Sunday, April 5, 2015

For 1897LB, It's All About Innovation with LB Life and Long Beach Homegrown

Photo of 1897LB by Jose Cordon

There is a small clothing outfit that has been making waves in Long Beach. Pun intended. Celebrating its two year anniversary the outfit is made up of Jose Cordon on the retail side, and Jose Mercado on the design side. Check out what they had to say about their two year anniversary and three clothing lines.

FT (Frankie Tease): You guys met up where?

D1 (Dire One): Jose was working at a retail store here in the neighborhood and I walked in there, I was looking for a hat. We met there and after that, actually no the day I walked in there I had just printed my first t-shirt. I was wearing it that weekend. My existing line now: Long Beach Home Grown. I was going in there and I was looking for a hat. I was headed somewhere, I don't remember where, and I was looking for a hat.  I was wearing my shirt for the first time. That sparked up a conversation and after that I'd walk in the store and continue the conversation. 

(Jose Cordon): I ended up buying a shirt from him because actually I was looking for a Long Beach shirt, and I really liked the one he was wearing.
FT: What set it apart?

JC: By far it was just a really clean design. It was really clean, and something that I had not seen before.

FT: Okay, he's the designer. Ok, what is your role?

JC: I'm the mouth. I'm the mouth piece. 

D1: He holds the store down. He runs the store. He handles the relationships that the store has with the community, and with other stores in the neighborhood. He's really the person that links up the store with a lot of our neighborhood. 

FT: You have three lines. Which was first, second, third? 

D1: Well Long Beach Home Grown was first. And when we opened the store, we decided to have the store to have its own name, it's own entity. We still wanted it to tie back into Long Beach so we came up with the name 1897LB. That's the year the Long Beach was incorporated. We decided to let the store have its own identity. After that I created a design that said LB Life. I decided that LB Life could pretty much stand on its own. LB Life was branched off of LB Home Grown. It's been in transition. This year is really the year that it's becoming and going to mold into its own look. 

FT: There's other Long Beach clothing. What sets you apart? It caught my attention. You don't just say Long Beach. What sets it apart? What are you going for?

D1: I have the line be designed from a standpoint of... I have 14 years now of designing professionally in apparel. So, I pretty much treat this line, which is locally based, like I would be designing any other international line. In other words,  I design it with the standards of any other big line that you would find in any other major retailer.

FT:  What other retailers have you designed for?

D1: Just about every major retailer... from Target to Pacific Sunwear to Walmart, I've designed for all of them. Probably within that about 3,000 independent stores. I've designed for two big companies and those companies have distributed to just about everyone in U.S. and internationally.

FT: So this freedom to do what you want must be fun. 

D1: I'm using all the skills that I acquired and using that locally. Usually it goes the other way around. Somebody starts local and is looking to work for the other guys. I worked for the big guys first and came back and now I'm using all that. That's why when you look at the line, it's pretty much ready to do into a major retailer at any moment. It's not going to go in those stores because it's a local line, but I'm saying, it's got the standards of that. 

-We try to have death in it too. Growing up in Long Beach all my life I come from like a graffiti background. All my friends were all different. We had one guy that was into reggae, one guy into rock, one guy into rap, and then we all didn't really like the same music, you know there was like - the thing that brought us together was graffiti, but we all were like different. That's how I was raised. So, the line itself - I might be feeling like a little bit of graffiti one time - so it kind of comes out in the line. I myself want the line to be for the people of Long Beach, not for just one demographic.

FT: When you started talking and when you first met Jose, what was it you found in common that would make you run a business together?

JC: I had a small children's line and I was also replicating all that the adult styles were doing. A lot of Pendleton style of shirts Fedoras. He (Dire One) ended up doing something really cool for me. He allowed me to carry his kids shirts. Which he was exclusively making for me at the time. For me one of the things, I was in education for about 12 years. I didn't teach, I was an academic adviser. Once I got out here into the private sector. It was just basically my work ethic had elevated to a different level. There was a lot more to do. There wasn't any kind of "looking down" on a job because you held a certain status. That was something that always bugged me about being in education. With Dire it was just his work ethic and his design. 

Danny AKA "The Monkey" wearing all 1897lb designs (sox,
shorts, shirt, hat). photo by Jose Cordon

-He would come in the store because at the time, there was a kid that I worked with at the store who was helping me design my line. He would come in out of his own will just to share his design and give us pointers, stuff like that. That was very admirable to me. He had a friend that runs a motor cycle shop, does custom choppers, and his friend needed help opening up a retail space, and he thought of me. We kept in contact, we were always in contact. When the space became available he was the first person I thought about. When it came to the foundation as far as working and getting things done, he was the first person that came to mind. We opened on April 1st [the day of this interview], 2013. I was such a fan of his work that basically it was a no-brainer to step back and say "You could be the sole designer of this". Because I had seen his work and it's such a diverse platform. Everything he saw was pretty much the epitomy of what I wanted to do. So, it just worked out perfectly. When we talked, we talked for a good amount of hours you know, his life is design. He not only does this, he knows everything about design in general. He can talk about cologne, everything. He can talk to you about people's careers. That for me fascinated me. 

-For me it was being able to run a clean store. Giving people an amazing product. Setting the standard up to those big multi-million dollar companies but offering it at the local level. I know for him, that was something that rally drove him, the local aspect.

FT: Are you both born and raised? 

JC: I'm the only transplant in our outfit. I was born and raised in Guatemala and I grew up in Mid-City L.A. and came out here when I was 18. I'm about to turn 39 next month. I've spent a lot of time here. When we started producing stuff, I like to tell people "You can walk down the street and see some of the stuff that he's done". You'll see that the same kind of craftsmanship has gone into it. The same kind of detail in design. 

-One of the things that I like to brag about him all the time is that this is original typography. There are only a handful of people that do that and he's one of them. Just when you think "What else can he actually come up with?", he does come up with something else. Every time we do a release it's like Christmas. I don't always get to see the designs before they come out. We're so busy. 

FT: How often is there a release?

D1: We try to keep them four big one throughout the year. One of my pet peeves is the retail calendar you have to keep. I was drilled so long on that. You have to design two years in advance.  We've been able to establish four a year. In between that you know, if something comes up and we make it and design it, it's coming in here. When you're working for the big guys it has to come in on their schedule. I'm kind of back lashing against that right now like "Fuck it- if I want it right now why does it have to wait?"

FT: Who's doing the manufacturing. 

D1: I use several different companies. I have relationships that I built throughout the years, in U.S. and California. Some actually local here in Long Beach.

FT: Are they limited releases? 

D1: They're definitely not limited. That's another pet peeve that I have that you know - A lot of people drive themselves bankrupt with the limited releases - I've seen so many people go bankrupt. I feel like honestly the product will determine how many people want to purchase it. When I feel like the product has kind of had it's day, then we might get rid of it and it might not come back. A lot of smaller local companies stay with the same look five or six years. And I'm like "you know what? I've got thousands of designs in my head, why stick with one?" Louis Vuitton might decide to release something that they did back in the 1800's. That's okay but it's strategic. They're going to keep designing something new. So will all the other major brands. You know, because you gotta keep evolving. 

-As a brand, just like a major brand, we're not looking to grow into an old brand. We're going to keep evolving. That's actually how LB Life came into play. LB Home Grown, to me I look at that brand like it's very about the roots of Long Beach. The Pride of Long Beach. LB Life I look at it like if you just moved here two weeks ago and you are going to start living that life here, because you're going to go to school here, you're going to party here, you're living that LB Life. I didn't want to exclude anyone. I'm not going to be over here taking stuff so literal. "If you aint local"... I feel like if you come party in Long Beach and you're out here all the time or your best friend lives out here, you're living the LB Life. Wear whichever of our designs that inspire you. We don't want to exclude anyone or say "you can't be wearin' that".

You CAN be wearing it. If you want to cut it up, if you want to wear it tight, loose, combine it, I love that more than anything. I love to see what people do with it, what hat they wear with it, what other major brands they put it together with. 

FT: Okay guys, talk to me about this silk screen that's not a silk screen?

JM: Oh, sublimation. It's become pretty popular in the last few years. There are thousands of types of printing processes, I've been a part of a few hundred of them. It's actually applied to the garment using a special type of press. The image ends up bonding right into the fabric, if it's a certain blend, in order for it to bond. There is no cracking, it's not a heat transfer, it's bonded into the threads. That's why it's still porous, you can still see through it. It's become more popular and it's more accessible. 

JC: I learned the process through him. Being a large print format, it allows you to print on the entire garment. When he takes the sock into consideration he takes the foot into consideration. 

D1: If you go to Foot Locker and other major stores you'll see this, and we have it too. Big methods. I try to bring in everything that I learned. I try to bring it back local. 

FT: What are you looking forward to?

JC: To continue to bring innovation in the sense of the local level. I'm a big fan of the way D1 goes about designing and addressing the diversity that appeals to Long Beach. How are we going to appeal to the folks that live in Long Beach and visit Long Beach? How are we going to appeal to the transplants? It doesn't matter if you've been repping Long Beach 100 years or for a day. If you love the city, you love the city, you are Homegrown, you're LB Life. I'm proof of that. I've been here 20 years, I've tried moving many times, but when I come off that 710, it's home. 

FT: What about the spade with LB and roots design?

D1: The spade is the strongest symbol in the deck of cards and that's what the city stood for me. Throughout my travels in the last decade through the U.S., I came back more in love with Long Beach. It has roots at the bottom because the city is what developed the style for me. My work on cars, pinstriping, graffiti, all this stuff I learned from this city. 

JC: As of right now, to my knowledge, we're the only store putting that amount of effort into making sure that our customers are getting something unique. The best stitching, the best. If you're going across the street to a mult-million dollar company, you're getting the same quality. Get something for your city. I see this year as being not that breakthrough, we're going through that breakthrough right now. But I see this year as being the year that we become a house-hold conversation. That we're an option. There's plenty of stores that you can choose from, but we now become an option of where you may want to purchase you're Long Beach goods. This guy is always inspired. With our small team that we have, it has helped everyone personally. In our outlook in life, in our outlook in business, how we handle our business. I think that really translates to our customers. You may pay a few more dollars, but you are going to be able to wear this shirt for quite a while, and it's going to be in style for quite a while. 

FT: It's basic with a twist.

D1: Sometimes people look at design as it has to be very complicated, and there's a lot of shitty design that is just very complex. Great design doesn't have to be complex. As the store, this box, we're always looking to fine-tune it. Whether it's the visual, Jose influences a lot how the store looks, from the interior design. We want the standards to be high. We're going to hold ourselves to a high standard. What are they doing that works? We're also looking to the big brands of clothing. Is it visually appealing? Can people find everything. That's probably always going to be the case to keep evolving. Depending on product, you might have to move things around, you might have to move shelving around. But, you're always doing it so it can visually be more appealing. This store hasn't stayed the same in two months. 

The brand, the clothing is always going to be evolving. We're in the fashion industry. There is no room to grow old in that. You've got to keep moving you've got to stay fresh. If you want to grown old you can go work at an insurance company. We're here to evolve. I always tell people if you're not here to evolve and you're in fashion fuck, you better go do something else. 

1897LB is located in Long Beach at 438 E 1st St, Long Beach, CA 90802