A Conversation With Garret "GMAN" Louie of TAIKAN

Photo: @whentheyfindus It’s no secret that Canada hasn't always been the hub for dope brands and culture that it is now. For decades, the space was dominated by cities like New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo and Paris. Garret “GMAN” Louie, a Vancouver native, has been doing his thing to change that. With over twenty-five years of experience throwing some of the best parties in the country and bringing some of the coolest skate and street brands to Canadian shops, GMAN has solidified the great north as a prominent epicenter for all things cool. As the co-founder of a top-tier streetwear and sneaker shop Livestock and owner of multiple distribution agencies, Fortune Sound music venue and TAIKAN, one of the hottest bags brands in the market, GMAN is one of those people that you need on your radar. We were lucky enough to speak with him about what he’s been working on lately and pick his brain for some tips that any creative person can apply to their hustle. Take a read through the interview below and stay tuned for a likely part two since GMAN’s stories are endless! Hey GMAN! It’s great to be chatting with you. For those who may not be familiar, can you tell us a little about yourself? Hey guys! Well first and foremost, I am a father and husband living in Vancouver, British Columbia and I love to do stuff for my community. I was a co-founder of Canadian streetwear shop Livestock and I co-own two distribution companies called Timebomb Trading Inc and FBOMB Trading Inc. A few years ago I also started TAIKAN, an essentials bag and apparel brand. Wow! You’ve got a lot going on. What do you think were the driving factors that got you so involved in this space over time? As a kid I was really into skateboarding, punk rock, rap and all that stuff. My dad had a sales agency for menswear that sold suits and ties, so I wasn’t really that interested. One day his agency brought on a more youthful surf brand which sparked some interest for me. I told my Dad I wanted to explore distribution as I had found this brand called Freshjive and wanted to import it. I ended up getting in touch with the owner & he was down and I threw a big party in Van for them. I was really able to build the brand and connect with the community. The party went super well and things just kept going from there. A number of years later I started Livestock with Garry Bone and that really led the way for all of my current ventures, spending so much time around various brands and the nightlife scene. Very cool to see you taking that initiative early on. Having worked in the distribution industry for fashion and streetwear brands for so long, what triggered the desire to start your own brand, TAIKAN? After working with brands for so long and meeting all the people behind them you really start to learn the process of developing and growing successful brands. Eventually I started to notice some gaps in what the market/retail space had and saw an opportunity to start TAIKAN to help with my own roster on the distribution side. Vancouver has become such a hub for new brands with the different seasons as there is so much good gear coming out of here. Today we have labels like Reigning Champ, Arcteryx, Lululemon, Herschel and Purple Brand. Even brands like Stussy have their creative team based out of here now. Back in the day people never even really knew where Vancouver was but all that has changed now. That makes a lot of sense when looking at it from a distribution standpoint, having one business help the other and growing them together. What was the inspiration for the brand and the bags? I have been a huge fan of our friends at Herschel’s success but my personal aesthetic is a bit more higher end and a little more Japanese influenced which is something we don’t have much of in Canada. The problem with the nice Japanese stuff is it’s very expensive so we wanted to create something that could be affordable, yet have cleaner aesthetics and be inspired by design, photography, art, music & skateboarding. Love it. We also hear that TAIKAN is set to release its first apparel collection later this month! What was the reason for expanding beyond bags and why now? We’ve done a lot with bags over the years. We’ve had some amazing collabs with brands like Pleasures, BEAMS, Soulection and SNEEZE, etc. and have gotten into a ton of amazing shops around the world. The thing with bags is, from a volume standpoint in stores, you can’t stock as much as you can with apparel. Twelve to twenty-four bags in a shop might seem like a lot, whereas for apparel, you have more options. With COVID happening and people not travelling as much, it felt like the right time to pivot to apparel. Makes sense! What’s the vibe for the apparel drop? A lot of the brands are very logo heavy so I wanted the TAIKAN assortment to be less branded and more about quality, fit and feel. We’re all about creating timeless pieces that can be in your wardrobe forever. We want this to be your favourite hoodie, your go-to cargo pant, etc. Design wise it’s a lot of basics/ staples/essentials, but we also tapped some cool artists for collabs and brought in some fun custom dyes to spice things up a bit. Basics with a twist. We’re also going seasonless and general neutral for our apparel which makes it a lot easier for stores to support, especially during COVID, and the reception has been overwhelming. Everything will start hitting shelves late August and we’re pumped for people to get their hands on it. In the meantime, make sure to check out www.taikaneverything.com and follow @taikaneverything on IG. Photo: @eligorin We’re big fans of the timeless classics! Can’t wait to check it out. You mentioned some of the awesome collabs you’ve done in the past. What are your 5 tips to execute a successful collaboration? The first thing is to really think about why you’re doing the collaboration. Don’t just collaborate for collaboration’s sake. It has to be a good fit. Tap into your relationships. It’s always more fun to collab with friends or people you know and respect. Be thoughtful with the story and design. Don’t just slap a logo on something. Make sure the collab tells a story that people can feel. Start early and be patient. Sometimes these projects can take up to a year to create but it will all be worth it. Lastly, make something that you’d want to have yourself. It will always lead to a better product and a final outcome that you are the most happy with. Bonus: There are no rules! Try new things and have fun. These are great tips! What’s one of your favourite projects that you’ve done with TAIKAN so far? We have an ongoing project called TAIKAN By that I love. Essentially we tap artists, photographers, creators, etc that we are into, send them bags and apparel and let them do their thing with it. Rather than trying to manage what they create, we let them put their spin on it and it makes for some really great content. Sometimes we can get really out of the box like our latest collaboration with Tatum Maclean (@zeustate) who did a Hansel and Gretel theme shoot. It turned out amazing! We’ll then also do an interview or have them choose a playlist for our site as well to really give them representation on our page. You can find Tatum Maclean’s TAIKAN BY here. That seems like a really smart way to keep things fresh. On that note, as someone who’s been in the space for decades, we’re sure you’ve seen many brands come and go. What are some key traits that you think brands need to have to stand the test of time? I actually don’t mind that brands come and go. I think that sometimes brands change to keep up with the changing times and it takes away from the authenticity of the brand. I look at a lot of brands and think, as the owners grow, how do you still continue to appeal to the new younger generations? Some brands can obviously last though. It comes down to focusing on authenticity and not letting money or extreme growth get in the way. If you think about a brand like Stussy who’s been around for thirty plus years, they had a period of time where they were in every Zumiez and that definitely diluted the brand a bit, but then they pulled out. I think people really respected it. It was a ton of lost revenue at first but the community that the brand is for really respected the move and I think that’s what has helped them be so legit. That’s a good way to look at it. I guess we don’t need everything forever. Lastly, it’s no secret that with decades of experience, you know how to throw a good party. What are 5 must haves for any GMAN certified party? Vibes are super important. If there are good vibes then everything else will follow. Sometimes you might need to spend some extra money on the best DJ or let some people in for free and give up cover to get the vibes just right. It’s worth it. You need to have dope music and the right talent for the crowd. We always try to source the best locally and also bring people from around the world. Pack up the party with the right people. No one likes an empty party. Try not to stress too much, especially when the party is going on. Just have fun. Have fun but don’t over indulge. The only way to be able to do this for many years is to have a good balance. Check out GMAN, TAIKAN and Fortune Sound on Instagram and make sure to visit TAIKAN’s website for more news on their apparel release coming at the end of August. Also don’t forget to keep it locked to Pier Five for more interviews and stories with the coolest entrepreneurs, designers, artists, activists and more.

A Conversation With Garret "GMAN" Louie of TAIKAN