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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

STUDENT BY DAY, ENTREPRENEUR BY NIGHT: A PROFILE OF NAM HO, FOUNDER & CREATIVE DIRECTOR OF OH MAN! CLOTHING

By: Jonathan Lacson

Click. Click. Click. Ponder. Click and swipe. Type. Ponder. Click and drag. More typing. Click….no response. Harder click. Still Nothing—Nam Ho is in his room swimmingly finalizing the digital samples of his new line of “Villains” tees for the upcoming Spring/Summer 2011 season when disaster strikes: his mouse has suddenly died.

His heart sinks.

See for him, not having his mouse while designing —a Logitech M555b Bluetooth mouse, to be exact—is the equivalent of not having a right hand. To quote Mr. Talese, it’s the equivalent of “Sinatra with a cold…Picasso without paint, Ferrari without fuel.”

Already a week behind schedule, personal stress is mounting on the 20-year-old budding entrepreneur and what follows is the epitome of the “Five Stages of Grief”: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

“You gotta be fucking kidding me! This cannot be happening right now!” he shouts at his inanimate mouse (Denial). He attempts to resuscitate the mouse with the traditional method when electronic devices fail us: slapping it firmly into submission—whap!—to no avail (Anger). He calls up a friend, Paz, to ask if he could use his mouse in exchange for a discount on a future purchase (Bargaining). Paz declines, causing Nam to sink his head in his hands, wallowing in the despair of the moment (Depression). Suddenly, he rises with clear intent. He fires up a Google search of Logitech’s customer service number, coming to grips with the reality of his dead mouse (Acceptance). 1 to 2 weeks they say, free shipping also. The furrowed grimace on his face slowly subsides.

“Alright. Where was I?” Grudgingly, he glides his right index finger across the trackpad. ________________________________________________________________

Urban streetwear—the loud, bombastic attire primarily worn by fashionable youth in urban and highly populated cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco—best describes the style of Nam Ho’s Oh Man! Clothing company. Clothing companies similar to this style of clothing include LRG, Huf, and Zoo York. The hallmark of every urban streetwear brand is their t-shirt designs, but they can also expand to include bags, footwear, hats, and other fashionable accessories. Hailing originally from San Jose, California, Nam Ho’s attendance at UC Irvine was in his own words “a personal and strategic business decision,” as he would bring his company closer to the Los Angeles area oft-considered one of the leading fashion capitals in the world, ranking #5 in the most recent “Top Fashion Capitols List” of 2010.

In 2006, Nam’s idea for a clothing company had begun. “I have always had a love for business” Nam said, “but I also had a love for art so I felt that Oh Man! could be my bridge.” But Nam did not want to jump into the game blindly. He did his due diligence researching online before starting his company, reading about people with similar aspirations. “I had read a lot of horror-stories online of things that people didn’t research: bad fabrics, bad materials, etc. I definitely did not want to rush and make the same mistakes they did.” It took time, but Oh Man! Clothing finally debuted in the Fall season of 2009.

Nam Ho handles every aspect of his business: he creates the designs on his laptop, orders the garments from Alstyle, and then sends everything to printing companies such as BG Concepts to complete the product. A massive inventory is stored in his apartment—clothes of all shapes, colors, and sizes—packed away until he goes to a convention or show to sell as a vendor or orders come in through his Oh Man! Clothing online website that he created, coded, designed himself, and continually upkeeps. He even personally ships each order himself.

The designs of the clothes range from minimalist typography (a cursive white “oh!” slapped on a red shirt) to bold phrases that cover the entirety of the space (Love, Live Life, Proceed, Progress.), but generally the theme of his clothes is quite simple and organic: he designs whatever he likes personally and gets his inspiration from day-to-day life experiences. If you spelled Nam Ho’s name backwards, you would get “Oh Man”—showing you that his company is a complete reflection of who he is.

May 20th, 12:30pm

It was already 30 minutes until class was to start but Nam Ho was still working on his Intro to Sociology homework. Even though Nam normally puts his school work first, a late night spark of inspiration (a YouTube clip from America’s Best Dance Crew featuring the “Fanny Pak” dance crew) distracted him, diverting his time and attention to work on something new for his company, Oh Man! Clothing. Productive hours from the previous night were spent working on a new addition to his company’s increasingly diversified offerings: a fanny pack.

Fanny Pack

One might rightfully envision this particular style of bag worn by a tourist sight-seeing or by old ladies clamoring up-and-down the clogged walkways of Disneyland, chasing after their grandchildren with their trusty fanny packs holstered at the hip. But sometimes, certain casualties of fashion that were once “faux pas” are revived to become “trendy” once again. This is a typical symptom of the rapidly changing face of fashion. And such is the case with the fanny pack, a fashion fact that not only Nam is keenly aware of, but major luxury brands such as Coach and Louis Vuitton are as well, having released their own fanny pack iterations that appeal to the young “hipster” crowd. When cocked to the side, a fanny pack takes an all-new meaning and can be an effective fashion statement.

But Nam not only sees an Oh Man! fanny pack as a chance to capitalize on the hype. Rather this is another opportunity to continue to diversify a company which humbly began offering just 7 varieties of t-shirts in 2009 to the ever-expanding roster that it boasts today, which includes: 26 type of t-shirts, 3 tank tops, 3 crewnecks, hooded sweatshirts, and soon fanny packs emblazoned with an “Oh Man!” patch. This is how a clothing company goes beyond. This is how a clothing company becomes a brand.

May 20th, 1:15pm

Arriving slightly late to his Intro to Sociology class, Nam slipped inside and sat at the back of the lecture hall. Professor O’Connell was just getting started on the lecture, titled, “Why it is Important for Sociologists to Study Religion.” Nam immediately started to dutifully type notes while simultaneously opening up other windows so that he could work on his company. Business wise, he had a lot on his plate today: he was launching the preview of the “Villains” tees, he was waiting for a proof back of his fanny pack design from the embroidery manufacturing company, Custom Patches, that he sent it to, and he planned on doing a photoshoot for a new t-shirt design at the end of the day. He tried to keep this delicate balance between school and business going, but as time wore on his cluttered laptop screen reflected his focus was clearly on the latter.

Technology

Oh Man! Clothing is entirely a product of the newest technology, in terms how the clothes are conceived and executed to how they are advertised. To create the designs for these clothes, Nam uses Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator to create designs on whatever garment template he chooses so that he can manipulate every detail. With these tools at hand, anything imagined is possible with a click, a drag, or a swipe. For him as an artist, the laptop screen is his canvas, the Photoshop and Illustrator programs his paint, and the Logitech M555b Bluetooth mouse his brush.

And with the growing prevalence of social networking sites in people’s lives, limitless possibilities exist in the world of advertisement, one of the most crucial components of any business. Social networking sites such as: Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter share common characteristics: 1) they are free to join and 2) they are catered to a young demographic. Nam seizes these opportunities by creating personalized Oh Man! Clothing sites for each of these Internet media—on Facebook, Oh Man! Clothing has a 1000 fans; on Twitter, over 100 followers.

Oh Man! Clothing Facebook page

Each day, he logs hours of time on his laptop constantly making statuses, blogging, and tweeting about all things Oh Man! Clothing. And he has certainly gotten noticed for his efforts, being featured in popular streetwear publications such as: FknFamous Magazine, Dfined Magazine, and TheFreshStock (blog). Not only has Nam’s social networking allowed him to advertise at virtually no cost, but it also allows him to reach the target audience of his brand in the most direct manner.

He figuratively crushes two birds with one stone.

The extent to which Nam has revolved Oh Man! Clothing around technology serves as a parable that illuminates the cultural patterns, possibilities, and aspirations of a new generation.

May 20th, 2:30pm

The next class was Asian American Studies III, where they were analyzing the book “The Namesake” by Jhumpa Lahiri. Since the PowerPoint lecture notes of this class were posted online anyway and Nam did the reading, his attention wandered even more so towards his business, keeping a tab open to his Gmail account nervously awaiting the proof. The email finally came back near the end of class, but there was a mistake: the white bordering of the patch was missing. He quickly noted the error on a response email back to the company. Then he received a text—a muffled Ding! Ding! was heard—and it was his friend and fellow clothing entrepreneur Stephanie Kuoch asking if he wanted to have lunch today. Nam quickly searched Yelp, scouring the results for restaurants 3 and a half stars and higher, and finally decided on Sushilicious. “Great I know the owner there!” Stephanie texted back, “He could hook us up with some sake bombs.”

Entrepreneur

The word “entrepreneur” is French for “beginner.” Initially, its interpretation and application reflected this original meaning, but as time went on the term took on a more sophisticated connotation to describe “the entrepreneur as one who finds joy in creativity…exercising one’s energy and ingenuity in search of better way of doing what is already accomplished” (Schumpeter, 1969). In the academic study “Profile of Entrepreneurs: Employing Stepwise Regression Analysis to Determine Factors That Impact Success of Entrepreneurs,” two main key factors that were found to be endemic among entrepreneurs were family background and partnership.

Bill Gates is a famous entrepreneur who was not only blessed with proficient talent in his craft, but also with wealthy parents who were able to support his nascent business endeavors despite their early grooming of a law career in mind. Finance capital plays a huge role in the success or failure of a business. In Nam Ho’s case, he started Oh Man! Clothing primarily off of the allowance received from his parents, both of whom are computer engineers, supplemented by part-time jobs working at Journey’s and a summer finance internship. However, similar to Gate’s story, Nam’s parents had different intentions in mind for their son career wise.

“My dad is very traditional, very Asian. He would rather have me pursue something in medicine or law” Nam explained. “My mom was also very skeptical because running a clothing business is a very obscure endeavor to Asian parents.” But eventually his parents came around, putting aside their initial intentions in understanding that it was a business venture. By having a little support and a lot of startup capital, Nam has been able to pay for all of the costs involved with running his company—shipping costs, purchasing garments, printing fees, etc.—while putting all of the profit off of his company back into it. With this financially balanced situation, he has been able to increase the volume of his orders, expand to finer materials such as fleece, experiment with accessories, and broaden and diversify Oh Man! Clothing season after season. As with other entrepreneurs, having financial family support gives one a definite headstart until one can supplement their ambitions independently.

Secondly, business partnership plays an essential role in entrepreneurship for its “contributing to the pair’s ability to comprehend and appreciate each other’s interest or enthusiasm…to reach common understanding to devise means of realizing the combined and refined vision” (Harvey and Kidane 2009). A powerful example of this is Larry Page and Sergey Brin, co-founders of Google. They met each other in college and discovered that they both had a shared expertise in a common field (computer science) as well as visionary ideas to create something that goes beyond the status quo. Stephanie Kuoch is the founder and creative director of her own clothing line, Steppie. Like Nam, she created the clothing line as a representation of her self and her preferences in fashion, mainly stylized ninja and panda designs tinged that are “fun, lighthearted, with a splash of humor…nothing too serious, but all about making an impression.”

Stephanie Kuoch, aka "Steppie", and Nam Ho @World of Dance LA in 2011

It does not necessarily mean they have to become partners exclusively, but by meeting like-minded peers they each can refine and exchange ideas that only serve to benefit them both. So regardless of what their intentions are, by meeting over lunch occasionally both are exhibiting common traits found amongst some of the most successful entrepreneurs.

May 20th, 6:07pm

“Hi! Come in!” beamed a welcoming girl at the door. The girl, Jackie, is a friend of Nam and she agreed to be one of the models for the photoshoot as well as let him use her apartment to shoot it. Nam always does his own photography for Oh Man! Clothing photoshoots, using the skills and lessons learned from a basic photography class he took back in high school. But this time he didn’t have his Canon T2i camera with him, accidentally forgetting it back home. Luckily, Jackie had the same exact camera for him to use, but Nam had to tweak the picture settings so that he could get them exactly right. He brought the entire wardrobe for the photoshoot wrapped around a black bed sheet, which would be later used as the dark backdrop for the actual pictures.

After getting the settings situated, Nam took out a blank piece of paper and began sketching the design of the shirt while explaining the concept to Jackie: “Basically it’s gonna be four panel piece, parallel ones that go across the length of the shirt. So it’s gonna be four photos.” He draws 4 rectangles in a stack on the paper. “And it’s gonna say ‘From the Bay to LA.’ And since you’re from this area, you’re gonna be ‘the LA.’ And Jordan is from Norcal, he’s gonna be ‘the Bay.’”

“Is he coming here, is Jordan coming here?”

“You know what, let me go call him up real quick.” Jordan was another friend of Nam’s and he would be the 2nd model on the shoot. Whenever Nam has photoshoots he always enlists the help of his friends to model his clothing. This photoshoot was slightly different since it wasn’t a full on photoshoot showcasing a season’s worth of clothing. A typical shoot would last 3-4 hours. This would only take 30 minutes.

After taping up the black bed sheet on the wall—a “ghetto set up” he called it—Nam directed Jackie to make the “LA” sign with her hands by making an “L” with one hand and placing an inverted peace sign across her thumb.

“Okay you ready?” A flash. “Let’s do some more. Can you put this hat on?” He took several takes of the same shot, changing directions constantly:

“Smile. Don’t smile. Hat on. Hat off. Lean. Smirk. Fierce.”

The whole process caused visible restlessness in Jackie, as Nam must have taken 30+ pictures before finally finding one he liked. “See this is the one,” showing Jackie the photo on the camera to which she nodded appreciatively with relief. “So the first panel on top is gonna be some iconic picture of SF—probably the Golden Gate—with the words ‘FROM THE’ in some kind of lettering. Haven’t decided yet. And the fourth one on the bottom is gonna be you right here holding the “LA sign” to the camera. Above you is the ‘TO’ lettering over a distinct portrait of LA and the second panel is gonna be Jordan when that guy gets here…..”

Ring!

The doorbell rang. It was Jordan just in time. Nam briefed him on the photoshoot and gave him a shirt and hat to wear. Jordan would make a “bay sign” by curling his index finger against his thumb to make a “b,” curl the fingertip of his middle finger to his index finger’s knuckle to make the “a,” and extending his ring and pinky fingers in a scissors-like fashion to make the “y.” The same routine followed: “Smile. Don’t smile. Hat on. Hat off. Tilt it. Nod. Smirk. Hard.” Jordan found the whole ordeal to be a lot sillier than he probably envisioned, giggling every time Nam told him to switch facial expressions dramatically.

Finally, after another 30 or so flashes of the camera, Nam got the shot he liked. “Yes! We’re done!” he yelled enraptured. Cheers and high fives were exchanged all around.

________________________________________________________________

Reporting notes:

-Sit down 1.5 hour interview with Nam Ho

-Follow-up 30 min interview with Nam Ho

-Sit down 30 min interview with Stephanie Kuoch

-Brief interview with Jackie Cuevas

-Brief interview with Jordan Bautista

-Observation of Nam Ho at work with designs

-Observation of Nam Ho on the complete day of May 20th (photoshoot)

Research:


  • Schumpeter, Joseph A. - The Theory of Economic Development, New York, 1969. (Re-print of 1934 version)
  • Manes, Stephen; and Paul Andrews (1993). Gates: How Microsoft's Mogul Reinvented an Industry and Made Himself The Richest Man in America. Touchstone. ISBN 978-0-385-42075-7

-"Frank Sinatra Has a Cold"

-"New York Regains Fashion Capital Crown from Milan"

-"Bill Gates Biography"

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