Conversations: Andrew and Yuri of Lite Year

Conversations: Andrew and Yuri of Lite Year

We recently spoke to our latest shop addition Lite Year, a multi-city consulting agency, showroom and now label between coasts to talk about memories at The News, working with Common Projects, Adidas, Calvin Klein, discovering Needles and the importance of cultivating a creative platform for those making big strides behind the scenes. Thank you, Yuri and Andrew, for taking the time to speak with us!

RG: Maybe we can begin by talking about who you guys are and what you both do?

Andrew: My name is Andrew Enness, I live in Los Angeles and work with my business partner Yuri for a project called “Lite Year.” It’s a multitude of things. It’s a consulting agency and it’s a brand. Most of all it’s a fun project for us to work on together. I grew up in Australia and moved to the U.S. in 2009. I’ve been here ever since.

Yuri: My name is Yuri Sin. I’m originally from the D.C. area. I’ve lived in New York for about 10 years, which is how Andy and I met. It’s pretty funny, I was an intern at the time so it’s crazy to see that we’re partners now and our agency — to just build a little bit off what Andy said: We’re a little bit of everything. We do showrooms, brand representation, creative projects, strategy work, some production.

Taking a really early bus at 6AM to do some internships. I was doing that about 3 times a week, and I realized that access to a lot of what I was into – like the companies I was interested in; part of that energy was happening in New York. I knew I had to end up there. That’s kind of how it all started. - Yuri

RG: How did you guys both find yourselves in New York? Was it a natural part of your journey to land up where you were then or was it more of a spontaneous happening?

Andrew: I guess it sort of just happened. I started coming to the U.S. in 2003 to snowboard. I spent a few weeks living in Salt Lake City, Utah and got a bit tired of living there so I started going to New York City. It evolved naturally from there, where I started to swap the Utah trips for New York City trips. It was much more fun. It became a part of my life, and then I was eventually able to get a green card after a few years.

Yuri: I guess D.C. — as much as it’s a metropolitan city on the East Coast, it felt proper in a lot of ways. It’s very safe and is in its own little bubble. When I was in high school, I started taking trips up to New York and then I went to college in Philadelphia. I started interning and went back and forth actually, taking a really early bus at 6AM to do some internships. I was doing that about 3 times a week, and I realized that access to a lot of what I was into – like the companies I was interested in; part of that energy was happening in New York. I knew I had to end up there. That’s kind of how it all started.

I had a love for sneakers and started working when I got my permanent residency. Then I moved back to New York and started working for Common Projects. That came from having an interest in design and wanting to make things and use my hands. - Andrew

RG: Where do you think that interest was first sparked? Was it a figure or brand, or even something more abstract you saw that made you say, “This is something that I need to be a part of.”

Andrew: For me, I started out working in a skateboard, surf and snowboard retail store when I was 15 years old in Melbourne, Australia. It pretty much all stemmed from there. But I knew I had to evolve out of there and explore new things. I had a love for sneakers. I moved back to New York and started working for Common Projects in 2009 when I got my permanent residency. That came from having an interest in design and wanting to make things and use my hands.

Yuri: For me, I want to say that I got interested in fashion early on. I’m kind of a nerd. I’m super into certain subcultures like film and music. I want to say when I was about 14 or 15 my mom would drop me off at the bookstore and I would just kind of geek out and read a bunch of magazines. That started it all. Then I realized outside of D.C., there was this whole world of really interesting people and things. I still am kind of a nerd and read all types of books, magazines and do a lot of research on my own. But it all started out with that. What’s great about living in Philly is it’s super big and kind of a culture hub of young creatives. I feel like it’s the OG Brooklyn. It’s super cheap — rent’s maybe 400 bucks and a lot of people will go there for art school. So, there’s a lot of cool, creative things happening there.

Stella Ishii, the founder of The News was really a pioneer of bringing a lot of Japanese brands overseas. She was the right hand for Rei Kawakubo and worked very closely with Yohji Yamamoto. She helped launched Margiela and so many other brands that are household names today. It was really Stella that started all that. - Yuri

RG: That led you both to New York where you came together at The News. Can you tell us a little bit about that time? For being such an early point in both your careers, working at that showroom must have had a huge effect on your passion for this industry.

Andrew: When I started working for Common Projects, it was much smaller than what it is today. That was back in 2009. It was still fairly young at that stage. This would be kind of around the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Expensive sneakers were not as common as they are now, so the business was very small and they weren’t really able to fully support having me on board as a permanent staff member. So I transferred to The News to manage the Common Projects wholesale business. That’s how I ended up there, and then, I want to say maybe a year or so after that I met Yuri. She started out interning at The News and the rest is history.

Yuri: I was working in retail at the time and a friend I was working with — she knew that I was wanted to move to New York, which had certain brands that I really liked and appreciated. She said, “Hey I used to work and intern at this showroom called ‘The News’ and worked with a lot of your favourite brands.” I started to do a little bit of research on my own. Stella Ishii, the founder of The News was really a pioneer of bringing a lot of Japanese brands overseas. She was the right hand for Rei Kawakubo and worked very closely with Yohji Yamamoto. She helped launched Margiela and so many other brands that are household names today. It was really Stella that started all that. So for me, it was a place where I knew I wanted to be. I was super curious and at the time there weren’t many places that had that deep connection to smaller brands I was interested in. That’s how it started when I met Andy.

Andrew: We were both there at a good time and it was a great experience for us both. Essentially, a lot of big things have come out of there. A lot of people have given The News support and its given the same back for many people, including Yuri and I.

RG: What were some of your favourite success stories to watch grow from The News? Brands that maybe started out a smaller scale but then grew past your expectations to become household names now. So many labels must have had their start there and seeing that journey must have been a pretty unique experience.

Andrew: You’re very lucky to work and exist in an environment that gives opportunities to see new things, new designers and there’s been plenty of successes and plenty of failures. For me, one of those successes was seeing Tim Coppens grow from nothing, which was really great. But there’s been plenty of other successful stories over the years, for sure.

Yuri: I remember this one moment when we decided to take on Needles. Nobody knew about the brand and then we suddenly got this newspaper lookbook delivered to us. One of the girls opened it up and was showing it to our group. It was this really, kind of hilarious and awesome lookbook. At the time it was just super funny because it was reminiscent of a Yakuza aesthetic that never really had a presence in the marketplace.

It was super slick and everything was aligned with a very specific look. When we saw it, I remember Andy and I laughing about it going, “This is so crazy but we’re so into this. We’re totally ok if nobody likes this, but we like this, we fuck with it.” It’s crazy to see years later… so many people you wouldn’t expect to be interested in Needles wearing it on the street. Sometimes I’ll do a double take, where I’m like “woah.” You don’t even realize how much that brand has grown over the years.

RG: It’s cool to watch these brand “children” grow and mature into full-fledged adult labels! I guess coming back to you guys, after your time working in The News showroom, how and when did “Lite Year” begin?

Andrew: We had about 5 years working alongside each other? Yuri sort’ve left there for other experiences, like style collaborations with Adidas and later working at Calvin Klein during the RAF Simons era. Shortly after she left, I transitioned from my role with The News to consulting with them and continued to do that for a couple of years. From there, it felt like it was time for me to grow outside of that space. I did that independently for about a year or so, but with the idea (I’m pretty sure Yuri had the same feeling) that we’d one day do something together. I think we knew that when we were younger working alongside each other.

An opportunity presented itself to approach Yuri about if she was ready to do it. Thankfully, she said yes. We spoke about this remotely ‘cause I was in L.A. while she was in New York as to what that might look like. How were we going to execute on this and what would we need to get there? Also, what did we not want it to be? I think we were very clear about our values and had alignment across many points. It’s sort of evolved from quite a few conversations and has continued to evolve over the last 12 months we’ve worked together. It continues to evolve, so I don’t know where it’s going to end up, but we do have a clear vision of where we want it to end up.

I don’t think it’s necessarily conventional if you’re comparing us to other traditional consult agencies or showrooms. I think we both knew those business models and what we wanted to do, personally, was an evolution of that. There’s pre-existing businesses that do really similar things to us, but we don’t necessarily feel like they’re our competitors. Thankfully, we have our own little space, but maybe our evolution may follow those lines one day.

Yuri: I think when I was working at The News with Andy — we’re totally opposite people in every single way you can kind of imagine [laughs]! I’m a little more fiery and Andy’s a little more thoughtful in his approach. Our skillsets are completely different in so many ways, where I’m kind of reactive and Andy’s approach takes more time to absorb all kinds of information before making a decision. But at the end of the day, no matter how we approached our personal businesses when working together, there was a lot of mutual respect for each other. I realized, even after I left The News, that Andy and I always stayed in touch. We saw something in this industry that could potentially happen. I wasn’t really ready to leave just yet because I still felt like working corporate.

I wanted to get a sense of what that looked like in a larger environment and also, to expand my skillset. You know, The News is a relatively small company. So I thought, “Why not go to Adidas? Why not go to Calvin?” So I went when RAF was there to take in and absorb a lot of information and from there, Andy was always nudging, “Are you ready to take the leap? Are you ready to take the leap,” while I went, “I’m not ready yet, I’m not ready yet.” You know after the departure of RAF at Calvin, I felt like I had touched certain projects and maxed out what I could do for a larger company. I realized some of the things I missed most about working for a smaller company was the connection to people.

Your bottom line in a corporate company — you know, you have to get approvals, more hands are touching a project and sometimes that dilutes a message. I missed that intimate connection to people. When me and Andy were talking about business, the industry felt a little bit stale in my opinion. It was losing that intimate connection and relying on large players to tell stories. We felt like there was a lot more that could be spoken about. The way that we execute our projects or look at certain individuals or creators, that was kind of the intention: that there are so many more players that could be highlighted and just weren’t being mentioned. Because we solely rely on 3 major publications, which are Hypebeast, Highsnobiety and Complex. Is that really it? Those conversations were happening over the years before we were like, “This is what we see, and this is how we’re going to differentiate ourselves.”

RG: You kind of found that missing representation in the industry and created a refined solution to showcase talent. Can you tell us a little bit more about these creative talks highlighting smaller figures that are maybe working behind the scenes but still making big strides?

Yuri: I think it’s about taking the time to do the research. If Andy and I would share certain things that we found super exciting or interesting, it always came down to something personal. We have to feel something when we see a project and would always share things that were super exciting to us. Some of them were friends, but all were connected to us by some degree.

For example, Emersin. He’s this tie-dye master that’s worked for so many different projects like Levi’s; he’s worked for Peter Sutherland. The guy is extremely talented, humble and has so much insight about art. We realize he was doing a lot of these projects for everybody else but also had a bit of a following. We thought, “This is super cool, but why haven’t we done something like this with a guy like Emersin?” Or Elijah Anderson. He’s this guy who’s been featured in New York mag and has lent his art to different brands. I remember when Andy sent it to me saying, “Have you seen this before?” And I was like, “Dude I’ve been following this as well. This guy is really talented.”

Those kinds of conversations would come up through a DM or it would be us sending them a random email, or meeting through a mutual connection. That would be how the process would start. At the end of the day, if we didn’t feel super excited about what we were working on, why do it? It was always going back to a very personal feeling, so the interviews we would do would have questions that we’d want to ask them anyways. Also, we realized they’re not being featured, and they should be. They’re so talented and so creative. 1733 is a perfect example. He’s this guy who’s based in Chicago and makes all his bags by hand. That’s something that I completely respect. Everything is manufactured now and you’re working with all these factories and people that say they’re creative directors — which everyone likes to say these days. But this guy is in his studio making everything by hand, looking at the entire process and just appreciating it. That personal touch is always something that we wanted to highlight.

RG: Any favourite projects or showroom memories with Lite Year so far? Do you have anything that maybe each of you guys really like or maybe something on the way that you’re excited to share with the world?

Andrew: Yeah, for the physical showroom space we do, which is wholesale related, we conduct that in New York and Paris. That’s a smaller part of our business but it really is hugely integral to our business. Probably the most enjoyable thing about doing those is the human interaction that comes from being in that shared space. But also, it’s kind of a party in a way. It’s a party mixed with a little bit of business, or maybe the other way around [laughs]. I really enjoy them because it’s an opportunity to come together with people from all around the world, whether it be from Japan, Canada, somewhere in Europe or even some other place that you may have never heard of before.

Yuri: I feel like our showroom has become, after 10 years of doing it, a place where our friends get to hang out [laughs]. It feels really good to have made these friendships over the years. I get to see those people twice a year, catch up and talk about life and business. Just to have a glass of wine and eat candy. I really look forward to that. We’re all exhausted. The buyers are seeing 10 different brands and we’re all jet lagged but we just want to create an environment where you can just hang. No pressure. You don’t even have to buy anything, just hang out because we don’t get to see you. Those moments when we get to see our friends and hang out are probably the best parts.

Andrew: Yeah! In regards to specific collaborations, I don’t know if I have a favourite. I really enjoy them all and the whole process because there’s the interview side of things, then there’s product design, development and manufacturing. We’re really lucky to have the opportunity to be a part of it all and I continue to hope that it evolves to become something that people enjoy for the fun products, but also for the content and experiences.

RG: Being more of a recent project, how did the Lite Year brand become a bigger part of the equation? You’re doing showroom hosting, business consulting out in NYC, LA in Paris and now you have your own, much more personal project coming out of that showroom.

Andrew: This goes back to when Yuri and I first spoke about working together. It was intentional. We knew that we were going to do this after having done it for 10 years for other people. But we wanted to have full ownership and control over what we were going to do with the Lite Year brand, through giving ourselves a voice and a perspective — which you don’t always get when you’re consulting for others. We had some pretty good ideas. The first project has essentially been the hats. That was something we both enjoyed working on, and will continue to grow.

Yuri: Andy and I, again, we take on a lot and try to do a lot. After COVID hit, we had a little bit of time to think about our business and execute when things were more quiet. As Andy mentioned, we’ve been with brands over the last 10 years and helped them grow. Being a part of that in some capacity, whether it’s through product development or design gets us to exercise a specific part of our brain quite a bit. But it was so fun to use the feedback on things we were really geeking out on. I think we went back and forth about what cord we wanted to use for the hats [laughs]. That in itself was so much fun, because those little details are what really excite us about fashion, whether we’re using an 8 wale cord or 16 wale cord. Those personal touches made this all a really enjoyable process.

RG: How did the name “Lite Year” first come about?

Andrew: We were having a meeting with a designer. We were locked out actually, sitting on the ground in this hallway, in a building in New York City, waiting for him to show up. Which he never did because he was sick but forgot to tell us… We sat around for about half an hour in this cold hallway in January.

Yuri: [laughs]. I think we were looking to name our brand. It kind of started as a joke. We were throwing around a lot of funny names out, like “Love Language” for example. We didn’t want it to mean anything but wanted it to mean something. We were just sitting on the ground on our computers, talking and riffing back and forth. The idea actually came because I just happened to be reading a book on Pixar, with Toy Story being Pixar’s first movie. There’s a character, a boy named “Andy.” The name linked back to a few different things we were referencing. Then I was like, “What about—” Do you remember that Andy?

Andrew: It was something like, “What about Buzz Lightyear?” It ended up as “Lite Year” after that conversation! We ran with it.

RG: That’s tight! So what’s next on the board for Lite Year? Can you tease a little bit of what you guys have in the works?

Andrew: There’s plenty of projects in the line! There’s going to definitely be more hat collections. There’s another brand we’ll be working alongside too, outside of Lite Year that we’re really excited about.

Yuri: I think we really enjoy the process of working with a lot of different artists and creatives in this space. That will continue and hopefully those projects can grow even further, especially going into the new year.

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