Locals | Garret "GMAN" Louie
Since 1990, Garret Louie aka GMAN has been marketing and promoting some of the best parties in Vancouver. The story all began when he picked up the streetwear clothing line, Freshjive, after a trip to the ASR trade show in LA, and brought it into Canada for the first time. That was the start of the distribution company Timebomb Trading Inc.
During the day, Garret is a director at Timebomb and a co-owner of the sales agency NLA. Along with Garry Bone, and Robert Rizk, he is also part owner of Livestock, the first sneaker-focused boutique in Vancouver. At night, GMAN was a DJ and still is a promotor with partner Robert Rizk, and their company, GMAN and RIZK is responsible for building and defining the hip hop music scene in Vancouver. Throughout that journey, the two would eventually open up their own club – Fortune Sound Club.
Somehow, Garret manages to do it all, and be a husband and father too. After a tour in the massive 50,000-square-foot office and warehouse (can virtually be doubled using vertical space with its lofty ceilings), we sat down with GMAN while he gave us his story of it all, or at least an attempt of it.
RG: How did you get your start into distribution?
GMAN: My father was a sales agent and my parents got divorced when I was very young, he was building his traditional menswear sales agency back then, selling suits and ties. So as a teenager, I didn’t want anything to do with it, I grew up skating and snowboarding and was really into music. When I was 16, he got a surf brand – Jimmy’Z, I was like ‘oh shit, that’s Christian Hasoi’, I kind of got interested in that and later on he picked up Maui and Sons.
At the time, it was like the revival of the surf brands, after Quicksilver and many other brands like that were coming up, so I just took some samples home for him and just started selling them to the high school kids. He cut me a share after that and I was like ‘hey, that’s pretty fresh!’ When I turned 18 my dad said hey, I got a supplier that was coming from out of town but all my sales reps were out of town, can you help deal with these guys – picked them up from the airport, drove them shop to shop, introduced them.
I was super nervous, you know, I just got my car and really didn’t know my way because I grew up in North Van by the end of Deep Cove - I had to write maps, and I was wearing a suit and tie; I had to dress to impress and that was what my dad said to do. I didn’t know at the time but the guys I picked up were Chip and Pepper. They were these super rich and baller twin brothers who had a $10 million brand in Canada back then, which is probably now a $20 million surf brand from Winnipeg (at the time), but they were crazy, the craziest guys to this day that I’ve met and they emulated the surf look.
I ended up touring around with them and we did a show in Vancouver at BC place and we sold a million dollars worth of goods in about two days, and I thought that’s how business was done at the time. I’ve never sold anything before and I was just this kid selling to five shops at one time, getting $20,000 worth of orders each time, the paper was stacked and that’s just how I thought it was. So they were like ‘hey man, you’re awesome! Come to the Toronto and Montreal show with us.’ So I ended up becoming their salesman and selling this brand across Canada. I guess the turning point was when they wanted to break out to the US - I’ve never been outside of Vancouver other than this, it was my first time to Toronto or to Montreal and ended up going to the trade show at ASR back in the days.
RG: How did you bring Freshjive to the industry? What made you decide on the brand?GMAN: I was always into fashion and kept my eye on what was going on. I ended up going to this party when I was about 19, and they had coincidentally brought this street party to this underground party scene from LA to San Diego - people that were there were like the Pharcyde before they were named the Pharcyde, Del the Funkee Homosapien, I didn’t know him at the time but two years later, he blew up, and the Brand New Heavies, like all these ill music. The party was put up by this brand called Freshjive, and Rick from Freshjive was the art director for Delicious Vinyls Records; if you actually look at old Pharcyde covers, House of Pain, or Brand New Heavies, he actually did the logos, he even did some Bad Brains logos back in the days, so he was in the music business.
I was just blown away, not being away that much from Vancouver at the time and there were so much on the scene, you know, DJs and the style of street wear for the first time in 1991. Freshjive is arguably one of the first street wear brands, I was just blown away by the style and ended up going to the tradeshow to see what this brand was all about. I see this rack of clothing, and there was one with James Brown’s head a tie box, then I asked if I could get this t-shirt, and ended up wearing this tee in Canada. 100 people complimented the shirt because everything was very clean at that time and here was this bold graphic that came out. When you walk on the streets, people would be like ‘oh shit, where’d you get that t-shirt?’ So I told my dad, “hey, you’ve basically been repping menswear and all these brands for a long time, I’m thinking about importing this brand into Canada - nobody was doing that at the time but I think I can do this to 10 cool shops in Canada and I would just do it on the floor.” So I called up Rick from Freshjive, they didn’t have a distributor (in Canada).
So from there, at the same time, that’s how the promoting happened for me. Distribution was always the big thing and then I thought since this brand is coming in, I’m going to do the same and I’ll throw a party as well. I worked with a couple of friends, we rented a warehouse in Vancouver, and all I did was just to try to promote the party, it was just a flyer with the logo underneath. At that time it was pretty cool because you’re meeting the DJs and you’re meeting the underground scene of Vancouver, throwing this warehouse party: product placement, people were wearing the stuff. I think about 1,500 people came to this party and it was pretty crazy, it was actually one of the first big underground warehouse party Vancouver had seen, it actually made it to the paper of the Vancouver Sun - they posted the flyer and said a company by the name of Freshjive was responsible for this party, but there were no phone numbers in the books that people could reach, so it was just the flyer and I was like man, this is really good for promotions.
RG: That is wild, did you continue to do this?GMAN: Yeah, I ended up throwing a bunch of warehouse parties throughout the years, so I guess the turning point was a couple years later when the warehouse party scene was getting out of control, you know, drugs started to enter that scene, it started to become raves. When I was doing this, it was before the time of raves and kind of turned into it a little bit, but I also remember the first day that ecstasy even hit Vancouver; I remember the parties going from just people wearing normal clothes to all of a sudden older people started going to it and I was like holy shit, what the hell, people are wearing these crazy costumes!
It kind of evolved into that, from a party in a warehouse to okay, you got to throw it on a pager and underground location till it got really heady - the cops started coming down on these parties really hard, they were looking for drugs, trying to bust parties, like we had some big parties that were busted: 5 to 6,000 people party down in Annacis Island and the cops would seize like $10k worth of alcohol.
So I’m trying to build a distribution while trying to throw these parties and promote. It’s always been a day and night thing for me, and those kind of parties were just too stressful to be dealing with at the end of the day because it was so heady, and kind of played out. More corporate people were trying to throw these parties and I was over it, I was never really into that music so I wasn’t really feeling that vibe.
RG: What was the biggest turning point for you in the party scene?
GMAN: I was offered a club night at a brand new club that was called “the red lounge”, and that was a big turning point because going from a party once in a while was pretty manageable but now you’re given at it weekly. So, after the next week, you have another coming. You have to program it, you got flyers for each one and you’re hitting the pavement trying to pack a club on a Wednesday night with 600 people; it was a pure Hip Hop night. That night was pretty legendary too because it went on for about 6 years and it’s where J Swing, Chimo, Marlon, Flipout ,and Madchild before he was Madchild, and Prev. This was where everyone sort of got their start, there were some pretty crazy battles that was going on and it was just underground for the skate, snowboard and hip hop scene, and it hadn’t really been done so much, so I pretty much have had a club night since that day straight.
RG: And you still have one!
GMAN: *laughter* Yeah so some things haven’t really changed all that much yet…
Stay tuned for Part 2, where GMAN talks GMAN and RIZK, LIVESTOCK, and FORTUNE SOUND CLUB…