The Birth of Winter Lotus

Well, we’ve finally caved in. This is our official blog, and here is our official first post.

But before we get into our inaugural post, here’s the unofficial plan for this blog going forward: about half of the updates will be giveaways (thumbs up for free stuff), and the other half will be our musings – from an inside look at what it’s like to own a streetwear brand, to what projects we’re working on, to the latest in streetwear news.

This post is a backstory on how we got into streetwear and our first collection.

The Beginning

June 2014. It had been about nine months since I left my corporate job. Two failed startups, and my bank account was plummeting every month. I had been living off of my savings, but I knew that wasn’t going to last.

So what now?

I could either go back into the corporate world and make a decent living, or I could continue to burn through my savings. Of course, I did what any sane person would do and continued to pursue entrepreneurship. I figured I could do some part-time gigs to help pay the bills, so instead of my bank account plummeting every month, I’d suffer a ‘slow death’ instead.

So in late June, my friend and I decided to start a streetwear brand. It made sense – it was self-sustaining. We live in Los Angeles, where we have convenient access to suppliers and manufacturers. We both design, and he’s a professional photographer. We had a few acquaintances who started their own brand. We felt that we had the marketing know-how to grow this brand. And we both had an interest in streetwear.

So, Winter Lotus was born.

It started with two shirts. We each designed three, and we picked two designs out of the six. One of mine and one of his. We found a screen printer we liked and dropped off the shirts. A week later, we had 100 shirts in hand. Fifty of one design, fifty of another.

Winter Lotus T-Shirts

Really, it was a bit overwhelming. We spent roughly $800 for these shirts. So naturally we calculated how much we’d have to sell to break even. It was somewhere around thirty shirts, which felt do-able.

The next day, we took product photos, and started harassing our friends to buy. If no one bought, we agreed that meant our designs sucked. But almost all of our friends supported us by buying a shirt. We sold maybe four or five shirts the first day. It was a modest amount, but it felt awesome. Throughout the next two weeks, we sold around ten more and two at an art event we went to. At this point, we had enough to reinvest into making a few more products, so we could release a collection.

It was now mid-July and we planned to release a five-product collection on August 1.

We designed two snapbacks, and our screen printer referred us to a ‘close friend’ of his – let’s call him Fred. We called Fred and his prices were actually reasonable for a small order. The only downside was that he was based in Anaheim – a thirty minute drive from Los Angeles without traffic, so basically an hour away. Regardless, we decided to go with him.

I dropped off the hats super early on a Saturday morning to avoid traffic. Fred was super. His place of business warehouse-esque. He had a sizable embroidery machine and a few screen printing machines in the back. His children were there, he showed me his equipment, he showed me samples of his work, he agreed to rush the order (one week instead of the usual two), and he even said he’d ship over the completed hats (free one-day shipping) so I wouldn’t have to make the two-hour round trip to pick them up. I paid him a 50% deposit for the hats, went back home, and slept.

Winter Lotus Snapbacks

A couple of days before, I had dropped off a design for a tank with our screen printer. Things were going so well – we were finally about to launch a legitimate collection. Or so I thought.

The Drama

Suddenly, things started going downhill.

A week passed quickly. I checked in with Fred, but couldn’t reach him via phone, text, or email. We had a plan to launch our site on August 1, and it was already July 28. I called him two to three times a day. I emailed him every other day. No reply.

We Googled their business and couldn’t find anything. We Googled Fred, even stalked his Facebook. The whole debacle didn’t make sense, so we got the feeling that we got scammed. We even called LAPD and asked if there was anything we could do. We considered going, unannounced, to their warehouse with a police escort. But Anaheim was an hour away, and the police department said they wouldn’t be able to provide us with an escort.

So we waited. Eventually Fred replied to my text on July 30.

Me: “Hey Fred it’s Will from Winter Lotus. Any updates on the hats? We had discussed a deadline for Monday”

Fred: “Can’t talk right now…I’ll call you later.”

No call.

In the meantime, our tanks were ready for pickup. There was a two-day delay on the tanks. It was already the 30th, and things were looking grim for a August 1 release. We went to pick up the tanks, and our printer casually mentioned, “Oh, and by the way, since these tanks have an all-over print, they’re not going to be consistent.” We took a quick look at the tanks and they seemed okay. But once we went back to our office and inspected the tanks, we realized the majority of them looked shitty.

Either the graphic was clearly off-center, or there were areas where the print was faded, or the text was printed on the seams. It was clear that the job was rushed and that the printing wasn’t done meticulously. And we didn’t feel comfortable selling these tanks, so we went in and asked for a full refund.

The printer got uncharacteristically temperamental, and even yelled at us. He said he worked his ass off on these tanks. We asked if he would be willing to reprint, but he vehemently denied the request, mentioning that it wouldn’t be ‘worth his time’ and that even if he reprinted, there would still be inconsistencies due to the all-over print. Our argument was that he didn’t tell us about the inconsistencies until the moment we went in to pick up the tanks. How were we supposed to know how the tanks were going to turn out?

We also showed him the ones where there was intensive fading and the ones that had text printed on the seams. Long story short, he made up some excuses, and we got an email the next day saying he’d only be willing to give us a partial refund. He admitted that he messed up on exactly half of the prints, so he’d issue us a 50% refund. After some heated back and forth, we ended up taking the 50% refund and taking all of the tanks. We weren’t satisfied, but we figured we could at least give some of the ‘bad’ ones away for promo purposes.

We were also pissed that he referred us to his ‘close friend,’ who scammed us for our blank hats and the 50% deposit. He admitted that he didn’t know how Fred operated his business and that he wasn’t a ‘close friend,’ but more of an acquaintance that he had sold a screen printer to.

At this point, it was already the beginning of August, and we didn’t have our hats. And we only had a dozen tanks that we felt comfortable selling. So much for releasing a new collection. We felt we took a major step backwards.

It was a stressful time, to say the least.

I continued to relentlessly contact Fred. Continued to call him three times a day. Still no response. I realized that it was a red flag that when I paid the deposit, Fred told me to make the check out to him instead of his company. Basically, we concluded that we got scammed.

At this point, there was nothing much to do. Except Google helped us find the hat company’s Instagram page – somehow they had 20,000+ followers. I went to their most recent photo and commented that either their customer support is insanely bad or that I had been scammed. I also warned everyone else on Instagram who requested a quote from the company. Still no reply. At this point, we were trying to figure out why this company would pose as a legitimate embroidery and printing company to scam us for less than $300.

The Trap

So here was our last resort. We made a fictitious email and got a new number through Google Voice, and posed as an interested client – Ronny King. We requested a quote for a huge order: 1,000 hats, with a possibility for 3,000 – 4,000 more if they turned out well. Almost instantly, we get a reply. It was ridiculous because they were dodging our emails for a week, but they replied within five minutes to this ‘bigger’ client. But the guy who replies isn’t Fred. It’s another rep. Which makes things even more confusing.

Anyway, as Ronny King, we told the rep that we saw some comments on their Instagram page about poor customer support, and that some companies were expressing their displeasure. He immediately deleted those comments, which made them seem even more suspect. Soon after, we finally get a reply from the rep in our Winter Lotus inbox. He asked me to stop spamming their Instagram page, to stay patient, and that he’d contact Fred about my order. This was the first moment that we felt we had a chance to get the hats after all.

Of course, the rep continued to eagerly exchange messages with Ronny King. As Ronny, we basically said that we wouldn’t be comfortable placing a 1,000-hat order until we knew that he had fulfilled the other hat orders. Eventually, we got our hats on August 6 – a week and a half later than we were supposed to, but we still got them. Fred claimed he was in the hospital for a nervous breakdown, and that’s what caused the delay.

Whatever the case, we were relieved that we could actually release a collection. We released this collection on August 11. Our Ancient tee and Lotus snapbacks became our most popular items.

And we’ve reinvested the majority of the sales into our recently launched Fall collection. We definitely felt our Fall collection was stronger. We had a few pieces (cut-and-sew tee and mesh jersey) that aren’t as prevalent in streetwear startups. And we focused on shooting an interesting lookbook.

Winter Lotus - Fall '14 collection

So what’s next? Well, we’re looking at a Winter drop of Mid-December. But we’re going to have a few giveaways in the meantime, so you guys can get free stuff.

Stay tuned! We’ll be making updates on all of our social media pages.

-Will