Chris Ngo // Ep 41 // The Next Global Conglomerate In Menswear
Welcome to Episode 41 of the Asian Hustle Network Podcast! We are very excited to have Chris Ngo on this week's episode.
We interview Asian entrepreneurs around the world to amplify their voices and empower Asians to pursue their dreams and goals. We believe that each person has a message and a unique story from their entrepreneurial journey that they can share with all of us.
Check us out on Anchor, iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play Music, TuneIn, Spotify and more. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and leave us a positive 5-star review. This is our opportunity to use the voices of the Asian community and share these incredible stories with the world. We release a new episode every Wednesday, so stay tuned!
orn in Thailand, Chris is the co-owner of The Leverage. The Leverage was founded by Chris Ngo and Lee Ramirez in 2012. From what began as a boutique mens’ streetwear agency has evolved to a vertically structured conglomerate, built around wholesale and direct-to-consumer sales, in-house design, production, and distribution, with eight portfolio brands (Embellish, Haus of JR, Crysp, Karter Collection, Lifted Anchors, Club Paradise, Diet Starts Monday and Richie Le Collection) – all self-funded and independently operated in Ngo and Ramirez’s hometown of Orange County, CA.
Please check out our Patreon. We want AHN to continue to be meaningful and give back to the Asian community. If you enjoy our podcast and would like to contribute to our future, we hope you’ll consider becoming a patron.
Descript is a groundbreaking new media tool that allows creators to edit audio and video like a text document, and create a realistic clone of their own voice for seamless edits.
Intro: (00:00:00) Hey guys, welcome to Asian Hustle Network Podcast, My name is Bryan.
And my name is Maggie
And we interview Asian entrepreneurs around the world to amplify their voices and empower Asians to pursue their dreams and goals.
We believe that each person has a message and a unique story from their entrepreneurial journey that they can share with all of us.
Maggie: (00:00:23) Hi everyone. Welcome to the Asian hustle network podcast. Today. We have a. Special guest, his name is Chris Ngo born in Thailand. Chris is the co-owner of the leverage. The leverage was founded by Chris ngo and Lee Ramirez in 2012. From what began as a boutique men’s street wear agency has evolved to a vertically structured conglomerate, built around wholesale and direct to consumer sales in house design production and distribution with eight portfolio brands, embellish Haus of Jr. Chris Carter collection lifted anchors club paradise diet starts Monday and two week collection, all self-funded and independently operated in no and Ramirez hometown of orange County, California. Chris, welcome to the show.
Chris: (00:01:04) You guys got that intro from the Ford fund? Huh? You know what the best part about that? My sister, uh, my sister-in-law actually wrote that. So shout out saying,
Maggie: (00:01:16) Oh wow. That’s a beautiful intro.
Chris: (00:01:18) Thank you so much. She actually, you know, shout out to her. She’s actually the brand manager for revolve. So we have like a whole, we have a whole family based on, based around fashion at our house.
Bryan: (00:01:28) Maggie Rena and truck, like goosebumps right here. And my oldest Julie’s like freaking hot in here too.
Chris: (00:01:33) Yeah.
Bryan: (00:01:34) But excited for you to beyond man. So Chris let’s hop in real quick. Like, what was your upbringing life like? How’d you begin this. This journey of yours and your hustle.
Chris: (00:01:41) I mean, the upbringing was kind of like it’s the same, you know, obviously like we go into this whole refugee thing that my family came over on boat on a boat. So it was pretty much my grandmother and my mom pretty much raised me since they were like forever. So pretty much, you know, my family immigrated over here. Uh, got over here in 83. It was just my mom and my grandmother, um, met my, uh, met my stepfather, uh, sharing a room in a house. So, you know, back in the day, there’s this thing called, we call it Stefan, right? So it’s like, you’d have a three-bedroom apartment. My mom and my grandmother had one room. Um, my stepfather at that time was running another room. That’s how my mom and my stepfather met, um, you know, grew up. Relatively poor shit. You know what I’m saying? Welfare, all that. Um, and I’m a mom, she worked a bunch of jobs. She worked two jobs and the biggest job that she, the job that she had for the longest time was she was a, she was a seamstress seamstress, worked in a sweat shop. So she was like a factory worker. So she was doing, I want to say she was. She specialized in the double needle, a double needle. Um, so at that time, you know, when a lot of factories were out here in orange County, she was doing stuff for, you know, Carl Kenai, uh, GENCO, Disney and all that stuff, but she was literally working in the factory. And back then in the factory, you used to get paid. I pro garment, you know, so, so yeah, I grew up around the factory, um, relatively really poor, like I said, over and over, um, Santa Ana, you know, one of the few Vietnamese kids out there with like, Uh, I, I want to say there’s might be four or five Vietnamese kids in the whole school. Everybody else was Mexican. So, you know, growing up in Santa Ana, I was just used to always being, you know, just pretty much used to being the only Vietnamese kid, Asian kid out there. Um, Typically, typically that was it. You know, just growing up, you don’t realize you’re poor until you get to like seventh grade. And so I get to seventh grade and this is when other kids are actually getting dropped off at school. You’re not walking to school. Um, parents actually giving these kids like lunch money, you know, so for me, I was always used to, uh, uh, Lunch tickets. And so, you know, I never paid for, so I never paid for lunch. I thought that was normal. But then I realized, I was like, damn, you gotta let me check this. Cause you’re fucking poor. You know? And so for me, um, uh, for me, my whole transition, it was like, you know, growing up in an area of Santana, everyone was poor. And so you didn’t realize that until, you know, you got to a certain age and then when you get to high school, that’s when you’re like, okay, there’s a separation between middle-class poor and kids that are wealthy.
Bryan: (00:04:05) Hmm. Well, that’s, that’s that story is really reminiscent of my family as well. I just remember growing up, like my parents would take bags of like clothes. Right. And that’s a, so it, I like these green sewing machines.
Chris: (00:04:16) Yes. Ginkgo machines. That’s it. That’s it because like, you know, my mom had the same situation too, because back then we used to work at, um, she used to work at an actual, uh, sweat shop. And then she was a real fucking real, those are real was on welfare. So she was getting paid in cash. And then she was like, if I get caught working here, then I’m going to lose her welfare. So then we did, my mom transitioned our whole garage into a little sweat shop. So she had these two machines there and then, you know, every week.They would just drop off like pallets of not pallets bags of clothes that are, you know, in little, uh, in little sections. So she would just so parts of the clothes once you’re done. So in parts of the clothes, then you would hand it off to the next person to put it together. So yeah, we grew up in the same exact way and, and back then I’m sitting there helping her, you know, as a little kid, um, cutting off like the loose threads. Yeah. So, you know, we, I mean, I think being Vietnamese in the eighties and nineties, parents are either doing that or shit doing that, or do nails and, you know, being in these people, you’re sewing and you’re doing nails or you own it.
Bryan: (00:05:29) My mom and dad, Kayla one does nail a deciles deciles.
Chris: (00:05:33) Same thing. Same thing here. Same thing with us too.
Bryan: (0005:35) Yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s crazy to hear the humbling story. The only difference in you and I is that you grew up fashionable and I grew up with no sense of fashion.
Chris: (00:05:47) Uh, well, what city did you grow up in?
Bryan: (00:05:48) I grew up in, I grew up in Monterey park, San Gabriel.
Chris: (00:05:51) Oh, nice. Nice, nice to SGB that area, huh?
Bryan: (00:05:53) Yeah, you literally make it through it knowing English and you’re fine but dude, we have any new one on our podcast before he told your story. We didn’t know. You guys are. But you had that Chris, the mortgage, you know,
Maggie: (00:06:13) telling us about when he was doing his appraisal days and we were listening to your other podcasts.
Bryan: (00:06:17) Right? Chris
Chris: (00:06:18) funny thing is like, my life will always be my life and my career has always entered time with Andy, whether we like it or not, because like, you know, we grew up. You know, I was a little bit older than a couple of years older than him, but I was always selling stuff like buy low, sell high.That’s always, always everything I’ve done. And like, you know, I met him selling sneakers and he was buying shoes for me. And then years later he’s doing real estate as an appraiser and I’m a loan officer. So, you know, I’m calling Andy and then, you know, I don’t want to stay by myself, but we were doing some stupid ass shit as loan officers, you know, shit that probably I could probably go to jail for now, you know? Um, but the funny thing was like, you know, later on I get into fashion, I started a clothing brand. You know, I started as a sales, uh, sales rep. He starts a clothing brand. Then, you know, I had this bright idea to sell multiple brands. I helped them out. And then, you know, I helped his, uh, I helped this company, uh, get to where it was in terms of the distribution side.So when, so when he launched the I’m King fucking eons years ago, I was a sales manager at 25, 26. And you got to understand. I was the oldest person at the office and he’s like 23, 22 years old at the time. And it’s just a bunch of young kids doing some stupid ass shit. No one knew what the hell we were doing. But you know, that thing is like all the mistakes that we made and like all the errors that we did. I mean, we learned from it, which is good. You know, obviously Andy and myself, you know, we grew up later on, you know, I stayed in fashion, you know, he, he got rounders got into food, you know, so, so yeah, that are intertwined now, now, you know, now our business, um, I’m still in fashion and he’s got a bunch of things going on too, but you know, we just kick off ideas. I think the biggest thing is like this whole Asian excellence, um, thing. I’m just anybody that’s getting me is anybody that’s doing it. I’m pushing them in the same way. You know, I’m always been the type of person that’s always in a clap on the sideline. If any, if I see somebody that’s Vietnamese, Asian, or anything doing it, I’ll DM. Somebody be like, Hey man, I see what you’re doing. I really liked that. You know, that’s how I, that’s how I’ve met. So many of these other entrepreneurs that are in this, like this whole Asian hustler network.
Maggie: (00:08:16) Yeah. Yeah, that’s a good point. And so you said while you were growing up, you know, the area that you were growing up and you said that it was mostly like non populate it with a lot of Asians. How did that shape your Asian identity while you were growing up?
Chris: (00:08:28) You gotta think about it. You’re a Vietnamese kid, you know, eating cup of noodles that are like Mexican candy. It’s just different, you know? And so, you know, I grew up, I grew up learning about, uh, low days and, and like, uh, make a lot of errors and stuff like that too. And it was just like a different thing. Cause you’re growing up. With, you know, a lot of, a lot of other kids that aren’t like you, they don’t look like you, they have a different culture, they eat different food. And so it kind of mixes like your taste. And so that’s the reason why I pushed this whole Santa Ana thing so much because I grew up eating, you know, um, carne asada burritos, tacos with, with fo and like we went to and stuff like that, you know? So, so it was, it was just what I, what I learned, you know, and I grew up around tagging. I grew up, I grew up around a different culture, how people dressed. And so as a Vietnamese kid, I didn’t dress like a normal kid. You know, I like one day I would dress big, big baggy pants neck. The next day I’ll be at Cortez and, um, and Dickies, you know, it was just like the culture that you were around and the people you’re around, you kind of learn from it. It kinda like, um, not stunt your growth, but you know, molded your growth.
Bryan: (00:09:32) Right. The similarities dude. So I just asked Maggie, like, what do I prefer to eat on a daily basis? I always eat a shit ton of burritos. It’s the same way I grew up in a very, uh, Keno area where all my friends growing up was Latino. But luckily like there’s. There’s a lot of similarities between your culture. So you’re like, there’s really not much racism. I didn’t feel that racism until we got out of our circle, we met from different States are like, wow, like we are a minority, which is really weird. You know,
Chris: (00:09:59) I know the weird thing about, you know, growing up in growing up in Santa Ana, I didn’t really consider it racism, but you know, if you’re Asian, you’re called Chino, you know, it’s just normal, you know? So I didn’t really ever look at it like, yo that’s being racist. I just thought that was normal because like growing up in the area where we’re at, it’s just like, You know, you got your full restaurant and then down the street, you gotta, uh, you gotta, you gotta taco shop, you know? Um, and it was just honestly, growing up in that era, it was just normal. You know, you just normal, those just normal growing up.
Maggie: (00:10:30) Yeah, it’s also, you know, we talk about that all the time, because we grew up in places where it’s populated with minority groups. So you go out to like the Midwest it’s like, you finally realize that while we are a minority, you know,
Bryan: (00:10:41) I never knew
Chris: (00:10:44) , honestly. And if you think about it, you know, there was like literally one white kid in my whole school. Wow. Yeah, so there’s like one white kid in my school. Majority is Mexican, you know, handful of five, six, seven Asian kids, but like one white person and the only other white people are the teachers.
Bryan: (00:11:03) Yeah. Out of curiosity, like how did fashion become besides grew up around clothes and everything? How did that become your main hustle? Like how’d, you know, you’re super passionate about suddenly like
Chris: (00:11:13) as a young child, I got into sneakers, I got, I got into basketball, really young, so like I grew up playing basketball, loving basketball, and just cause at that age you gotta think basketball is the cheapest sport. Cheapest game. You can play. It’s a basketball on the court. You can play by yourself. It’s not like football, where you need a team. It’s not like baseball, where you need multiple players. Like literally it’s just you and a hoop. You can play by yourself. And with that, I grew up idolizing Michael Jordan. I named my daughter, Jordan. Right? So idolizing Michael Jordan. The biggest thing is sneakers. Obviously, Michael Jordan is probably the God, uh, the godfather of. Of urban street wear or whatever beaches, because if it wasn’t for him and the whole Jordan brand, we wouldn’t be here today. So, you know, I grew up collecting shoes. Um, I was able to have one pair of shoes for the whole school year. And so if you add a one pair of shoes, it’s obviously gonna be a pair of Jordan. Literally I wore the shoe out to the point where I had a, the bottom of the shoe where I put like a cardboard box in it, just so I can get it here, you know? And so obviously, you know, idolizing shoes, shoes, and bashing just kind of went hand in hand.
Bryan: (00:12:15) Yeah, I think it’s something that you touched upon earlier too, is, you know, you failed over and over and over, but you still got back up and, and that’s a huge trait, most successful entrepreneur, you know, a lot of entrepreneurs out there right now are soapy, or there’s some glorified that you think that you can’t fail, but your approach is different. You know, you’re like, it’s okay to fail. Go back, get back up and learn some more about it. So I really appreciate that mindset. Um, and speaking about failures too, what was your biggest breakthrough where you’re hustling in your learning? Like what was that moment where you’re like, Holy crap, I can get through to the next level and this feels great.
Was that was that stage light?
Chris: (00:12:52) I honestly think, I honestly think is when me and my business partner, uh, Lee, um, you know, we don’t talk about like a lot of the times [00:13:00] people ask me questions and stuff like that and talk about me. But like, when I talk about our business, it’s me and my business partner, Lee, I don’t ever talk about him enough, but if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be in the same position as, as I am right now, too, because. Easily, I would say he’s my yang and I’m his yang. Um, but it was like this. I mean, we worked with Andy for awhile. Um, we worked with Andy for a while and for us as sales reps, we get paid off of commission, you know, but shit happens, you know, obviously whatever we sell, we get a percentage of sales, uh, for our commission And then it got to the point where there was an issue with production. We pre-booked all this money out, you know, thinking that we were going to get paid X amount of money and then. Only one fourth of the goods were produced because we didn’t have enough capital to buy the other stuff. So me and my business partner are looking like, damn, you know, we booked X amount of money, but how the hell are we going to survive now, knowing the fact that we were only made one fourth of the commission. And so, you know, we sat, we sat there, we had all these relationships and everything too, and we’re like, yo, you know what. It’s time for us to kind of go on our own our own. We can’t just represent one brand. And so me, so in the back of my mind, the leverage, wasn’t the first company I started as a sub agency. Um, back years before that I had this whole thing called far from few apart from Milky distribution. It was me and a bunch of buddies. It didn’t happen, but I still had the structure in my mind set up, but I just needed a partner that could execute it well. And Lee was a perfect partner. And so what it was was I was like, Hey, listen, man, let’s grab six or seven brands. Let’s sell the six or seven brands to all the retailers we have. And ships with, instead of us, you know, uh, banking on one brand for all of our commission. Now we have six brands that we could probably eat off of the running on who has what and what we can sell. And so, you know, obviously our first, our first month in business, we did more money combined than we did last year. Uh, business period. So that was the breakthrough we’re like, damn man for one whole year, we didn’t do Dick. We didn’t make any money. We didn’t do shit. So our first month of business we’re able to make more money than last year combined for both of us. And so that was the point where like, yo, why didn’t we do this earlier? And so, you know, from that point on, you know, it became a situation where we’re like, okay, well, you know, we’re representing the brands now what’s the next goal. And so obviously for us, we wanted to eat the whole supply chain, so, okay. Well, We’re doing sales. Okay. Now we want to own the brands. Next thing to know, we want to have the logistics company. Next thing you know, we want to have the marketing. Then we want to own the sample room. Then we want to have our own, um, back and flip dome and company. And so that’s how it was. We just kept on chipping away at every part of the supply chain. And then, you know, in about a week from now, we’re about to close on our own commercial property. So now, now the, now the lease that we’re renting is back to ourselves. We own it.
Bryan: (00:15:43) That’s something that we heard on your other podcasts as well, but we want to emphasize now you, you, you don’t, you didn’t borrow it.
Maggie: (00:15:49) Yeah. You didn’t take in any investments. Can you talk a little bit about that process? businesses over and over again, any investments. So what was that process like?
Chris: (00:16:01) Process was like, what was easy for us was like, okay, how can we make the most money without putting out money? And, you know, obviously like that, like. Like that it’s just pretty much middleman people. People always underestimate like the power of the middleman. They put every project together, the dot every I, they dot every, I cross every single T without a middleman. No, no deal. No transaction happens. So we were just like, okay, well, if we do sales for brand, we don’t have to buy the product. We just sell the product, take a piece up top. And so me and my business partner for two years, we were just crushing it as sales reps. And so we saved all the money that we possibly did for the two years. And then we were like, okay, well, you know, we’re getting 10, 15%, uh, of this sale. We need to, we need to eat the other 80, 85%, you know? And so we’re like, what do we do? We start our clothing brand. So me and him, we anted up and we took out, you know, 40 K me, 40 K him. Um, and we started our first building brand, uh, first clothing brand, uh, which shows embellish. And, you know, we went in blind, we made X amount of X amount of stuff we sold out within probably we brought in like, Maybe 1500 pairs of jeans. We sold out within like two hours, you know, with just the retailers that we had. And we knew it. We knew that for us, we knew that, you know, the biggest, the only way you could, uh, you could expand is flipping and we’re not the type of me and him were both really smart. We’re like, okay. The only way we’re gonna make a lot of money is not pay ourselves and keep on flipping the product. And so we just took every single, uh, we just took every single, um, every single flip, like selling out of 1500 million units, whatever money we made, put it right back in. We were flipping it over and over until, until it got to the point where we took, we did 80 million. You probably. We probably did over eight to fucking 16 million in two years.
Bryan: (00:17:48) Pretty ridiculous.
Chris: (00:17:50) Yeah. And, and the thing is, it was, you know, when we were doing this, we started multiple brands, multiple projects. We never said no to anything. It was like, okay, if you’re a story, you had a relationship you’re willing to pay for a paper product. We’re going to do something 40, whether it’s private label, white label, you know, this brand, that brand. So that’s how we started off all these different brands.
Bryan: (00:18:09) Yeah. And how do you always stay so hungry, motivated most of your life? Where does, where does the sense of motivation come from? Like, did your parents preach you about entrepreneurship, about money?
Chris: (00:18:18) No. No, but the thing is, you know, I always close my eyes and I always think about being that poor kid out in Santa Ana. You know, my dad driving a 1978 Honda CVCC kids, uh, kids making fun of my parents and me for dropping off in a bucket. Um, and I, I still remember what it is to be poor. Like, you know, There’s a lot of times where I look at all the things I have and I, I always like close my eyes. And like, yo, remember being back in 19, 1994, when kids used to make fun of you, when you didn’t have shoes, you didn’t have the clothes you had now, you didn’t have the cars, you didn’t have the watches, you know, it’s like, yo at any given moment, you got to understand that it could be, get taken away from you. And so my hunger is to never fucking go back to that. You know? Um, a lot of people like forget why they do things. And for me, it’s just for security. I don’t want my kids to ever have to want. Or wish, you know, like if they need something cool, we can get it. You want that? You want a PS five. Cool. We’ll get the PS five. You want to go to this school? We’ll go to this school. You want to go to this trip? We’ll go to this trip. It’s not like dad, I want this. Well, you know, I can’t afford this. Maybe we could, maybe two years we can go on vacation. I can name every vacation that we had as a family on one hand, because obviously my parents just couldn’t afford it.
Bryan: (00:19:29) Wow. That is so powerful. I mean, to this day, my parents has never left LA really. They only went when they went to the Bay. Cause I moved here and the only way, like the East coast, like Virginia, cause my uncle lives there, but they never seen United States and they
Chris: (00:19:46) Do they have a passport?
Bryan: (00:19:47) They do have a passport, but,
Chris: (00:19:49) Well, I’m telling you this once you’re done with COVID, this thing’s cleared up. You need to take your parents to Cabo on like an all-inclusive trip. They’ll love it, dude. I’ll kill that.
Maggie: (00:20:00) So I guess I have a two-part question. Um, you know, when you were starting out. Uh, embellish and Chris, how did you know, you know, there was an issue with, you know, people just, just trying to find denim, but they couldn’t, you know, pump a problem, get to a mall, or maybe it was like too expensive.Like how did you know that there was a problem there that you wanted to solve? And then how did you get into bigger real retailers, like Zumiez and Jimmy jazz and all of that?
Chris: (00:20:22) I mean, um, Um, off the rip. Well, we did, it was when we created embellish, it was for a specific client, which was more, a more, a premium boutique. The pricing was like a hundred, 140. And then for us, after that, we realized that there was like a, there was a void for majored, uh, major distribution at a lower price point, less margins and stuff like that too. And the thing is me, me and my business partner, even before we had embellished the stuff I was already working with Zumiez. I mean, I put, I put, I put I’m keen to Zumiez. Jimmy jazz and all those stores. So I’ve already had those relationships. So it was me picking up the phone and being like, yo, you know, yo so-and-so and so-and-so I have this brand. Um, what do you think everybody threw me and Allie, because I had relationships with almost all these stores. People don’t realize the fact that, you know, It didn’t happen overnight. It was years of me being a assessor from 2005 all the way to now. And like till this day, I still speak to a lot of my retailers, some of the majors, the small ones. Um, and I’ve always kept great relationships because they move all over. You know, a buyer from Footlocker will end up at Zumiez or somebody from urban Outfitters, we’ll go to or somebody that owns, uh, that was like a buyer is now the head of a brand. And so that’s the reason why I get so many of these projects because I have such these good relationships, you know, Brand owners are now, you know, running these big, um, these big fortune companies, like a Footlocker or running like, uh, a PAC sun or something like that. You know, people move all over the place and it’s up to you for your relationships to keep it, you know? And so, like I said, you know, business is done face to face and your relationships are your net worth.
Maggie: (00:21:56) Yeah. What would you say would be your advice? If let’s say someone’s trying to get in, get their brand into retail, but they don’t have those relationships to start off with.
Chris: (00:22:04) Oh man, honestly. Honestly, it’s so tough for me to even answer this question now, just because like, it’s so easy for where I’m at. Um, in this day and age, I know that you can start off a brand by just social media, social media with Instagram. I mean, now, now these guys are popping off brands off the Tik TOK, which is like a platform I don’t know shit about, you know, but the thing is, but the thing is at the same time, it’s. It’s the vision that you put to put in a brand, you know, like the biggest thing is this. If you have a brand that whatever the product is, depending on how you, uh, how, how it’s perceived the visuals, the product, the product shots, the models. If you make the brand look a lot nicer than what it really is, and you tell a story around it and you create an audience. So that’s it. There’s various platforms that you use from YouTube. YouTube, like I said, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook ads. There’s just so many ways to build a brand now and you don’t need to be successful often just wholesale to have a brand, like for instance, um, what I’m doing with Richie, Richie and Tanner now, you know, they’re, they’re crushing it DTC because he has his one point, whatever million followers on YouTube. And it’s insane because he has a cult following, you know, um, And, and, and it’s ridiculous because, you know, he started off humble beginnings, you know, a couple of videos here and there and he just built his platform.
Bryan: (00:23:21) That’s insane. Perfect. Chris, you’re a community, man. When you give back to so much in the community and we wanted to acknowledge that. You know, I think you be car radar when you were supporting the floods in Vietnam. Yeah. The whole apparel and stuff. Thank you. Thank you so much for that. Um, can you talk, can you talk a little more about that to you? Like the apparel brand and their partnerships with, you know, Andy and
Chris: (00:23:46) yeah. Yeah. I mean, I’ve, I’ve done quite a bit of stuff. Um, in terms of like giving back, like for me, it’s always been about doing something where it kind of made sense. Um, and so for me and him, it was us, um, Ty over at, uh uh, Tyler over at Asia’s never die. And Andy, um, I had this whole thing where I was trying to push this narrative about, you know, the fall of Saigon. We were supposed to do a capsule collection around it. And so obviously me being from Santa Ana and Susie is one of my favorite brands. I did a parody of that world torture and you know, what I did was, um, all the cities in it where the top 10 cities, where all the Vietnamese people immigrated to. And so, so it kind of tied around me being from Santa Ana and me being in street wear from Santa Ana and Stussi, um, and the thing was, um, we were supposed to push it for the false Saigon, but then COVID hit and then obviously we couldn’t do it. And then Andy opened the orange County store. And then I was thinking, I was like, damn, it’s going to be exactly six months from now for the next fall as I gone. And then now we have like this, uh, this whole, we have a reason to do it because of the floods in central Vietnam. So I was a, Hey, Andy, let’s just drop the collection. Obviously let’s work with, uh, let’s work with tie them over there. Cause he has a platform and you know, what he does best is, you know, his shirts. He has his just fun parodies, so it made sense. And so we just tied it together. Um, I’m pretty happy about the support we had just because not a lot of people understand about like the fall of Saigon and especially the fact that that’s like our flag, you know, um, obviously there was a little bit of a pushback because not a lot of people know about that flag. Most people that look at that flag, they’re like, what. What, what is that? I mean, overall, you know, overall that was like a couple of the pieces that I’ve done. You know, I’ve done a lot of other sponsorships for like sports. I run this kid’s basketball program called leveraged basketball Academy where, you know, I got some sponsorships from a lot of my friends and a lot of stores retailers, and we just run a pre-program from the age of four to seven, just teaching these kids, like the basics of basketball from shooting, dribbling, passing, all that. And so, yeah, my biggest thing is anything that has to do with sports. So if you’re, if you’re a booster or something, it says, Hey, man, I want you to sponsor a banner for my son’s soccer team. I’m like, all right here, you know? Um, and then, you know, I mean, I just feel as if this, once you get to a level where you’ve made X amount of money, um, what are you going to do next? It’s a legacy that you do, you know, how people perceive you, what you want to do. And for me, it’s just giving back, you know, it’s like I have all the material items, um, I can’t buy another car. I don’t need any of the car. I mean, another watch, I don’t need another house, but what I can do is like change someone’s vision or help a kid out, or, you know, do my part, you know, because if I didn’t, I’d be a piece of shit.
Maggie: (00:26:25) Yeah, really appreciate that. And you know, we were talking a little bit earlier, too, how you go into Ahn, the Facebook group, and you just help out here and there and just respond to comments here and there. And we really appreciate that.
Bryan: (00:26:35) We also know like, you know, listen to you right now. It’s pretty crazy, you know, because you’re so successful. A lot of people out here listening want to be just like you, but you actually put in a lot of work to get where you are. Okay, can you talk a little bit more about your crazy morning routine? How you wake up at five, get everything done. What is this like, man, what’s the backbone of your daylight
Maggie: (00:26:54) family, your kids,
Chris: (00:26:59) you know what it is? I’m kind of um, I have an OCD problem. Like I do anything. I like I’ll collect from sneakers, cars, shoes, watches, or whatever it is. And the thing about me too, is I’m very into this whole thing about health. I like the last decade before I got married, I was like super chubby and fat at that at the time I literally lost like 40 something pounds by just working out and just eating healthy. And since I got to that, I’d never stopped. And so, you know, obviously when I had kids, I didn’t want to stop. I didn’t want to stop working out and just taking care of myself. And, but then the meeting is the only time I had time is early. And so for me, it’s like, yeah, I’m not going to. I’m not going to work out on your time because I needed to do what I need to do. So for me, it’s like, you know, I got to wake up at five. O’clock go to the gym at five 30, get done at seven o’clock, come home, drive the kids to school, come back, shower, get into the office. I’m all I’m in the office everyday at eight 30. I’m out by four 30, but I’m not the robot. Like that’s just me. I’m disciplined. Some of the things that I do best is be punctual. That’s like my number one thing from, from the age of kindergarten to my junior year of high school, I never missed one day of school. I had perfect attendance. Like I dead ass. It wasn’t till my senior year when I started going to the race and doing stupid shit. That’s when I stopped missing school, you know, but from, yeah, from kindergarten, junior year, you could ask my mom, you can ask my home. Easing asked my friends. I was like, always at school, sick, sick, tired, or whatever. He was always there.
Bryan: (00:28:19) Yeah, me, as you know, we’re in the middle of pandemic, comma tips and advice.Do you have for other business owners going through hardship?
Maggie: (00:28:25) Yeah. And did your businesses, um, also take a hit during COVID-19 and as you guys have to pivot in any way?
Chris: (00:28:30) Oh man. For us, honestly, like the advice is very difficult to give because the thing is, it depends on your company and what kind of business you’re in, you know, like honestly, if you were to ask me, what advice would you give me for, uh, for someone in food? I can’t give you an advice, dude. Like that’s like the hardest hit. Industry period. You know, I was like, yo, someone, someone in someone in fashion, can’t tell you exactly what you’re going to do with food, because it’s so difficult. You know, my business, I don’t need, I don’t need to serve somebody one-on-one physically there, you know? Um, but for me uh, for me, what my advice is, this is just like just finding different avenues of what you possibly could do. You got to oversee what your staff is, is about. So for me during COVID. We were shut down for two months. We had a furlough, the company, um, everything was completely closed. And so for those two months, um, I couldn’t ship out product. I couldn’t take in product. You know, things are coming back in. We were, it was, it was dark. You know, those Darcie loss. We lost almost seven, seven figures of revenue for two months. Um, but the thing is I transitioned it and I went back to our director, our DTC. And so I ran a bunch of Facebook ads. I’m going to give out, shout out to all my guys that were running my ads, a hype, well, Calvin and everybody to good people. Um, and I was able to make enough money where we kept the lights on. You know, we kept the lights on. Uh, we were able to, you know, Pay a couple bills and this and that, where we weren’t under the water, which was, you know, I was fortunate for those two months, but the thing was the minute, um, it opened up, opened back up. I was smart about it. You know, I saw the inventory that I had rather than Bookout. It’s just making smaller collections and pushing it out. And to be honest with me, uh, to be honest, I was very, very fortunate because like in my industry, uh, fashion and urban with the minute those stimulus checks hit, everybody was buying everything in anything. And I kept on taking in product. I didn’t stop taking it in product. So, you know, we were very fortunate. The minute it opened, we made all the money back and then some, you know, but it’s not something I like talking about because obviously it’s kind of touch.
Maggie: (00:30:26) Yeah. Yeah. Well, really glad to hear that, you know, you’re able to stay on top during this difficult time, especially when there’s so many businesses struggling at this time. Um, and then, you know, we know that you will recognize I Forbes earlier this year. What was your thought process like at that time?
Chris: (00:30:42) I mean, th the story about the whole thought process was, is like, damn, it actually really happened. I mean, The thing was, you know, we had an alley, you from one of my buddies that owned a brand, but what it was was they wanted to feature embellish as, uh, as one of the top brands, uh, for the summer. And so, as I was talking to, um, as I was talking to the writer of the story, he started asking me questions about my business and I told him exactly what I did. And that’s when he was like, yo, hold up, hold up, wait, um, you’re independently funded and you did all this and you’re not like. You’ve never been featured. I was like, no, I mean, I’ve, I’ve flown under the radar for the last X amount of years. And we had, we actually had a mutual friend that actually fact check me and he’s like, Oh, well, you know, Chris and their business, they potentially could be the next Mark echo. And I was like, damn, that’s tight. And so after that happened, that’s when he decided to write the article. Bato said, you know, I mean, it’s, you know, When you say, Hey, I made Forbes. It’s, it’s a big deal. You know, it’s a, it’s a really, really big deal. Yeah. It’s a really, really big deal. But, you know, um, honestly with, or without the article, I’m just happy that I’m still here just inspiring, but you know, obviously the article kind of put gas on, you know, what we’re doing out here in orange County because we’ve been doing it. So under the radar,
Bryan: (00:31:57) Well, we’ll make sure what this podcast is that you no longer run under the radar.
Chris: (00:32:03) I mean, everybody was like, you know, I had a bunch of trolls out there saying, Oh, you hired a PR firm. You know, because like, literally it was after that, I did the Ben baller podcast. And then Ben ball, his podcast was probably bigger than Forbes, to be honest with you, because the amount of people that listen to his podcast and my DMS were just blowing up with other people reaching out. And honestly, I didn’t know what I was getting into Ben, but shout out to Ben. Thank you, bro. But like, yeah, his podcast kind of elevated, uh, elevated my status as well. Um, so yeah, you know, people were like, yo you’re you hired a PR firm to, to get you all these artists are like, no, it was actually all organic.
Bryan: (00:32:58) Yeah. Yeah, that’s crazy. And I guess on, do you want to transition back to your family a bit more? I mean, now that you’re a dad, like what kind of values and. Advice. Are you, are you giving your kids about visitors? You know, if you want your kids to be business people or do you want them to just be happy?And what is your outlook from that?
Chris: (00:32:53) Honestly like my kids to do is have my have access to what I have and do something with it, you know, like I do, you know, like, Like I have a couple of friends that, you know, their parents have a restaurant industry. What they did was learn that knowledge and open their own restaurant. I’m like, your daddy has access to it. Factories, fashion distribution, one of you guys better figure it out, start something, and he’s got he’s access and, you know, run with it, you know? And I always told my kids. All the time. I let them know how lucky they are and how fortunate they are. Like anytime they buy something, I was like, you know, dad had one Christmas gift, one gift. Right. I was like, you know, dad had one pair of shoes for the whole year. Right. And you just got to instill it to them. Like, yo, like I’ll S I’ll show them pictures of me when I was little. I was like, look, we used to eat on the floor with like newspaper. Look at you, you know? And so, you know, I have three kids. My daughter is seven. My son is six and my other son is about to turn three. Um, If they have no fucking world, no cares in the world, they don’t have to worry about anything. They know when their next meal is coming. They know where their next toy is coming. Kids got twitches, kids got freaking tick talks. Kids got like their own cell phones. I’m at that age, I was lucky to have, like, I was lucky to have like action figures. Yeah. And this day and age, this day and age, I look in their room and just like, I’m like, damn man, I wish I was a kid now.
Maggie: (00:34:10) And speaking of which. How so junior that actually came like the inspiration behind the Ashley came from your family and your kids. Right?
Chris: (00:34:18) So how’s, the junior is actually named after my daughter, Jordan and riders. That’s where the J and the art came from. Um, I can’t, I can’t take advice. I can’t take a credit on a house. Did you hear that’s actually all my wife. Um, funny thing was this it’s like when I had embellished and I had Chris, uh, started, she was like, Hey, I want to start a kids brand. I’m like, dude, I’m too busy launching all these brands. She’s like, if you’re not gonna do it, I’m gonna do it by myself. I’m like, I’m not gonna let you fail. Okay. Let’s do this. Okay. So what we did was we took like all the silhouettes, some, all the. The styles that did really well for the men’s side and we just kind of struck it down. Um, and then that was it. We, uh, we were literally the first kids brand that made an Elong T size-up, uh, uh, distressed denim. And we got picked up organically by Hypebeast on their blog, which kind of blew up. And then, I mean, you know, we’ve been on a roller coaster ride because like even talking about it now, um, It wasn’t Barney’s, you know, it was literally in Barney’s and that, for me, it’s like the biggest thing to see us sell through and say, Hey, you’re you got the number one brand in Barney’s you out Gucci, Dior. Um, we want to do like a storefront storefront of collab with you. So, you know, going on 34th and Madison and seeing house Jr right in front with Disney, I was like, damn, we really, really made it. And this was all my wifi concept and idea.
Bryan: (00:35:35) Yeah, that’s amazing. And shout out to your wife too. We heard on other podcasts that she gave the okay. For the 40 K and we heard her background too. You know, she came from a affluent family and you were just trying to take care of him, provide for her. So,
Chris: (00:35:49) yeah. Yeah. I mean, you guys did your homework. I liked that. I liked that, but yeah, I mean, she’s my honestly, She’s she’s the perfect person in terms of like supporting you. Like she’s never, she’s never looked down at my ideas. I’ve had some crazy ideas left-field but my vision of what we had, it’s never been dumb, but without her support, we wouldn’t be here today. I mean, like, uh, I don’t give it enough credit for like the, what she does in the background, because like, When I go to work, I do all these, uh, these projects, ideas and everything, too. When I go to Asia, I’m handling production, she’s at home, you know, still running, still running the show, you know, paying the bills, making sure everything’s done while having a career. We never talk about this enough, but if I wasn’t working, she could, she could support us both by her income. She’s actually a realtor herself and our family’s got a successful broker brokerage out in Westminster and they, they make really good money as it is too. So like, I really thought I was about to marry rich.
Bryan: (00:36:45) Yeah. Oh, by Mary Reese, I’m looking at my insurance.
Maggie: (00:36:48) How did you meet her?
Chris: (00:36:50) God? There was this club in long beach called all, and nothing was really, really big back then. Um, and we had mutual friends and then I. Yeah, I just hit on her in the club.
Bryan: (00:37:05) Well, I’m glad it worked out.
Maggie: (00:37:08) So I’m, I’m really curious. Um, you know, how do you stay so inspired and just consistently keep up with the latest fashion trends in the urban market all the time.
Bryan: (00:37:17) How do you keep your eyes and ears open? So often.
Chris: (00:37:20) I mean, I don’t give enough credit to this, but you know, my business partner, Lee handles the sales, uh, handles the design and production side, but you know, both, both him and I, we. Man, we study a lot. We learn a lot. I look at brands, I look at concepts, I look at designers, you know, like, like there’s a times where I’m just literally going through, you know, high-end fashion house, because what we do is, you know, what, what we do is we study a study of the guys on top of us and we kind of break it down and make it affordable to the fast fashion lane. And so it’s a lot of studying and myself. And my, my business partner, he’s literally on his phone, on websites, looking through clothes, like all day, every day. And I’m on the same thing too. We know exactly what’s going to go on whatever hits in pairs, whatever hits in Milan, whatever his, for Dior YSL, whatever it hits for Jumanji is gonna, uh, eventually hit for the urban market or the street wear guy. So we always try to pay attention to like the fashion houses, because it always trickles down.
Bryan: (00:38:15) Yeah. And you know, this podcast would be ear air in 2021. What are your goals for this year?
Chris: (00:38:20) Oh man, 2021. Obviously this year, we just launched Richie Lee last week. My goal for this year, obviously. And it, my goal for this year, obviously like a lot of people are, I don’t want to make this much money, this much money, yada, yada, my goal is just to stay in business, dude. Like at the end of the day, like people say, Oh, I want to increase my business at 20 million, 20%. I want to be able to do this and that. I just want to keep my employees happy. I just want to make sure everybody’s getting paid. I just want to share that my business is straight work, um, on paying my bills, paying my vendors and staying afloat. This is the first year we’re going to be moving to our own warehouse. And what I want to do is make sure that, you know, my staff, my wife, my family, my team everybody’s taken care of. And no one has to worry where the next check is. Like any bad move from me on a business side is ineffective. Um, so I just want to make sure 2021, I make the right moves. So everybody, everybody prospers, everybody wins and everybody gets paid.
Maggie: (00:39:13) And so Chris, we always ask our interviewees this one last question, but what is that one advice that you can give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Chris: (00:39:21) My biggest advice is always to sit back and watch, you know, um, a lot of people and a lot of entrepreneurs. There’s just so, so caught up in wanting to be a business owner, wanting to start a business. There’s nothing wrong with working for somebody and stepping back and just learning. Um, dude, I was 30 years old before I started my first business. Right. I’m 39 years old now. Right? So I’m, I was 30. When I start my first business, I sat behind Andy. I sat behind all these other guys and I work with them. I watched them make all these mistakes. And what I did was I took a piece of paper and pen and I wrote notes. I was like that fucked up. I’m not doing that on my dime that fuck up. I’m not doing that on my dime. That fucked up. I’m not doing that on my dime. So I learned from other people’s mistakes. So when I was ready to be my own man and go on my own, I wouldn’t do those mistakes. And so. Well, like, I always say learning somebody else’s dime, being an intern, being an apprentice, um, just work for somebody else. If somebody that you, uh, you idolize somebody that you look up to, somebody that you want to be like, so, you know, just don’t rush out there to be like, yo, I want to open this and that, you know, um, like I said, um, mistakes, mistakes, mistakes are lessons learned.
Maggie: (00:40:28) Yeah, I love that. I love that. You said that because I feel like a lot of people have this misconception that once they get to their older twenties or thirties, it’s like, it’s too late. And I like shouldn’t, you know, move ahead with it. Here’s your life.
Chris: (00:40:41) I mean, you think, you think about it. All you need is one good year to match somebody’s decade, you know? Um, and so people are just, so people are so in a rush, like a biological clock to be like, yo, at 30 years old, I got to be this. 30 35 years old. I gotta be this, you know, it’s like, no, everyone works on their own time. And like, what did they say? More, more millionaires are created at the age of 40 than at any other age. Right. Is that what they’re saying? Yeah. Um, and so, like I said, you know, like I read your guys’ as a forum and I see so many people always asking questions like, well, what would you do with $10,000 to do investments? I was like, nothing, go work for somebody, you know, like, you know, I see some of these questions and like so many people are just so, so bad on. Being being an entrepreneur, owning a business, being a CEO, it’s honestly not cracked up to what it is.
Maggie: (00:41:34) Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Chris, for sharing your story. How can our listeners learn more about you online? And do you have any final remarks for our audience?
Chris: (00:41:43) Uh, I mean, you can learn about me by my social media handle. Chris underscore the leverage. Uh, that’s on IgE. I don’t do take talking at all. Um, and another biggest thing is I, you know, I’ve done a lot of podcasts without, you know, giving out shout outs to my team. Um, I do talk about my team a lot, but like the guys behind it from my Derek, Sean, uh, Kevin, uh, Brandon Kaitlin, G uh, My business partner, Lee. I love him to death without these guys. You know, I wouldn’t be here. They do a lot of the heavy lifting where I’m just the face of it. So like, you know, all you guys, I love you guys to death and you know, I appreciate all you guys.
Bryan: (00:38:15) (00:42:19) Wow. Awesome. Thank you so much crispy in the podcast when you really enjoyed it. Thanks so much,
Outro: [00:42:26] Hey guys, we hope you enjoy this episode. Please subscribe to the show.
Wewould like to get to the top 10 on iTunes so be sure to leave us a five-star review. We release an episode every single Wednesday. So, stay tuned.
Thank you, guys, so much.