Who U With

Interview by Alan Ng
Words by Kevin Williams
Photography by Jenkin Au

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The justalilhype! Crew talked to Jonathan Tang of Who U With about his brand. While juggling between his personal life and school, he is determined to dedicate his time on his Who U With project. Through the support of his family and friends, he is able to make the first step as a young entrepreneur in creating his own fashion line. Only time will tell if he will be able to employ his idea of fusing Asian and North American street culture fashion through his own curated brand.

Please tell us a bit about yourself to our readers.

I’ve always been interested in art. Since I was a kid growing up, art was really all I wanted to do. Going to school and all that, for me as a person I can learn as much from school and university, compared to real life. It’s more or less doing what you like to do and making a career out of it. That’s kind of the path I follow.

How do you find the balance between school and working on your side projects?

It’s tiring because you have got to balance everything out. The real fun out of it comes out when you put time aside to do what you want to do. Do what you like, instead of focusing 100%. Honestly, I focus 10% on school and 90% on what I like to do.

Describe the brand, how did it originate?

“Who You With” is actually a secondary name. Originally it was 901, but Justin Timberlake took it. He started a tequila brand called 901. Then we started thinking about what’s important to us. We thought about friendship, brotherhood, and stuff like that. We came up with the name “Who You With”, like who you are rolling with; your family.

Who do you consider as part of your crew then?

People that I trust. People that no matter what happens have always been good to me. Friends, family, like you know the closet friends you have. The ones that no matter what happen got your back.

Where does the logo come from?

A lot of people have thought it was a smiley face. It’s really two people but they are connected at the bottom. You got two heads, and the “U” basically connects the two people together.

Describe your first collection. Most of the time, the first drop is the most important because it’s the first impression to the audience.

I don’t consider this the first drop; the actual first drop is the next season coming up.  This collection was more like for branding, just to get the name out there: a lot of logos, a lot of words. Next season there’s hardly any logo in the actual design. It’s all stuff that I thought of and transferred it into graphics.

What’s next season like?

What we try to do is implement different forms of art so that we have street, then we have the high fashion street and blend it all together, so there’s no more fine line between both of them. We took a little BAPE influence, a little Comme des Garcons. Influences that affect what people wear. We don’t have boarders between genres anymore; we can just mold everything into one.

You talked to us about how you have always been into art as a kid, what art are you most connected to?

Propaganda art. I got like a big book of Bansky because it’s very influential. Then you got like a lot of classics, like everyone likes Andy Warhol. A lot of Pop Art I guess.

Money is always hard to start up, how do you cope with financial issues?

It’s so hard. It’s been almost the making of about 3 years. From like 2007 till now, it’s been basically 2 and half years of just trail and error. It takes a lot of time and money and a lot of pre-planning. I am just happy that a lot of my buddies are helping me throughout. One of my partners is in charge of manufacturing so he takes care of that. I would free hand stuff and pass along my free hand drawing and pass it on to my friend that’s in the graphics. Money wise, I never thought that it would actually take that much money, but to actually do the start up, it’s actually really tiring. So unless you are dedicated, and you really think this is something that you want to pursue, then go for it. If it’s just like a side-project that you want to test, then don’t waste your time.

How do you see Who You With, changing or making an impact between the local street culture and the street culture as a whole?

The main thing is, that what I saw about street culture is that it has been dominated by a lot of Japanese brands. Me being Chinese and Canadian at the same time, you look at those two nationalities, there are not that many big brands coming out from China or Vancouver, they don’t have a good hold on to their culture. What I want to do is show people that China and Vancouver can also get into street culture. I mean, we have Wrongwroks, which is really strong, but it’s not that accepted by the United States. It ‘s really popular in Japan, and Taiwan, but I would say they lack in the Western Society, so I want to bring everything together.

What are some of the elements that you can touch up upon?

No matter what, they always influence each other. United States brands always take from the Asian culture, and Asia borrows from North American society at the same time. They always borrow from each other but It’s hard to see them working together just to make one thing. Just because I am born in China, and I came here when I was one, so I adapted to my roots. Learned about Asian culture and adapted to the west.

Speaking of the message behind your brand, a lot of times, its important for the brands to set themselves apart, what’s your vision on this?

I don’t think there’s really anything that sets brands apart, but more or less it’s just what people perceive from your brand. For me, what I want to do, is not just get a few groups to like my brand, I would like to get people in Asia to wear my brand. My biggest influence would have to be Nigo; in all these different cities in the world, they all like his stuff. It’s not defined to one culture or one kind of people. It’s worldwide and everyone likes his stuff.

As you mentioned earlier, financial issues is a huge struggle. As a student, how did you get your finances?

We had a lot of I guess parents that would support us. A lot of parents that actually believe in what we can do. Especially at this age, dropping so much money is not easy unless you are born rich. Having a lot of support not just from your friends, but from your guardians really helps it out.

Also moving forward, it’s going to be very difficult to maintain that type of finances, when do you think you will start sustaining the budget?

I want to keep the company more personal, so I rather just take the money from sales and put it into what we want to do, instead of getting more on the team. Because when there are more people, it gets messy and then there will be fights within the company.

You started off with hoodies and t-shits, in the future, what other kind of products do you plan to introduce?

Hoodies, t-shirts, stuff like that is really what defines a brand. It’s really hard to get into other industries.  I wouldn’t get into jeans just because it’s very dominant by brands already. In the beginning, Jeans itself, if you want to make them it’s hard to define yourselves as a brand. We would love to have the collaborative with other brands, so I can make different things. If I have the opportunity to do Levis or Nike, I would definitely go on board. There are many things you want to do, but there are always limits to what you can really do.

What is HYPE?

HYPE is the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s good because it always bring the new and freshest items to the culture and people see new things. It’s bad because with all the HYPE, comes a lot of greed at the same time.  A lot of things that becomes really HYPEd up, people don’t learn to share. It’s ugly because along with the greed, people just go crazy over it, with the HYPE, comes haters and people go crazy or over obsessed. People start to hate; the culture itself isn’t that peaceful and unified.