Goodfight is a Los Angeles based label led by four friends: Caleb Lin, CEO Christina Chou, creative director Julia Chu, and designer Calvin Nguyen. Goodfight differentiates itself through a compassion-centered process that considers consumer need and a diversity of experience above all. The brand aims to approach its practices conscientiously, focusing on goods that reflect authentic inspirations and shared cultural narratives.
We got a recent opportunity to touch base with the entire team for this issue of Conversations, speaking about staying true to intrinsic values, artistic integrity, and being grateful amidst the chaos.
Caleb Lin (CL)
Christina Chou (CC)
Calvin Nguyen (CN)
Julia Chu (JC)
RG: Thank you guys for taking the time. I know it’s difficult for everyone to get together right now. Last month when the news and situation grew more serious — the most immediate question that came to mind was “are we doing the right thing in this world right now?” Is fashion the thing we should be thinking about? Obviously, our first thoughts go straight to our businesses and the employees we need to sustain during these times. Jerry Lorenzo was our last interviewee and he wanted to know what effect that’s had on you guys; specifically, in how you’ve adjusted your work to adapt to these times. We spoke a little bit about your recent mask launch and that inspired his line of questioning.
CL: We don’t mind speaking on the design. Just because it informs a lot of the “why.” Many people ask, “Why is it like this?” or “Why does it cost this much?” We don’t mind touching on that.
RG: I think it would be great if we could.
CL:There are a lot of great designs from other brands out there, which we encourage people to check out—someone else’s may be better for your particular needs than ours. Our first design was our best effort while working within the bounds of urgency, effective performance & protection, price point, and responsible production under the current constraints of sourcing and social distancing protocols. One of the biggest conversations we had was about balancing. There’s an element of us wanting to do something in design that is progressive and artistic – but at the same time, highly functional. We were specific about the materials we chose. With what we have right now, our focus is on making it as simply producible as possible. You can put all kinds of bells and whistles on it and make it really expensive, or even have it take a really long time to make. We tried to find a perfect balance between making something that we thought was special, but also something that could be made efficiently with extreme function. We have continued to tweak the design and will be continuing to release more iterations of it. If anything, it is more equipment than “fashion.” If you bring a fashion aspect to it, the aesthetic design need to support the function, not dictate it. One of the big things with the design is: 1. Has to protect our consumer, and 2. Has to fit effectively over an N-95 mask, because one of the primary uses for medical professionals taking the masks is using them as a cover.
The rules of engagement have shifted, but I wouldn’t say it has affected our approach. We have always learned to work within limitations. That to us is what the game is about. If we have unlimited money and unlimited resources, that’s great; and we dream about that sometimes [laughs], but at the end of the day, that’s not real. As much as that would be fun, we feel that might not be good for us.
Christina was really instrumental in launching the masks. I think the urgency – we really tried to balance getting the design we wanted out. Our style is usually to give time to more things and when it’s right, it’s right. It started with a talk with one of our friends working in the ER. We heard about the equipment shortages she was working through. One of the things our friend said to us was “look, one of the things you guys can do to help is create an alternative for emergency workers to strap into, so they could stop exhausting health care equipment that should be going to first-responders.” I think that really pushed us to put pedal to the metal on the project.
RG: What else was she sharing with you guys?
CL: Just about the situation of people not having protection in the ER. It’s scary. Not having protection in an ER and having to reuse equipment that should never be reused. I think it’s much more personal because that’s our good friend. Her husband was one of my groomsmen. That’s his wife. I can’t imagine… when she comes home, they can’t see each other. They sleep apart. She’s going in every single day putting herself at risk. But that’s what kept us working on it – weekends, nighttime. The other aspect was thinking about helping contractors that we work with. We had our own reality check. The four of us don’t take a salary from Goodfight; we’ve been doing our best to build this company and brand and reinvest what we make from it back into its growth. One of the things that happened when the rest of the world shut down was that it shut down for us too. You know Julia was slated for like 3 or 4 different [stylist] jobs that were upcoming that week and all of them cancelled.
RG: Our closest people, shit is real.
CL: --with no clear hope for when that kind of work might come back. That’s where we were in terms of project planning. We thought “this is where the money’s going.” How can we talk about taking care of other people when we can’t take care of our own? We looked at the project holistically not impulsively. We made sure that if we were going to do something, we could position that act as a blessing, rather than immediately jumping towards some kind of knee-jerk reaction. We don’t want to find ourselves in a place where we’re running on empty and unable to help anyone.
RG: For you guys to show that kind of empathy for the people around you, with such a thoughtful solution, is brilliant. You guys are even considering the longevity of the product in terms of optimizing and updating designs. Where did the name Mark 1 come from?
CL: Mark 1 is a military term for… version 1 [laughs]. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a fighter pilot.
CL: You know what I mean? It goes back to what you touched on. We wanted to make sure we weren’t doing this for the wrong reasons. We looked really long and hard… and if we are going to do this, “How can we make something that can help people for a long time?” Mark 1 is the first version. There’ll be a Mark 2, a Mark 3. More things to come.
RG: Amazing. Do you mind if we circle back in terms of how this affected the team’s workflow? You mentioned Julia and the cancelled gig situation. What came to mind when that happened? Was it inspirational in any sense, where motivation rises from the pressure of necessity?
JC: I think it was a bit of all of that. I have friends that do the same work – side hustlers, contractors… I think that certainly at the beginning it was a little tough to reconcile, because we operate outside of a normal system [laughs]. It was hard to not know where we dipped into, even with government support and things like that. In terms of Goodfight, I definitely took a step back. The team was gracious enough to give me some time. There was some solace in knowing that everyone’s in the same situation – and being okay with that.
JC: Being okay with that so I could be a functioning, supportive member of Goodfight.
Life got really real. All four of us had to step back and think. We’ve invested our blood, sweat and tears into this thing for the past three years. We did not have a plan B.
CL:I think right now it’s very sexy for everybody to – especially with the how media’s become and how people have become much more engaged in philanthropy. It’s okay for people to come out and try to say positive or selfless things, you know? But it was a very real moment for us. It was tough and it was ugly. In that sense, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Not in the sense that we’d want to do it all over again but in the way that it’s real. It’s okay.
As the country was going on lockdown, we were all like “Jesus, what is going to happen?” It wasn’t positive, it wasn’t hopeful… it was really scary. It caused us to take a hard look at things. We can always talk about other people but are we taking care of ourselves? And if we don’t take care of ourselves, how can we take care of other people?
CL: I appreciated that aspect too. Life got really real. All four of us had to step back and think. We’ve invested our blood sweat and tears into this thing for the past three years. We did not have a plan B.
RG: No, and I’m sure a lot of people don’t.
CL:There’s many people dealing with that now. Some people are fortunate enough to watch Netflix and workout all day but there’s the rest of us who are like “no-dude” that’s not our reality. It’s not a big hang-out or sleepover. The market just got pulled from underneath our feet… and I feel that’s true for 90% of the world. That was a part of our reality and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
RG: No, there’s nothing wrong with that. One poignant thing Jerry Lorenzo said during our last interview was “Crisis creates creativity.” How do you guys see the brand emerging from this? We were thinking in terms of survival through strength. If we can make it out of this situation, we’re going to be bulletproof. Right now, our industry is so fragile.
CN: It inspires creativity because you have to do things differently. With my brain… it’s all in the air now for me. I feel like, personally, it just makes it different. I don’t know if we’ll be stronger or weaker… but I know we’ll be different.
RG: Calvin, do you feel like spatial limitations have affected the way you approach design?
CN:I think so. Yes… and no. I feel like there’s so much that people need now. The things people spend money on will be different. What we make should be for that future.
CL:Calvin and I had a lot of conversations about it being less about innovation and more about what people want now. If anything, it’s a “tearing back” to see what’s important. We talked about what’s precious to people – what may have not held attention way back is now super important. Are people going to want to open a box? If something comes out, would they risk doing that for a new fragrance? Is that aspect that people took for granted before becoming normal experience?
We have always designed within limitations. We’re an independent brand. We don’t have a limitless budget. We still have to work within the confines of being a touch point for the consumer. It’s a Rubik’s cube, you know?
RG: Has this whole thing affected your ability to create and plan? I know you spoke to Caleb about planning for ‘21. What’s on your mind in terms of progress?
CN: I think we still have the drive to do it. I’m still sketching, designing and talking to the team about what we’re doing next, and what kind of silhouettes we want. We still… come up with ideas for the next season. I think it’s changed the way we handle things, logistically. We definitely don’t see each other as often any more so often we handle things on Google Hangouts or FaceTime meetings. We still want to push new collections. That’s still what we do… It might be a little different but we’re still going to do our best to deliver.
JC:I think creatively, when we sat down and talked about the theme of the collection, we didn’t change the narrative that we had already been discussing. Even going into production didn’t move us away from that original theme, because for us – every season; it’s about people… and stories that teach us. Those things are more relevant and important now. That hasn’t changed much. Those relationships and emotions feel more important now than ever before.
CL: Whether it’s PPE or fashion apparel – we have always designed within limitations. We’re an independent brand. We don’t have a limitless budget. We still have to work within the confines of being a touch point for the consumer. It’s a Rubik’s cube, you know? If it was just easy and we could put out something wonderful, wouldn’t anyone do it? It’s nothing new. We have different challenges now, but every season we have challenges. One silver lining that we talked about during the first season that you stocked us, was that year being an entryway for starting to sell wholesale to other retailers. It forced us to jump on the proverbial hamster wheel of the fashion calendar. We’ve been struggling to carve ourselves a life outside of that ever since we got on it.
CL: I think it’s too early to say that the hamster wheel doesn’t exist anymore but… I think that there is more leeway for everybody in terms of us doing our best to try to give you something special. For the first time from a creative aspect, the whole situation is giving us power, returning more power back to us. We’re going to make what we can make. If you love it then great – if you don’t then it is what it is?
JC: Also, in terms of logistics, we’ve moved most of our production to L.A. and that was always important to us; the fact that we can source locally with people in our communities.
RG: So far, we’ve touched on some pretty serious ground, but we think you’re right in terms of working within limitations. A lot of people don’t recognize that when starting a brand. They seem to focus on a perception of glamour and don’t really see reality unfolding. What are you guys taking away from this experience?
CL: I think if there’s anything we learned, for us, it’s that there’s no such thing as a perfect situation. You make your own perfect situation. I think if you don’t learn to do that before you’re blessed enough to find yourself in that perfect situation, you won’t know what to do with it.
It’s about the small stuff: being good to our people and being good to our community. It’s a blessing for us to able to give back in this way with something that’s beautifully designed and functional........We create to fill the need and stand in the gap of this moment. Now we’re in the middle of it and we have to execute.
RG: Maybe not even recognize it.
CL: You won’t. We’re very blessed to be in the position we are right now. Without our years of grinding and doing what we’ve done, we would never be able to be this position.
CC: I think that the essence of our company. The masks do in a lot of ways exemplify our ethos. Like Julia said, knowing our factories, wanting to make sure the employees can feed their families. It’s about the small stuff, being good to our people, and being good to our community. For us, to be able to give back in this way with something that’s also beautifully designed and functional; we’re blessed but in a lot of ways. I don’t want to sound conceited but – this is what we’re meant to be doing. We create to fill the need and stand in the gap of this moment. Now we’re in the middle of it and we have to execute.
Know your “why.” If you don’t start from understanding the reason why you’re doing something, then it’s very easy to fall into emotion. If you start from your “why,” when you come to the place where you have to reassess the situation, you’ll rediscover it, you know?
RG: That ethos that you spoke of Christina. It’s something you can feel when we’re in the room together. Every single one of you guys is making sure every person is taken care of. Even when we all first met. There was an undercurrent of feeling of this being the right brand. There’s a story here that needs to be told. This was something that you guys planned to do from the get-go. Being on the subject of being strong-willed, if you had any advice for anyone trying to break in our industry right now what would you tell them?
CL: Know your “why.” If you don’t start from understanding the reason why you’re doing something, then it’s very easy to fall into emotion. If you start from your “why,” when you come to the place where you have to reassess the situation, you’ll rediscover it, you know? Anything in this world that’s worth doing, you have to sacrifice for it. Our “why” before we started the brand was rooted in a time of prosperity. We had money in the bank [laughs]. We hadn’t spent any money yet. We could do anything. Our “why” was wanting to show a generation you could do amazing things by doing good. That hasn’t changed.
CL: Our “why” was from a belief in human value and art. That’s what we started on. Especially with what’s going on now. Hasn’t changed.
RG: Right. Keeping the virtue.
JC: I think one thing that I’ve encouraged to other people to do is be honest with yourself about what you need and what you need from your partner… your friends, you know? We need each other so much and I think in this has pushed us to be very honest with each other. If we didn’t have that trust, that push to ask and be more for each other. That’s what really pushed us forward too.
CC: I second that.
RG: It’s funny how it’s takes a pandemic for us to appreciate core fundamental values. We definitely see more positives than negatives. Our appreciation level for many things has risen.
RG: We’ve seen you guys recommending songs, movies and books on social. How else have you guys been killing time?
CL: I think it’s important to have a balance. Especially when you don’t have that separation anymore – that physical separation in your workplace. Maybe Christina can speak to that. Not driving to an office every day; it was a big shift for her.
CC: I think of the state of movies. Certainly, people have been engaging with so much more content. You know, reality TV, movies, zombie TV shows, Scarface. I think it speaks to the power of storytelling. That’s something we try to impart in our clothing. Especially during this time, people want to escape, know more and feel better about themselves. When you watch Tiger King, that documentary on Netflix, you kind of go “wow, that’s America.”
RG: Right [Laughs].
CC: Then you look at the Jordan documentary and can appreciate the legacy. It’s a good time, and I think screen time is going to rot your brain... All that being said, I hope that people read more books and listen to music.
CN: It’s actually something that we we’re planning to do for months. It just happened to coincide with the quarantine. One of our goals this year was to draw back the curtain a little bit. The whole thing about song of the day, post of the day; that was all planned out before.
CC: It’s funny when people try to guess which one of us posted the story. Seeing what they’re preconceived notions are [laughs]. Not everybody is getting them right.
JC: There are a lot of artists, musicians, and authors putting out interesting content outside of Netflix and things like that. I know I’ve been really loving musician streams on IGTV, and even donation based, online concerts. A lot of smaller publishers have been doing author readings. Had it not been for this situation, no one would have every thought of doing anything like that, you know? A live reading from their living room.
JC: I hope that kind of stuff continues after all this is over.
Goodfight has always served as a bridge between different people and different cultures. One thing we always wanted to push people towards is that there is beauty in different worlds colliding.
RG: Anything you want to share Calvin?
CN: About killing time?
CN: I’m trying to run more. Other than that, it’s just cleaning… and cleaning stuff that I would never clean before [laughs].
CL: One thing I did want touch on that Christina talked about… is how no one knows who posts the Goodfight stories. We purposely don’t put our names on it because diversity makes our brand special. Goodfight has always served as a bridge between different people and different cultures. One thing we always wanted to push people towards is that there is beauty in different worlds colliding. The basic fact is that we can’t be physically near each other. It seems like all our previous work was shattered by that. Our mission forward is as important today as when we first started. We hope that we can continue to push that.
RG: You guys are staying true to your truth. We dig that. Before we end off here, what would you guys like to ask our next interviewee?
Goodfight: What was the last thing you heard, saw, tasted, or experienced that changed your life?
RG: Thank you guys for taking the time to speak with us on everything happening personally and with the brand. Take care and stay safe.