April 3, 2009
By Moustapha Camara
We interview Ray Masaki of the clothing line, Lowdtown Friends & Freaks.
TM: How long have you been in the t-shirt industry? What have you learned?
RM: For my age (currently 18, 19 on April 23rd) I like to think of myself as someone who has a bit of experience in the t-shirt industry. Granted, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. Before I had Lowdtown, I started with a company called RAWR! Clothing. At the time I started I was only 16 and still in highschool, so I had no idea how to run a business, I just wanted to get my designs on t-shirts.
Of course, that probably wasn’t the right attitude when running a business, but it taught me a lot. I learned to always research what you want to do, before you do it. Or, if you do what you wanted to do and mess up, pick yourself up, and learn from your mistake. Since starting Lowdtown Friends & Freaks, I’ve used a lot of the fuel that was taken from RAWR! and have followed through really well with what I want to do. I feel that I’ve come a long way since RAWR! and I’m proud of that.
TM: How do you go about balancing school work and being a professional t-shirt designer?
RM: Honestly, it’s extremely difficult. There are lot of times, when I think to myself “hmm… this would all be so much easier if I didn’t have that school thing in the way.” But of course, at the end of the day, I want to get myself a degree and become a fancy shmancy designer. Balancing both school work and design work, I find, gives me little time to play. I also wish I could sometimes focus on one more than the other, but I guess I just have to stay disciplined. It’s tough doing both, but I have to do it.
TM: What advantages do you have in this industry as a teenage artist?
RM: Not so much as a teenage artist, but being a college student in New York City gives me a lot advantages. Not only do I have this amazing city as inspiration, but I also have the chance to get many opinions from fellow peers that all fit into my target demographic for Lowdtown. For a lot of my designs, I collaborate with other designers, and sometimes I even work with students who’s work I like. It’s really fun being able to sit down next to the person and think of a crazy idea that we can both work on and truly have a collaboration.
TM: I see you do illustration work as well. Out of all of your illustrations, which one is your favorite?
RM: Yea, illustration is awesome. I love sketching and then later putting my sketches into the computer and coming up with a finished digital illustration. If you haven’t noticed, I have a weird obsession where I give all my characters really ridiculous eyebrows, so I really enjoy those illustrations. I’m not sure if it’s my favorite, but one illustration that I did recently and mocked up on a shirt for fun is my “I’m the Boss” design. I just like the pose and the texture on his sweater. It’s not overly complicated, and it’s fun to look at.
TM: Who is that guy on the Townster shirt?
RM: Well, the theme behind Lowdtown Friends & Freaks is that everything and everyone that appears on the t-shirts are all part of this Lowdtown pseudo-verse. Most of my designs have a bunch of crazy characters and stuff, but Townster is a little different. He is just an ordinarily hip Lowdtown townster. So this is the kind of normal person you might see walking around in Lowdtown, but the rest of the things you might see are probably crazy monsters and stuff.
TM: What’s the idea behind the soda can with a mouth on the LTFF Logo tee?
RM: Mouthcan was the first character I came up with when I was thinking about Lowdtown. Before I actually came up with the name Lowdtown Friends & Freaks, I just knew that I wanted to incorporate Mouthcan somehow. At one point, I was even considering naming my clothing company Mouthcan, but it didn’t sound catchy enough. Eventually, Mouthcan just became the town mascot of Lowdtown, as well as the logo for the company. I wish I could give you some crazy back-story behind Mouthcan where I used to have a crazy obsession of taking a silver sharpie and drawing mouths on cans, but that’s not true. It just started as a little doodle of a can with crazy swirls flying out of it, and I decided to give it a mouth. That’s where it came from.
TM: How do you go about marketing your brand and your services?
RM: Probably my best marketing so far has been the Lowdtown Blog. I’ve only been blogging for around 2 months, but it has gotten me a pretty substantial amount of viewers. The biggest catalyst I’d say are the articles about how I started my brand and my experiences. I feel like there are a lot of people who want to start a clothing company but don’t know how, so my hopes were that a lot of people would come to the blog looking for answers, and I hope I sort of achieved that. Some of the articles even got Stumble-Upon’d (it’s kind of a stretch as a verb) and it gave my site a ridiculous amount of hits in the span of a few days. It was crazy!
TM: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
RM: In a store! Yea, dream big! No, I’m just kidding, well not really. I probably wouldn’t see myself in a retail store in 5 years, but that’s ideally what I want to do. I’m currently a freshman in college, so my hopes are that by the end of senior year, I might have enough capital to actually think about brick and mortar. Hopefully I get a large enough fanbase to build Lowdtown from the bottom up, but these are mostly just dreams. Maybe in 10 years, haha.