would expect to see in an upscale retail location. Of course we also take the interior, exterior design and area of the boutique into consideration.
Format: N4E1 does a lot of limited number runs with its clothing. Why does N4E1 make limited amounts?
Stephen: All of our clothes are run in limited numbers to maintain a level of exclusivity our customers come to expect. Hey it isnâ€™t for everyone; we donâ€™t want the whole neighborhood wearing the same clothes.
Format: There is a lot of metallic and gold used in N4E1’s designs. Why does N4E1 have an affection for shiny designs?
Stephen: We like to do prints that are difficult to duplicate and differ from the usual water prints and paints. Gold and diamonds is a N4E1 trademark, we like to outshine everyone!
Format: A lot of celebrities make or break clothing brands by wearing clothing while the public eye is fixated on them. What celebrity would N4E1 rather not have wearing its clothing?
Stephen: Elton John and bitches like Chris Crocker.
“â€œElton John and bitches like Chris Crocker.â€”
Format: For its newest line, N4E1 made denim. Was it hard to adjust from making hoodies and T-shirts to making denim?
Stephen: We are always looking to expand our lineup. T-shirts and hoodies will always be a big part of the industry and our image, but weâ€™re always striving to innovate and separate ourselves from the rest. Currently we have some womenâ€™s wear in the works that we plan to release in the next few months.
Format: Several designers are designing their spring 2009 lines, now. How does N4E1 forecast what may or may not be popular several months in advance?
Stephen: Forecasting trends in design and the direction of the industry will always be somewhat of a crapshoot. Itâ€™s impossible to say for certain what will be hot and what wonâ€™t and we donâ€™t dwell over that fact. If we feel that we have an idea with potential on our hands, we run with it. What we do is constantly try and elevate our designs and exceed our level of quality again and again.
“These days, the younger generation will tend to buy clothes based on how much hype it delivers”
Format: On the collars of N4E1’s polos, it reads, “Fuck everyone else.” That’s witty positioning and phrasing. How did N4E1 come up with the idea for this detailing?
Stephen: Simple, we really donâ€™t care about anyone else. There are too many haters out there that piss on whatever they can, so weâ€™d just like to respond in kind. Of course no one wants to walk around with a â€˜Fuck everyone elseâ€™ plastered across their chest. So we designed it such that one could flip the collar down for a more modest look, or pop it up when youâ€™re in the mood.
Format: What are some streetwear cliches that annoy N4E1?
Stephen: Weâ€™d just like to see more variety in styles and designs. Itâ€™s usually the same shit season after season.
Format: N4E1 has a T-shirt that reads, “In Hype We Trust.” In N4E1’s opinion, what are the challenges of Internet blogs practically cataloging streetwear clothing and, ultimately, creating hype or fizzle?
Stephen: That shirt was actually designed to mock the typical hype that surrounds most streetwear brands. These days, the younger generation will tend to buy clothes based on how much hype it delivers while completely disregarding the actual quality or craftsmanship of the product. The Internet however has totally revolutionized the industry and how we evaluate street wear. OGâ€™s like Hypebeast, Kix-Files, Highsnobiety, SlamXhype, Freshnessmag and Formatmag have been notorious for maintaining a certain level of quality control on their blogs, simply by choosing only to post what they feel is the best of whatâ€™s new. Face it, without them the industry wouldnâ€™t have grown to where it is today. Good or bad? You decide.
More Info: http://www.n4e1.com