S&S: Well, I'm curious, because I've seen some of your sketches that you've done with your designs. Are you all self-taught with your sketches?
CL: I'm not good at anything. I just know a tiny little bit about a lot of stuff. So my doodles eventually make it on Hawaiian shirts and stuff like that. But you can see it, they always kind of look like a child did those drawings because I don't know what I'm doing. But I hate copying, cutting and pasting. So all our tags are kind of hand drawn. And I did lift a few things from old Sears and Roebuck catalogs from the '30s and '40s. But everything we do, usually all the labels, for instance, are always hand drawn.
S&S: You’ve had this long-standing relationship with Sugar Cane Denim and Toyo Enterprise. How did that come about?
CL: When I was on my own at the store, before I started making clothing, I would always mess around with military surplus, you know like dyeing stuff or cutting the sleeves and making bags out of old tents and this and that. I would always alter things. It was not exactly designing, but it was just like reconstructing clothing. And there was a big boom in Japan at the time for what in the US they call “remake.”
And then I got contacted by the Sugar Cane people from Toyo Enterprise. Three of them came to the store, and I knew of the brand because I had worn Sugar Cane Jeans when I was in Japan, and they asked me to design a pair of jeans. And I said, "Of course," but of course I had no idea how to do that. I knew what old jeans looked like from different brands and this and that, but as far as making one from scratch, I didn’t know anything. They gave me a deadline.
Two weeks before the deadline I was like, "Oh-oh." So I deconstructed a bunch of jeans. Actually it was a pair of naval dungarees originally. And again, I knew how to sew, I just didn't know anything about patterns or how to make garments. Also, I did not want them to be stamped as a fashion piece. So the only justification that I could come up with was they had to look like it could have existed. So I came up with this little somewhat historical scenario with the jeans. It was a merchant marine guy who had to scramble and make a pair of work pants for himself. And so I kind of wrote up that little story and the resulting jeans were complete Frankenstein. When I submitted that to the Toyo people, they were like, "Wow, that's kind of interesting. Let's see." They definitely were not a hit but some people liked them.