Interview & Photos by Gabby Cabacab
Launched in Summer 2017 by Marjoan Osdon and Justin Noll, Sukeban NYC is a brand new, streetwear clothing line with it’s own, unique twist - They use their products to showcase the talent of multiple artists. On limited edition pieces, Sukeban NYC’s goal is to show the world what different artists believe a strong, empowered woman looks like in their own artistic interpretation. At their first pop-up shop in Montclair, NJ, Sunlight Magazine sat down with the co-creators and talked about inspiration, showcasing artists, and the journey of launching a new brand from the ground up.
Let’s start off with quick introductions! Who are you and what do you each do for the brand?
Justin: I’m Justin, and this is Marjoan and we are the creators of Sukeban NYC. I’m the production manager, and I handle the back end stuff. Marjoan is basically the inspiration behind the brand, and ultimately the real creator of this.
Marjoan: I also do social media and a lot of PR!
So, what’s the story behind why you started Sukeban NYC?
Marjoan: *They laugh* Well, this is what happens when somebody breaks up with you and you need something to do. Well actually, I got broken up with and he kinda set up the inspiration for it because he said he wanted me to be the baddest bitch. So I was like, “Huh...bad bitch. I’m going to make a brand that caters to strong women.”
Justin: Things were pretty rough. We were talking about getting your life together, like that was the whole theme of the break up if that’s what you want to call it. Marjoan wasn’t in the best place and randomly in the middle of a conversation she was like, “I don’t know, maybe I can set up that brand I was thinking of” and I was like, “Oh shit, this is it”. This is what we can use to distract her from the shitty parts and start working on yourself. You know, going on that whole post-breakup, self-improvement journey and I kind of jumped on it. I was like “Yeah, I’ll help you out for pre-production stuff to get you running” and I didn’t expect to be this involved.
What does Sukeban mean and why did you choose that name specifically out of all words and languages?
Marjoan: Sukeban is Japanese for “Boss Girl”. Sukebans, in the media, are portrayed as badass school girls.
Justin: Yeah, the original plan for the brand was to be called “Girl Boss”, but turns out the words “girl boss” were patented so not to get sued to oblivion, we chose something else. Marjoan found Sukeban and it worked wonderfully and we fell in love with it pretty quickly.
How do you describe the style of your brand?
Marjoan: It’s more street-style and very Japanese inspired. We usually ask artists or designers to portray what they think a strong woman would be.
So, you guys feature a lot of different artists in your clothing, why did you choose to feature other artists’ and not your own?
Justin: Well I don’t draw, and that’s the exact problem *laughs*. So, I like the idea of original art and I really like talking to artists. It’s an industry I could never break into since I can’t draw. My mother was an artist and I always admired people who could draw comics, anime, manga; It’s a huge inspiration to me. I just like the idea of seeing what other people think something is. So, Sukeban, was just as much a brand as I want it to also be kind of like an open ended question. I wanted to see what they thought what an empowered woman looked like. These are people from all sorts of places. That’s originally where we came from, and I just wanted to find a lot of artists.
Where and how do you find these artists?
Justin: So there’s this guy Ron Wimberly, he does awesome street art and if you’ve ever seen the comic Prince Of Cats you should totally check it out. I wanted him to draw a design for a shirt for me, and he was like, “Yeah, I’m busy for the next three years. You need to find some other people”. So, he introduced us to a friend of his and we got a design from him. Then I just started to go on Instagram looking for artists, so I spend about 2 hours a day just frantically searching for anything that looks cool and if I can get in touch with them.
Is there a specific art style that you look for or what you ask from the artists?
Justin: No not really, we really want their style. It’s up to their interpretation. It’s really just trying to give the artists as little direction as possible, we just come up with the concept and see where they go with it.
And you want to showcase their art?
Justin: Yeah exactly! It’s not, “Oh, this is a Sukeban shirt that happens to be designed by this artist”. It’s more like, “This is an artist’s project that Sukeban happens to facilitate”.
What’s the creative process like in regards to finding art, the kind of material you choose your shirts to be on, and printing the shirts?
Marjoan: Well, as Justin said, we look for artists online and we go to comic and anime conventions to look for artists and see who can be potential. It’s usually Justin who reaches out to them since he’s in charge of production.
Justin: It starts with me getting unreasonably excited and dropping whatever I’m doing to show Marjoan. But, that’s the first part. Then it turns to asking Marjoan what’s feasible or sellable, what’s something that could work since I can’t say that I have a good idea of what other people like for the most part. Marjoan usually brings me back down and we have a discussion as to what’s pertinent. Then we go to the choice of fabric, we usually do math and look at what it’s going to cost to make the shirts, the time frame we have, and the kind of feel we want. For our first shirts, we went for the jersey style just because production on the original design was going to cost too much. So we went for a simple design, and went for the jersey style to make something more of it and that was a pretty successful piece. Then there’s the design for the back which is a lot graphic design, our ideas go back and forth until it’s finally done. We bring it to the printer and it’s just a matter of waiting from there.
Do you start off with small batches first?
Justin: Unfortunately we don’t have that option. Our current printer just does one and done, so it wouldn’t make sense for us to start off with small batches, especially when we sell a limited set amount of 100 to 150 pieces.
What was your inspiration of putting a different number on the back of the shirt that goes to each customer?
Marjoan: We were trying to make it exclusive. Like how when Supreme drops their limited edition pieces, we wanted to make things limited edition. So then Justin thought of special numbering on the back of each shirt.
Justin: Kind of like an artist proof.
Marjoan: So each shirt is a certain number out of 100.
Justin: The reason it really came about was because early on in production, we kind of ran into a wall. The factory we originally worked with needed a huge minimum order quantity per color, and we had 8, so we were going to bankrupt ourselves to make these first shirts. We had to scale everything down from there and think about “What makes these special?”. That’s when we were thinking that we can number everything because nobody does it and it’s definitely something that we can figure out a way to do. We figured that would be our edge. Everybody has something that makes them anything, and I wasn’t sure we could have just survived as another graphic tee company. I wanted something that made people feel like they were getting something special.
Marjoan, I know you went to school for fashion. How has that education helped you in regards to launching the brand?
Marjoan: It helped me A LOT. I did fashion marketing, so it really helps me bring this one down from his cloud. You have to do a lot of research for what’s selling on the market. You have to do a lot of fashion forecasting to see what everyone else is doing. From doing fashion, sometimes you forget a lot of things, but once you start to do your own project like starting your own brand, everything you learned in school starts coming back to you. It’s definitely worth it if you want to start your own business or if you want to be an entrepreneur because that’s how they taught us in school.
What’s your favorite and least favorite part about launching your own brand?
Justin: That’s tough. There’s a lot of growing pains in it. It starts off with everything being hyper-motivated and idyllic. The enthusiasm at first was huge, we were very excited to create and make something of our own. Then we got a little bogged down towards the middle of it because there’s a dropoff in immediate results. After the prototype was made, we had to negotiate with the factory for a month which didn’t work out. Then we had to start looking into alternate means of production which took a while, and finally coming up with the money to do it all. So, moving at the pace we were originally moving, I thought it was going to take us less than a month to launch, but it took us about 4 months to launch.
Marjoan: All of the budgeting, and how to figure everything out in regards to production of our product.
Justin: Another thing is, neither of us were particularly versed in production. We hit the ground running with this and we learned everything as we went. We had a good mentor, but there were certain things he kind of left for us. So this was a huge learning curve.
What advice do you have for people who want to try to launch their own kind of brand like you guys are doing right now?
Justin: It’s funny, a few weeks after production started, I met with an artist and he was talking to me about another project he was working on and he was like, “The first thing you want to do is see if anybody wants it. It doesn’t make sense to create something if you’re the only one who cares about it”. I thought it was really weird for an artist to not say, “Go out and create” because it just seems counterintuitive to what most artists feel. I spent a few months ruminating on that as we were going through it, and it really made me see. Create something you really want to create, but make sure it’s something that you know other people will want. Do your research, because sure, you could spend all this time and effort on your passion project, but it’s hard to come to terms with if it doesn’t succeed. There’s a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of freak outs over “Will it do well?”. Absolutely, go do it, stay focused, and make sure that you don’t lose track of what you want it to be.
Marjoan: I agree. It’s going to be hard, but you really have to do your research. If you ever do come up with a bump in the road, don’t let it get to you. You have to keep going because in the end it’s going to be worth it.
What experience do you want people to have when they buy and represent your brand?
Justin: With me, I wanted to create something where people can see it and be like “That is a cool woman on that shirt”. You don’t see it enough. You see old street wear shirts where the women were sexualized, the art was cool but it wasn’t saying anything particularly new. I wanted to make something that people thought, “Shoot, nobody else has done this and I don’t get why”.
Marjoan: I basically want people to feel like they are wearing awesome shirts with strong women on it. I hope that the girls who buy these shirts feel empowered and inspired from the art. I just want everyone to feel good, be happy, and strong.
Where do you see Sukeban going in the future?
Justin: I want to see it get huge. I’d like to see it turn into something where rather than us reaching out and introducing ourselves to our heroes and hoping to God that they’re interested in it, our heroes are like “Wow, this is cool. I want to be a part of it”. I want artists to think about it and say, “This is something I support and something I would love to be a part of”.
Marjoan: I can see this going somewhere. For me, as a fashion marketing person, I would love to have a small store for this. I don’t know where, and that’s far from now since we’re just starting, but I just want it to be successful. I want to be a good role model for this brand and try to inspire other girls to be their own leader.
Any parting words?
Justin: There’s something really wild about starting and creating something with somebody that you know this well and literally learning everything about them inside out. Even parts you never thought you’d see or learn about after being friends for so long. Despite all these differences and bumps in the road, you still plow through it and put out something with nothing but the best intentions. There were times we got mad and sometimes we got frustrated and wanted to drop it, but we didn’t. It only meant good things in the end.
Marjoan: That’s why I say it’s worth it.