We at Roden Gray are excited to be the first store to carry the LA based brand Goodfight, starting with their Spring 2018 collection titled “Sleep Dreams and Exploration”. While Goodfight may be best described as a small fish in a big pond, their progressive approach to fashion paired with their diverse backgrounds ensures that they grab one’s attention. As part of this first collection, we asked if it would be possible to talk with the team at Goodfight and explore the brand more comprehensively. Done in two parts, the conversations touch on a variety of subjects, including workplace experience, personal values, and inspirations in and outside of fashion.
The first part was done in person with Caleb Lin (Director) and Calvin Nguyen (Designer). The pair worked at Opening Ceremony in LA for a stint, which is where they met and became friends. Aside from that, the two diverge greatly in regards to their personal and professional experience, yet are united on key aspects of those two worlds. Calvin was formally trained in design and interned at various brands in LA, while Caleb rose through the ranks in retail, eventually becoming head buyer and vice president at American Rag.
Accompanying the interview are some exclusive, never before shown polaroid stills from "Sleep Dreams" and "Exploration" selects by the talented Ellen Fedors, courtesy of our friends at Goodfight, here we go!
RG – Let’s start with a relatively straightforward question to get the ball rolling, why choose the name “Goodfight”?
Caleb - The name came from a small design company I started with my friends Makoto and Jane in college (Mako was actually featured in the first zine). We started the brand as individuals who are passionate about true art and the power of human value. Winning, to us, isn’t winning unless you do it the right way. That’s what the name means to us as a brand, and hopefully it comes across in the product we create and the relationships we build.
RG - Were there any other names that came up as the brand started? Or were you set on Goodfight?
Calvin - As one word, “Goodfight” (our name is not “Good Fight” or “The Goodfight”) sounds and feels like something strange yet familiar, and so I kept it in mind until the opportunity presented itself. I actually thought the name would take some convincing with our other members, but everyone immediately liked it. There’s a lot of meaning embedded in the reference, but it’s playful at the same time.
RG - Strange yet familiar captures the ethos of the brand well. I also enjoy that you’re taking the time to consider what the brand may look like years down the line, instead of being completely focused on the present…
Caleb - Calvin and I spend the most time together out of the four of us, probably because we’re always bugging one another about something (laughs). One of the major topics of conversation for us is the end, not universally but personally.
Calvin - To speak on that, usually the conversation revolves around achieving a particular goal, or realizing a dream, by the end of the road. I’d like to leave something behind that is not only personally meaningful, but also functions as a sort of legacy that continues when we’re no longer present. In essence, I would like to create something real and ensure that others are also capable of doing that in the future. We always say if Goodfight ends with us, then we’ve failed.
RG - So maybe it’s the idea of personally creating something tangible that can be experienced, instead of spending one’s time working for a corporation that may not have that same intent…
Caleb - Yeah actually it’s funny because when my wife and I were starting the brand, I asked her ‘What would success look like to you in 5 years?’. And she’s a very real world, practical person, at least compared to Calvin and myself, so I was expecting the classic ‘X amount of dollars, X amount of stockists…’ response. Her real response was ‘If in ten years someone that worked for us leaves us, and goes on to do something bigger and better and carries on our values and DNA, then that is success’. Calvin has the same mentality, and is focused on who is going to carry on our values and how they are going to do it almost as much as how we are currently doing, without getting too ahead of himself (laughs).
RG - Returning to the products themselves, you mentioned that a lot of the inspiration was from “simple things that were important to us”, can you elaborate on what that might look like or give examples?
Calvin - When we create something, we take our consumer very seriously. We know that when they pick something up, if it’s flawed in any way, they’re going to know. In this sense, at the end of the day we’re trying to create an honest product the right way, in the best way possible, and in order to do so we need to reflect what we truly like. We don’t exactly draw inspiration from fashion forecasts, or what’s trendy on Instagram. Instead, if we’re interested in something specific, like for example jiu jitsu, then we find ways to include some aspect of it in the products we create. To that end, we won’t be making anything that references football (soccer) anytime soon, since none of us play it or have an intimate knowledge of the sport. The biggest questions behind anything that we create are “Do we really like it?” and “Can we push it ourselves?”.
Caleb - It’s something we all talk about. At the end of this past year, we had a company dinner which was centered around talking about what we learned and what we wanted to focus on going into the new year. So for me, a part of those ‘simple things’ would be the work environment and the day to day operations. I like to think that we, as a brand, are just as focused on designing the process as we are the finished product, and so a ‘simple’ work environment that encourages honest communication, discussion and even criticism is integral to that. We want to create a space where there are no stupid questions, no fear, and even though this might be a small part of what the finished product is, it’s a huge aspect of the brand itself.
RG - Goodfight comes across as a brand that is reflexive in a number of ways. Has this been a successful approach? Is it easy to communicate those values to potential consumers?
Caleb - I think something that I’ve been spoiled by, and is lucky for the brand, is to have a team that is very diverse professionally and very close personally. People say it’s dangerous to work with your friends, but maybe that doesn’t apply to us because the four of us all worked with one another professionally before we became friends. Even me and Christina. (laughs) I’m not just working with Calvin and Julia because they’re nice people, but because they’re [expletive] talented and I have immense respect for what they do. I think that this creates a trust, where everyone has clearly defined roles and is able to interact with other members in an open and honest way. Using Calvin as an example, he is very clearly our designer, but he does not design on an island, and we are happy as other members to provide input and respond to his ideas. If he is very set on a particular design, then there’s a discussion about why. (laughs) But ultimately, design-wise, the buck stops with him.
RG - Does that situation come up often?
Calvin - Kinda (laughs). I’ve got a very one track focus, and so can get easily enamored by something and be very interested in it. Sometimes I’ll go to Caleb with a design in mind though, and he’ll say “Ahhhh I don’t know” and just that in itself is enough for me to see the design through a different lens and I’ll say ‘yeah you’re right [fuck] that.’ (Laughs) It’s because of the other people on the team that I discovered half of the brands I now know, found new forms of inspiration, and seen the stuff I’ve seen. So yes I’m the designer and I’ve got the technical qualifications, but a lot of my inspiration comes directly from my team, and it would be ridiculous for me to not want to include them in my design process.
Caleb - I think that there’s another aspect of Calvin’s process that’s special: he is more often inspired by art than he is by what’s going on in fashion right now. So we [the rest of the team] try to give him a little bit of context, but it really keeps us from following specific trends.
RG - Is there anything that you like to design the most? Any stand out pieces that really speak to something for you?
Calvin - I’m not sure if there’s really a standout piece for me. When I think about design I think about buildings, cities, fashion, objects and so forth. With that being said, I was trained for fashion design specifically, and so I feel most comfortable with that, especially because I have the technical aspect available. I also just love fashion, and the entire fashion world, and so it’s easy to get inspired by specific cuts, but I really just love to create things and share them with the team.
Caleb - Luckily we have a great critic on our team in Julia. She comes from a high fashion background, and so she brings a lot of that perspective to the design process, and ensures that we are challenged properly. She’s also good at catching repetitions in design, so she keeps us in check in that way as well.
RG - Calvin, you mentioned you’re more so inspired by art, is there anything that particularly influences you from that world?
Calvin - It’s not really a specific art genre, but a way of looking at and experiencing life. I think the only way to create new things is to see new things. If you see the same stuff everyday, it becomes difficult to create, whereas being open to new experiences allows you to sort of cultivate your mind, and add tools to your creative process. There’s a lot of things that Caleb introduced me to that I now have a deep appreciation for. Once again, Caleb and the rest of the team give me the opportunity to express myself and my emotions without making me feel weird about it, which really adds to the quality of the process.
RG - Shifting the focus towards your editorial work, I’d like to talk about the “Meguro” photo editorial from last year(?). What inspired the decision to focus on that neighbourhood in Tokyo?
Caleb - We are in Japan a lot, whether it’s for design or production or whatever, and Nakameguro is probably my wife’s favourite vacation spot (laughs). Calvin goes to Tokyo like three or four times per year.
Calvin - And I never get bored of it. I can’t see myself saying anytime soon ‘nah, I don’t want to go there’. I love the shopping, the architecture, the people, and so it is a very good city to try to take in new things and new information.
Caleb - Nakameguro is one of our favourite neighbourhoods in Tokyo. It’s a little south of Shibuya, a bit more residential, and it runs along this river that is lined with cherry trees. Some of our favourite stores are there, and yet the neighbourhood feels intimate. It’s a weird mix of approachable yet otherworldly, which really appeals to us. We were lucky to work with Motohiko Hasui, who is based in Meguro, and he happens to be an incredibly talented photographer. So we told him to just shoot whatever he wanted around the area, and he turned our pieces into an aesthetic that we had not seen before, which really spoke to us about how our designs might be interpreted differently based on who sees it. He had a rebellious and super youthful shoot, and we’re very grateful for him to have done such an incredible job.
The second portion is with Christina Chou (CEO) and Julia Chu (Creative Director), the other half of Goodfight. Christina comes from an academic background in economics and political science and is currently an agent at CAA. Julia studied literature and spent time as a stylist in New York and womens buyer. In an unconventional business structure, Christina is more often than not a voice of reason when it comes to important decisions while Julia works closely with Calvin in dictating the creative process of the brand.
RG - Christina, how do you think that Goodfight, as a fashion brand and a creative studio, speaks to larger social issues? Or do you separate the fashion world from political or economic interests altogether?
Christina- Well to begin I’ll start with a little bit about my background. I grew up in a third culture setting, my mom grew up Taiwan but was born in Shanghai, while my father is ethnically Chinese but was born and raised in India. Moreover, all members of our team grew up with a certain understanding that the world we live in is quite big yet it is also quite small. In our separate journeys, we were able to carve out these niche spaces, and the idea of ‘third culture’ is coming from various backgrounds and using that to create a culture of one’s own. I think there is such a unique opportunity in that space to look at expression and creativity, but is also a great way to look at issues like cultural appropriation, globalism and social justice. So these are very close to our hearts, but we recognize that the process can only occur one step at a time. One thing that brought us all together was our fascination with good design, fashion, and messages, but also doing things in a way that is embracing human rights, and treating people fairly. In fashion or entertainment, really any big platform, there are abuses of that, so we decided to start with clothing but our commitment is staying true to that approach as we grow.
RG - Caleb made a great reference to the goal setting process, saying ‘If in ten years someone that worked for us leaves us, and goes on to do something bigger and better and carries on our values and DNA, then that is success’. What are your thoughts behind this and can you elaborate on what that may mean to you?
Christina - I think that it is the key principle in determining a benchmark for success. More often than not at larger companies, success is often defined by power, resources, or position within a corporate hierarchy. While this is a part of any picture, we most certainly do not want it to be our entire idea of success. A lot of this is derived from the principles or values through which the business is ran. So the idea of someone leaving our company, but bringing the ethos that we believe in, centered around being good to one another and the world, and looking at being good systematically, is definitely my benchmark. Now this is my subjective view and there’s objective stuff to worry about, but yeah it’s at the forefront. Another thing I said was that it would be really cool if people met at Goodfight once we’re larger, and developed a solid relationship, and flourished socially as well. This isn’t to say that I want to implement company marriages (laughs), but I work at a 40 year old institution and it’s really interesting and positive to see these ‘power couples’ as they work together.
RG - I think it’s a great way to look at personal versus professional relationships, and see how corporations approach these issues. It seems like a lot of the time now people become friends by virtue of working together, as opposed to the other way around.
Christina - Yeah we all met one another in the context of work, even Caleb and I.
RG - (To Julia) As creative director, do you prefer particular mediums or platforms for showcasing Goodfight?
Julia- In some sense, I would love to be the person who has a very strong opinion on our facebook ads, our Instagram, or how we’re perceived as a brand. And I do to some extent, but anyone around me knows that I am not active on Instagram and I don’t have Facebook (laughs). I am actually quite shy about that stuff, and so I am very happy to trust the team to tell me what they feel is important on those platforms. What I really would like to focus on for Goodfight is not necessarily some rigid marketing structure, but communicating a particular feeling or experience with each season. We all have inspirations for products, and so my goal is to figure out how we can present that inspiration in a way that is beautiful. Regardless of the medium, I am trying to figure out how someone can emotionally connect with our content, our branding, and so on.
RG - Do you see this reflected in your choices for photographers?
Julia- There’s definitely people out there that I would love to work with, and I fully admire from an editorial background. However, what’s important for me now, especially since we are a new, small brand, is reflecting our personal inspirations and beliefs. As a result of this, those we have worked with so far are people that we can personally trust to really value and take care of our brand. Fortunately for us, these people are super talented and inspiring in their own way, and so they’re not only fun to work with but the results are amazing as well. In my personal experience in the fashion industry, there were situations where working with people was disappointing, and so you didn’t really want to spend 10 hours in a room with them with flashing lights, stressed out and hungry.
RG - Could you talk a little bit about your professional background?
Julia- I studied literature and creative writing, but abandoned all that. Then I started interning in every facet of fashion…
RG - Was that by choice?
Julia- I worked for free for a long time (laughs) So I did stints in both the magazine and design worlds; I interned at W and Vogue, at Rodarte, worked at OC (Opening Ceremony) where I met Calvin and Caleb, did press for a private label, and was freelance styling from there. Then I worked as the Womens Buyer for American Rag before joining Goodfight.
RG - What are the most important aspects of Goodfight to you? And from there how would you like to see that communicated by the brand?
Julia - When you work with the right people, whether it’s a store, or photographer or whatever, they’re going to have deep care about you and your brand. I don’t really like to control what other people are doing per se, I think for us if there was a way to display it then I would return to the idea of being beautiful. Coming from a women’s background, the emphasis is not so much on if it’s cool or street, and more so about whether or not it is aspirational. Additionally, something I gravitate towards is the idea of it being a little off. Beautiful but not perfectly so (laughs).
RG - What’s interesting is how all members of the team endeavour to constantly consider their experiences, knowledge, and values as they and the brand evolves.
Julia- What’s fun for us and creates a great dynamic for the brand is that we all come from relatively diverse backgrounds and have individual tastes. I think what this accomplishes creatively is that when we are together during the design process there’s a good friction before we get to a ‘sweet spot’. The sweet spot is completely unpredictable, it’s never what we set out from the beginning for it to be. Like Calvin and I will go back and forth over choosing the name for a colour for 5 minutes. Caleb has to listen to us discuss if something is mint, dusty green, pistachio, just in an attempt to figure out the best way to capture how we feel about the colour. On a larger scale, Calvin might come up with an idea that makes me think about a women’s collection, Christina to think of a movie, and Caleb to think of a song or a piece of art. From there, those things and views collide in a way that is sometimes kind of awkward, but the outcome makes a lot of sense to us.
RG - It’s like grounded theory in academia but reapplied to the corporate world.
Christina- Yeah to kind of piggyback off that, one of our core values is the idea of communicating and sharing. There are all sorts of intersections and points within fashion or art or tech and so on that we all like or are involved in, and we’re open to sharing our opinions and experiences with each other. It can range from Brazilian jiu jitsu to specific movies to certain archetypes of people to current events, what matters is that we’re always chatting about it and invariably it becomes part of the DNA in the collections.
RG - Speaking on the note of individual inspirations, is there anything in particular you look to for inspiration and search out or does it comes from experience?
Christina- I think a lot of it is having come from a background where I just had so many different things going on. I love to challenge myself with new things, and I love to dive into something that I don’t know that much about. Like BJJ is a very uncomfortable sport, but I think once you reach a specific level of feeling uncomfortable there’s this great feeling of zen or achievement. It’s the same with travel and experiencing new countries, in that it is completely foreign but then there is this sort of wonderful moment when you say, “wow, the world is small’ or “isn’t it great that I don’t know how to do this but I’m starting this journey.”
RG - And then Julia, does coming from a literary background in any way inform your current approach to the fashion industry? Or are the two separate for you?
Julia - Well I definitely don’t follow it as much anymore. But the way that I got into fashion was the same way that I got into poetry. To me, the two are equivalent in that both can make sense through their structure and the rhythm achieved by ‘reading’ them, whether on a page or on a body in motion. I’ll tell you the best thing I ever learned in school (laughs). Roland Barthes, he’s got this theory called punctum, which is sort of an innate reaction you have when you see something visual that can not be rationalized or attributed to one particular aspect of the structure. And this is a personal reaction caused by a multitude of experiences that is like a knee jerk, but it is completely different for everyone. And I think this is true because every person is going to look at things differently, and will experience different facets of an object in their own way. So that was definitely the best thing I learned in school and it does inform a lot of how I look at clothes and subjective beauty. Some poems just resonated with me during my youth, and this happened in the same way that looking at a particular outfit did or does.
RG - Any comments on the future of the brand?
Christina - We’re living in a day and age where the general consensus seems to be that the time is up for discounting particular minorities both professionally and socially. I think a major focus for the brand is ensuring that we are mindful of these issues and take steps to combat them in the workplace and beyond. One example of this is that for the Spring/Summer 2019 collection, we decided to honour key women from our generation. A lot of the pieces are named after women that personally broke the mould in fashion, or art, or academia, and in doing so helped progress. That’s a good teaser I think (laughs).
We at Roden Gray thank Goodfight for taking the time to talk with us about the brand. The spring summer collection, “Sleep Dreams and Exploration”, is now available both in store and online.
Text – Adam Danyluk, Ayda Omidvar, Jacky Huang
Editorial Photography provided by Goodfight, Shot by Ellen Fedors, Footwear by Yuketen, Accessories by Good Art HLYWD