That past few months has been a period in which I’ve learned not just about graphic design, running a small business, and printing, but also about myself. This internship was actually not in my plans to pursue originally. I was planning on interviewing for a brand owner named Seth who was on the verge of opening his own sneaker store named Hypefeet. He needed a creative director to help design clothing, flyers, and artwork for social media accounts. The opportunity came about on Instagram, and I just so happened to know one of his friends. However the deadline to pick an internship was approaching and I still had to wait for a response from him. Fast forward a week later and I still have yet to hear a response from Seth. At this point I decided to move on and see what else I could find. After looking online, making phone calls, and asking questions, it dawned on me that my closest friend actually knows a business owner who runs a clothing shop. I called my friend, asked him about him, and was given his number. This man’s name is Daniel, or Danny as he prefers and after speaking on the phone for a bit we decided to meet up the next day.
I drove over to his shop in Bed Stuy Brooklyn and was immediately shocked to see what I saw. In the middle of a neighborhood with a reputation for crime, stood this one silver storefront with “LYFE” in big letters written across the awning and a huge monogram logo on the window. I opened the front door and was greeted by Danny’s wife Jestine. “You must be Alex” she said as I walked in. I nodded, said yes, smiled and looked around. The place was a shop decorated in clothing from all independent brands based in Brooklyn as well as their own “Lyfe Brand” clothing with plenty of T-Shirts, sweaters, jeans, jogger pants, and hats to choose from. The place was very small, but felt very genuine and intimate with what it was trying to accomplish. Jestine called for Danny, and out the back door he came. He introduced himself, told me about the brand and then told me to follow him. When he opened that same back door he came from, I stepped in and was once again surprised to see what I saw. Immediately to my left was a white wall with rounded corners, and a ton of lights and cameras. Next to that were two tables lined with 4 iMacs, chairs, and a cork board with tons of papers pinned to it. Sitting there was Alexander Nash, or Nash for short. He was the studio manager and Danny told me I’d be doing most of my work with him. I quickly learned that this place was not just a shop, but also a studio where designs are created, product shots are taken, and ideas are born. Danny once again signaled me to follow him and we proceeded to go down a set of stairs into the basement. Sure enough he opens the door to yet a third surprise.
Apart from selling clothing, and designing clothing, it turns out he actually prints the clothing as well! There was a screen press with four arms and a foot pedal, a heater with a conveyor belt, a smaller heat press, shelves lined with paint and screens all organized by name. “This is LYFE Studios” he said. He explained to me that his business is essentially hated by its competition because of its ability to create a product from start to finish. From inception to final product, Lyfe Studios was able to create pieces and throw them up for sale in their very own shop. He described my responsibilities there and essentially told me I’d act mainly as one of their graphic designers. From that day on, Monday through Friday for four hours, that is exactly what I did. It was a real change of pace for me because I was used to having an idea developed and presented to me in an email, and creating from there. Never did I ever have to sit and consult with anyone, and create something on the spot. There was one occasion I would never forget.
It was a busy weekend day and Danny was beat. Nash was not there to help as he doesn’t work on the weekends and Danny had been dealing with clients the entire day. I came in and immediately got assigned the task to man the computer and begin to create anything random for practice. As I was doing so, a client by the name of Roy walked in and asked for us to create a business card for him. Roy is a barber and he wanted a clean simple design that needed to be done by the afternoon so he could get it printed for the upcoming week. Danny brought him to the back room where I was designing, briefly introduced us, told Roy that I would sketch out ideas for him, and walked out to the front. This took me by complete surprise as I was not expecting any human interaction for the day at all. Sure enough Roy sat down and started to give me ideas. I scrambled for a pencil and paper and began to draw amateur sketches out for him. I began asking questions and attempting to fit the consultant role more based on what I was seeing in the prior couple of weeks. Thankfully, after Roy left for an hour to run an errand, I was able to come up with a design that after some minor tweaking, he approved. I was super nervous throughout the whole process, but it was something that needed to be done eventually. From this point on I felt a lot more confident in doing consultations and would routinely welcome people in.
Not only has my ability to design improved, but my people skills as well. Coming from a background of working retail for 5 years at one point, people skills were something I did not lack. However, in a more professional environment I learned through LYFE that there are certain keywords and phrases that clients love to hear. One thing LYFE was strict about was the customer always being right, and they accommodated to customers as much as possible. I now know that all requests should be taken only in email form. This leaves a record for us to refer to in case a client claims a mistake was made on our part. I’ve also learned that sometimes it is okay to have to cut a profit every once in a while. There was one client who got embroidered aprons for his restaurant. The embroidery came out awesome, but the client was complaining that it was too low below the breast. The issue here was that the client never gave an exact measurement as to how high or low he wanted the logo to be and agreed to have it done by eye. We did exactly that and he was still not happy. After a few email exchanges and phone conversations, Alex Nash was able to keep the customer and accommodate him with a better price this time around. What the client didn’t know was that the added discount was actually coming out of the pocket of the shop. Alex explained to me that clients are kind of like investments. You always want to keep people happy and have them repeatedly coming back to bring more business. They also usually refer friends to LYFE as well, which is another added bonus. Therefore the lost profit is pennies next to the potential gain.
I’ve become more comfortable meeting new people working here. One of the beauties behind LYFE is that it’s literally a meet up spot for brands all over the city. Danny is very good at networking, in fact it’s what he does best. For that reason he receives a lot of business from brands known and unknown that not only love the work LYFE produces, but also the creative environment in which it presents. The average day at LYFE consists of at least 2 or 3 different brand owners or friends walking in and hanging out in a small lounge area between the photography setup and computers. They sit on the couch and vibe with us as we work, sometimes pitching ideas of their own or telling stories. This makes the environment feel less work related, and more about the culture itself. Nothing in my life has ever felt more pure than working at LYFE. They literally eat and breathe New York City street wear culture and are adamant in becoming a well-known name in the very near future.
As we hang out we also listen to music or play movies. Sometimes we take a trip downstairs to heat press a couple of samples and present them to the clients upstairs. But throughout it all we always are working and always try our best to produce quality work. Sometimes we have people who have nothing do with clothing come in and vibe with us. One of our regulars is a guy named Desmond, whom I just recently found out is a professional BMX biker with videos on YouTube watched over a million times. He usually comes by just to hang out and talk and share experiences. We have another person named Prince, who was the right hand man of a guy named Nicola Formichetti who is a lead designer for Diesel, come by and hang out with us also. He does have his own brand as well, but many times he comes by just to keep company.
Working at LYFE I’ve essentially learned the power of collaboration. Working with both Danny and Nash, we have come up with a few designs for t-shirts together and the process in creating them was always awesome. Danny was usually the man with the idea. Nash and I are both good at Illustrator and Photoshop and create what Danny pitches to us, while adding our own ideas. My style in art is in the details. I love double entendres, subliminals, and layers while Nash actually loves and prides in his simplicity. Working together we bounce ideas off of each other until we come up with something we all agree on, then create one sample that one of us usually gets to keep. Luckily we all wear the same size. If it is good enough, we also sell them in the shop. I’ve gone through and practiced the design process enough times already to the point where I have no created my own methods for myself.
Fast forward a few months later and here I am at the end of the internship writing this final blog post. As it turns out, Seth became one of our clients through me and I currently am working with him on the side. But I will continue to work with LYFE not only because I was asked to, but because I choose to. I can truly say I did exactly what I was told id be doing, and had fun doing it. Many doors have been opened for me, and I plan to walk through and peek inside of each and every single one.