Sunday, January 29, 2012

Interview: Jack Uesugi of a1000x

a1000x (A Thousand Times) is the brainchild of Hawaii high school junior Jack Uesugi. The goals are simple: to showcase and promote artists, to produce interesting products, and to highlight and help good causes around the world. As if you needed another reason to check them out, a1000x is kicking things off by giving away an iPad 2. Just ‘like’ them on Facebook for a chance to win. Mr. Uesugi recently took some time to sit down with Things Is Cool to discuss being a young entrepreneur, his love of art, and the desire to give back.  

THINGS IS COOL: All right. Let’s get into this. What is a1000x?

JACK UESUGI: a1000x basically means that whatever you do, you want to do it big. When we came up with the idea, we wanted to say, “Whatever you do, do it a thousand times better. Put a thousand times more effort in.” It’s a website that will allow us to promote artists and spread local [Hawaii-based] art throughout the community, to market the artists, and to print and sell shirts that the artists design. The idea of the whole project is that I love art, but I’m not much of an artist myself. I prefer the business side of it, and I know a lot of artists and am fortunate to have a number of resources. My family has a screen-printing business and my mom is a photographer. It just seemed dumb to not jump on the opportunity.


T.I.C.: We’ve known each other for a while, and I’ve always known you to be creative and resourceful. Have you always thought entrepreneurially?

J.U.: Yeah, I guess. As a kid I had my own little business reselling vegetables from the farmers’ market.

T.I.C.: Right. I remember.

J.U.: And I used to go every Wednesday…I mean, I even brought it to school.

T.I.C.: You were in, like, 7th grade—

J.U.: 6th grade. [laughs] I’ve had a few businesses. This is like my fourth.

TI.C.: That’s crazy! What else were you doing?

J.U.: I was just reselling things and making things to sell. I was selling T-shirts in elementary school. I mean, it was for fake money that we could spend at the little gift shop at school.

T.I.C.: Did you design them yourself?

J.U.: Yeah. I designed them.

T.I.C.: How old are we talking?

J.U.: I was in 5th grade. [laughs]

T.I.C.: 5th grade…wow. So then in 6th grade you went into the vegetables--

J.U.: Well, I’d been doing the vegetables in elementary school. I did it for like four years in total. It ended in 7th grade.

T.I.C.: Thinking back to when you were an elementary school kid, did you say, “I want to be selling something; I want to figure out a way to make money”? Or were your parents encouraging you?

J.U.: I never got an allowance, and as a kid, my dream was a car. [laughs] When I grew up I knew I wanted a car, but I didn’t have any money for one. So, as a kid, I was like, “All right, I’m gonna save up all my money from now until I can drive so that I’ll have enough money to buy a car.” So I didn’t spend any of my money and I just saved up for like ten years. [laughs]

T.I.C.: Well, you’re 16 now. Do you have a car?

J.U.: Yeah, I have a car…Success. [laughs]

T.I.C.: You buy a new one?

J.U.: No, but I have a car. And I had money left over.

T.I.C.: Nice. What are you driving?

J.U.: An ’01 Sentra. It’s not necessarily driving in style, but it has wheels.

T.I.C.: It’ll get you around the island.

J.U.: And it’s reliable.

T.I.C.: Exactly. I’m curious how you went from selling produce—I think I remember eggs in there—

J.U.: Oh, yeah, I did that, too.

T.I.C.:  How’d you get from that to a1000x?

J.U.: The inspiration came from an art party that we had at my uncle’s house. There were a lot of artists there and I was meeting a lot of new people, and I just kind of thought to myself, “These people are all really great, and if I could get them together on a site, that would be perfect.” I had always loved art, but I’m shy about my own art. I don’t like to display it. But I thought that if I could do the T-shirts, that would be a way to showcase other people’s art. And since many of these artists are well established in the community here, it’d be bound to be a hit.

T.I.C.: You’re referring to the art community here in Hawaii.

J.U.: Yeah, I want to stay focused on local artists before I think about branching out.

T.I.C.: So you just started reaching out to artists?

J.U.: In the beginning, I was introducing myself to a lot of new people who I didn’t know. I wanted to start off at the top. I knew I wanted to talk to the guys who are at the top of their game and get a team together, so to speak.

T.I.C.: Who’s on the roster?

J.U.: I've been doing work with John Hina from 808 Urban. I’ve talked to people like Estria. I just met Aaron Martin. I’ve been working with John Koga, Lawrence Seward and others. Hopefully, I'll get in touch with Andrew Rose as well. I figured if we could partner with established artists, it would be a good way to attract and build connections with younger artists.

T.I.C.: A number of the designs and product seem pointed to a younger, hipper crowd.

J.U.: Yeah, we have a bunch of graffiti artists right now. For T-shirts, I’m really looking for more graphics.

T.I.C.: But you see a1000x as being more than just shirts.

J.U.: Right. Down the line, I also want to do prints. And accessories. Like working with wood for our artists who do sculpture. For now, though, I’m asking the artists to come up with something that inspires them that would look great on a T-shirt. And we’re looking to do collaborations with other brands as well. I think what sets us apart is that our products are limited edition. Each individual piece is numbered.

T.I.C.: In a year, where do you see a1000x?

J.U.: Hopefully, we’ll have our product available through a few retailers, have grown our presence through social media, and have gotten some good press—in magazines and elsewhere. I’d like to be known and appreciated within the Hawaii community.

T.I.C.: And maybe make a little money in the process. How does that work?

J.U.: If an artist makes a design for a T-shirt, for example, they’ll obviously receive a cut from the sale of each shirt. We also plan to make quarterly donations to charity.

T.I.C.: Any charity in particular?

J.U.: We’ve got a few ideas. I’m talking to my friend, John Hina, a graffiti artist who goes by the name “Prime.” He’s with 808 Urban along with Estria, and he’s involved in a number of groups that give back to the community. Water Writes is a mural project that promotes the efficient use of water in Hawaii and around the world. That’s a possibility because it would be supporting the younger generations by letting them express themselves through art and art programs.

T.I.C.: How are you balancing running the business and going to school full-time?

J.U.: Right now sports are killing me.

T.I.C.: Swimming?

J.U.: Yeah, and golf starts up soon. I find myself working on a1000x when I have any free time. On weekends I’m attending events and blogging for the site. Once this really gets going, it’s only going to get harder. But I’ve set goals, and I’ve got to meet them. I have to finish what I started.


Anonymous said...

This is cool. I'm going to check it out. I wasn't doing anything like this at that age. Nice job.

Things Is Cool said...

You said it. It's awesome that he's getting in the game early.