You guys know me, so you know I love t-shirts, travel, and food. So in this interview you can expect me to ask Eric Terry, the man behind Linty Fresh, about his clothing company, what life is like in China now that he has lived there for almost a year (with a bit of a break in the middle), and what weird stuff he’s eaten. I don’t really feel like Eric or his company need an introduction since they’re such a regular feature on HYA, putting out lots of great designs, and being something of an inspiration for the tee community, so we might as well get straight into it.
People that read HYA are well aware that I’m a bit obsessed with food, and I’m usually willing to give anything a go, has moving to China broadened your culinary horizons, and do you now find yourself regularly eating things that you wouldn’t have gone near when you were back in the US?
To be honest, there’s only been a few times that I really pushed myself when it came to eating. Most of the time it looks, smells, and sounds pretty delicious. And is. But if I had to pick something, it’d be the time I was served sea snails [pictured] by a friend of a friend. It would’ve been too impolite to eat them since our host had gone way out of his way to prepare them for us, but it was rough. You had to actually jab the fleshy snail part with a toothpick and then unwind the snail from its shell. It made this sickening slurpy sound and was gooey and slimy and… oh man. It was gross. I blogged it here.
What’s the thing you miss most about living in the US, and do you imagine yourself moving back and forth between the US and China when you’ve got Linty Fresh China up and running smoothly?
I really don’t have any desire to move back to the states right now. I’m enjoying life here immensely. My goal in moving here really wasn’t to just start up Linty Fresh and leave. That was sort of a side thing that presented itself while I was here last year. So no, I hope this is my home for awhile. Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything I don’t miss about living stateside. I think the biggest thing I miss is the variety of the states. We can get just about anything, in any variety, in any flavor, in any color. And because of all the cultures, there’s no end to the types of cuisine around. We don’t really have that here.
Are you worried that Linty Fresh US will suffer because of the amount of time that you’re putting into setting up the Chinese side of the business, you’ve already had to not release a new tee for a few months?
Yeah, that’s definitely something I think about. There are other factors involved too though. I could be wrong, but I think a lot of guys in my industry have seen sales thinning out a bit since the economy took a hit over a year ago. It’s slowly coming back, but not to where it was a couple years back.
Your “Life In The Middle” video travelogue series is going pretty well, but I get the feeling that only tee people are seeing it, have you tried promoting the episodes to a wider audience? Or is it not something that you don’t want to take up more of your time since you’re there to run a business, rather than make videos?
Life in the Middle! I need to do a new episode, it’s been awhile. You know, I’ve been letting it spead sort of virally instead of pursuing an audience for it. When I first did it, my idea was to just show friends and family back home what life is like here. I wasn’t aiming to do anything bigger than that. It’s a little surprising that it’s been so well recieved actually. I’ve gotten a lot of emails about it from people that have really been impacted by it in some way. Not just “oh hey, this was a cool episode”, but much deeper sentiments. Which is cool, since that’s how I’ve been affected by my experiences too. It’s shaped my thinking a lot and I’ve learned a ton about who I am, and how I’ve been molded (for better and for worse) by my American background. I’m glad that the videos are able to convey that. The world is a big place and has so much to offer if we’re willing to explore it a bit. I hope the series has inspired folks to take that step.
I’m under the impression that the export business (the business cards, coats, perhaps other items in the future) wasn’t part of your original plan, how is that going, and are your tempted to make it more of a permanent part of the Linty Fresh empire as there seems to be quite a lot of interest in it?
The export thing is something I’m trying to scale back on. I learned a lot from it, but it takes a lot of time and energy (remember, I have to use the public transit here, so I can’t just drive here or there). The other headache has been shipping. When I first started exporting I was using China Postal. It’s the equivalent of USPS and I assumed it’d be a quick, reliable service. But it’s the opposite, and I’ve had more than a few nightmare experiences because of their disorganization. I’ve since started using another expedited service, but it’s expensive. So in the end, I’d like to just stick to the tees!
What’s the biggest difference between the US and China that you find on a daily basis when you’re trying to get business done?
China is overstaffed. Every store, business, and shopping mall has WAY too many employees. They are cheap to hire and a lot of people need work, so where one person could handle the task, they hire 5. As a result, no one really knows what’s going on. They each handle just one tiny aspect of the job and don’t understand how the rest of it works. When I go shopping, I no longer ask anyone where anything is, because they won’t know. They’ll just motion in a general area and say “It’s somewhere over there I think”. So you really have to take on tasks yourself and get to know every system yourself, because they simply aren’t trained for it. It takes a lot of time and patience. I miss being in the states and talking to employees that really knew the ins and outs of their work. From what I’ve seen, that doesn’t exist here.
A lot of people cite you and Linty Fresh as being an inspiration for their business, that’s pretty crazy considering you’re a young guy, why do you think people identify with Linty Fresh so much?
I think a lot of people assume Linty Fresh is bigger/more successful than it is. Despite having videos and pictures online that show the company for what it is, I think people visit the site or the blog and imagine it to be some big operation. I’m guessing this is because I’ve always put forth an effort to keep everything looking well-polished and professional. It’s like that saying “Dress for the job you WANT to have.” I think there’s truth in that. And I think it inspires people.
You don’t do much design work for other brands, keeping your style exclusive to Linty Fresh is probably a smart move brand wise, but are there any artists or brands that you’d love to work with?
A few years ago, before I launched Linty Fresh, I used to do a lot of designs for parkour teams and clubs. I used to practice the sport myself, so it was something I loved designing for and allowed me a lot of freedom. I’d love to get back into that if the opportunity presented itself.
Linty Fresh Vinyl Toys, how has this not happened yet?
Tracking down a factory that will work with low minimums! One day, maybe.
No one gets everything right first time, what was your biggest error when you were starting out with Linty Fresh?
Lack of research. A lot of times I’d go with the first factory, producer, or printer, and would end up paying too much money for a sub-par product. Eventually I learned to really scour the internet (and phone book!) for the best deal and the best match for my company. It’s a lot of work to track down the right fit, but it’s so worth it.
I think that the only time I ever hear Chinese music is when I’m in a restaurant, am I missing out on a world of cool Chinese music that wouldn’t double up as elevator muzak?
No. I hope I don’t offend anyone here, but I really can’t get into Chinese music. And I’m not talking about cultural, classic Chinese music. That’s ok (though I still wouldn’t put it on my ipod). But the music you just hear when you’re out and about. It’s awful. Basically just Chinese spawns of mid 90’s Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. And really, really awful techno. I’ve been on a quest to find good underground Chinese music (I hear there are great rock bands in Beijing), but so far I’ve had limited success.
How come you write a poem to go with each design? Do you make a design then put a poem with it or do the two evolve together during the design process?
The two usually grow together. I find that having some sort of background story helps me overcome getting stuck in the design process. And I’ve always liked telling stories. I think that’s actually at the root of most of my projects – Linty Fresh, Life in the Middle, songs that I write, drawings and paintings. They’re all ways to tell stories, and I enjoy that experience.
Wasn’t that fun! I think we all learned something, thanks to Eric for taking the time to answer my questions and give us some insight into Linty life. I’ve got a couple more interviews lined up with more in the pipeline because I’m really enjoying them and I hope you are too. I’m trying to offer something a little different from the standard interview, simply by asking the questions I want to hear the answers to, because if I don’t find it interesting, what’s the point? Up next week is Jake Nickell, founder of Threadless, so I’m sure you’ll want to check that out.