Process Of Creation: Brian Chen Of (multee)project
Zayyar: Thanks for taking the time out for this interview Brian! Tell us a bit about your background Brian, and how did the concept of (multee)project come about?
Brian: My name is Brian Chen. I’m the Creative Director of (multee)project, a company that I started with my wife Tina Yang. We are a lifestyle and apparel brand that also functions as a creative agency.
I grew up in Taipei, Taiwan. Academics was never my strong suit, but I was accepted into an elite art high school where I majored in Fine Arts, so I have been involved with art and design since I was a teenager.
The concept of (multee)project came about in 2009. At the time I was the Art Director at my previous streetwear brand, but was feeling unhappy and uninspired as my personal life and style was changing. The following year, Tina and I got married and I left my company. One night over a cup of coffee, Tina suggested we start our own brand together, create things we personally connect with, design apparel that I wanted to wear, do it our way. With her background in both graphic design and apparel manufacturing and my own art background and experience in the industry, we knew how well we complemented each other. It all happened organically and everything started from that casual conversation over a cup of coffee.
Zayyar: Sounds like a very organic process, tell us where did the name (multee)project come from? It’s very unique and I’m sure there’s a story behind it.
Brian: While we were brainstorming on a name, the guidelines we set for ourselves were simple, the name must embody our mutual love for design, art and well made products. We started with the word “project” because we liked the idea of experimenting and working on projects together. We both agreed that we wanted the company to encompass many of our passions and not be boxed into only designing apparel, that we would work on multiple projects, so we shortened the word “multiple” then combined it with project and we got our brand’s name.
Zayyar: How did you first become interested in fashion?
Brian: Growing up in the 90’s in Taiwan, before the internet and social media existed, I got my fashion influence from watching NBA and following hip-hop music/culture and from magazines. When I would visit my Japanese grandma, I would read my older cousins’ Japanese fashion magazines, specifically Mens Non-No and Boon. That’s when I really started getting into sneakers, seeing all the limited Nike colourways that were only available in Japan.
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Zayyar: While growing up through the 90’s were you ever interested in business, entrepreneurship or starting your own brand?
Brian: No, not at all. I had never imagined I would work in any fashion related businesses, let alone start my own company. Life is definitely not what you expect it to be sometimes.
Zayyar: So from putting the idea into execution what were some of the first steps you took into action to create the brand?
Brian: Once we decided on the name, I started designing our logo and then the (x) icon (a play on then “multiple” sign) that we use today. I wanted to make sure the logo was not too flashy or trendy. It needed to represent our minimal aesthetic and would translate well onto all of our products as well.
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Zayyar: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when launching (multee)project?
Brian: Finding good local factories that could manufacture quality apparel up to our standards and were also willing to work with us on our complex projects has been one of our biggest challenges for us along the way. Working with a local factory is important to us, mostly because I am very involved in the building process and scrutinise over all details so it helps to be able to stop by the factory weekly and talk to them and see the progress in person. The cut & sew pieces in our apparel collection all have many small details that most factories don’t particularly like to do. They typically think it’s too complex, unnecessary and time consuming and oftentimes in attempt to cut costs as well as production time, they will suggest a shortcut to achieve the look but then lose the functionality, which goes against our core design philosophy.
Also, many times in the early meetings with other factories, they will tell you they can make your design, but when the samples come back, it’s not up to our standards, so we have to continue our search and start the entire process all over again. It’s hard to even put a number to the amount of fabric and materials we’ve sampled and prototypes we’ve turned down just to get to where we are currently. And since most people in manufacturing don’t really promote themselves online, but rather still rely on word of mouth for business, it’s definitely been a challenging and long journey of trial and error (and probably some luck too) to finally find the factory we’ve built a relationship with now.
Zayyar: What’s your personal creative approach when it comes to designing pieces? Where do you dig for references and inspirations?
Brian: It always starts with a personal connection to a certain product or idea. We ask ourselves what do we want or need or what do we wish existed and how can we make it better? I put those ideas to paper and start designing it with my own personal touches, then research methods and vendors to figure out how it can be manufactured. It might be my art school background, but I still embody the DIY mentality and always like to think about how I can improve on existing products and make them better or more functional. You can often hear us saying in the studio, “If something you want doesn’t exist, do it yourself!”
I read a lot of magazines and books everyday, and find inspiration from our personal experiences and daily lives. Many of our products are also heavily inspired from our own culture and background, places Tina and I have lived, traditions that have been passed on to us from our families, and from all of our travels and visiting different countries.
Zayyar: What were some of the magazines and books you were reading growing up? And what do you read today for inspiration?
Brian: Mens Non-No, Boon and Popeye magazines from Japan. I also used to collect Milk magazine from Hong Kong when I was younger. They came out weekly, which I’ve always found really impressive considering the amount of work that goes into creating a weekly magazine. These days I’m really into Casa Brutus, a interior magazine from Japan and Magazine B from Korea. The books that I currently read are not so much for creative inspiration, but rather to help with switching off my mind from work or from other daily stresses. So it’s usually from all types of genres, but some books that I’ve read and enjoyed the past couple months are: “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson, “Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike” by Phil Knight, “Chasing Cool” by Noah Kerner & Gene Pressman, “No Logo” by Naomi Klein.
Zayyar: (multee)project keeps away from the ‘hype’ side of the streetwear industry and you’re building an idea around staples and utility. Why is this important to you personally and what is the message you’re trying to spread with this?
Brian: My wife always jokingly laughs at me, saying that I really only need 5 pieces of clothing, even though I actually have quite a bit of a collection in my closet. I’ve always liked the minimalistic approach of wearing the same staples over and over again until I’m ready to switch it up. I think of it as my own daily uniform. It’s been our mentality since our first apparel collection: to create timeless and functional pieces that can be worn repeatedly, washed thousands of times and still be a staple piece years later. Every piece in our apparel collections can be worn together and that’s something that’s important to us.
Zayyar: What’s your personal favourite piece you’ve developed so far?
Brian: When I’m working on a project, I tend to put everything into that project and it becomes my favourite for that time. So I could say that every product is my favourite at some point since I’m so personally connected and it embodies a specific period of my life. But I think if I have to choose one, the Type-1 Carabiner will probably always be the most meaningful since it was what started it all.
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I designed the Type-1 Carabiner after I finished designing our first apparel collection. I had some free time while we were waiting on production and on a visit to the factory one of my generic carabiners that I used as a keychain broke. It was frustrating because I used to have to change up my carabiner every 4-5 months due to the broken spring. By changing the spring system, the Type-1 Carabiner was my solution to fix that problem. I was nervous because it was my first attempt at designing brand new hardware from start to finish with the goal of producing a product that provided both form and function. Ultimately it gave me the confidence to trust my own guts when I design for (multee)project. A few years later, we improved the design with our Type-2 Carabiner by making it more compact, a lot lighter and more durable for everyday use. It’s what I carry every day and is still one of our best sellers in our collection today.
Zayyar: Rewind to starting from scratch - what's some advice you'd tell young Brian before he embarks on the creative journey?
Brian: I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. So I don’t think there’s much advice I would really give to my younger self, he probably wouldn’t listen to me anyway. But one thing I would tell him is to believe in your own instincts and to trust your gut. The best business and life decisions that I’ve made have all come from that. Don’t dwell in self doubt. This is something that has challenged me a lot over the years and I still work on even now.
Zayyar: What are some of your goals for the brand moving into 2019?
Brian: We will release “The DIY Kit” soon. It’s a stationery kit that basically has all the tools that I use every day in my studio, things like a sticky pad to write down new ideas or daily tasks, boxcutter for opening packages and a measuring tape for reviewing product samples.
We also have a new collection ready to drop within the next couple months, which includes the new custom Vans Slip-On. Planning on a (multee)project temporary store to go along the new collection as well. Lastly, we have been developing a kids line for awhile under the (multee)project umbrella called “mini multee” that will be revealed soon. It will be a busy but exciting year for us.
Interview: Zayyar Win Thein
Photography: Ja Tecson