A 20 YEAR EXPERIMENT via multiple wrong turns trying to drive a straight line...
It's February 17th, 1998... I was driving through Jackson on the final leg of my 3rd tee shirt promo tour around the country and stopped in a little hippie shop called Shakedown. The robust owner, Billy Wynn made a joke, “Dude, the Chinese restaurant just closed next door, wouldn't that be funny (as hell) if you opened a tee shirt shop there!”
Well, I guess stupid is as stupid does and this history started exactly 30 days later with just that, a tee shirt shop in an old, dirty former Chinese restaurant. We started with only the money earned from the tee shirt tours – no family money, no outside support, no partners, no investors, no go-fund-me's, no nothing, but good old fashioned earned money and utter stupidity!
A signed lease, a janky 30 day renovation from a guy who knew nothing about those, and a shop opens with a surprising amount of the curious and some naysayers on a seemingly normal Thursday night. It seemed like the first day of the rest of my (next six months) life– oh, yeah, that's about how long I expected to make it if everything went well.
Day Two - A couple of tee shirt racks on one wall, a single counter on the other, with 10 or so skateboards and a few parts dubbed as BACKSTREET SKATE, and a screen print press in the back ready for some action. I had my first visitor of the day, a businessman who stopped by and left a card and said to call him when things didn’t work out because he wanted the space for an office. Well, there you go folks: just enough motivation to set the pace for next 20 years. We were gonna prove the world wrong and make it hell or high water and it may as well been both because there was nothing really easy about “making it!"
Fast forward to 6 months later when we took over the Shakedown spot and expanded into doing retro clothing after buying out Retroactive – the vintage shop across the street connected to the gas station.
Fast forward to a year later when we moved STUDIO CHANE SCREENPRINT COMPANY into yet another old gas station on State Street. The skate shop soon adopted the name SWELL SK8.
At this point, it was looking as though maybe things might work out with this 'business' thing as I had this revelation - “wait a minute, women will really spend a lot of money on clothing...” - enter SOMÅ, a women's' boutique (named from a Smashing Pumpkins song) - yes, founded by a slightly ignorant straight guy from South Jackson with no money.
A couple of years later, a boutique competitor named ETHERIA popped up across the street next to our two original shops. Boy did this shop stir up a stink with talking the competitive trash about SOMÅ. We woulda gone to fightin', except for one little detail, it was actually our new shop and we played the public with our off-kilter approach at making an entrance. It was at this point that we knew we were very different in how we did things and that would continue forever. ETHERIA and SOMÅ would later on join forces and reinvent to become SPARROW. SPARROW was our shortest lived concept and she became WILAI Boutique for the coming of age hip female with and edge and an attitude.
By this time, we had moved around Fondren at least 6 times and started expanding along the same sidewalk where we had begun in 1998.
In 2001, we co-founded BACKSPIN RECORDS with James Petrovich. We threw raves at the shop – yes, we just said “raves” and began creating an even more alternative culture in Jackson that molded skate, BMX, style, music and parties.
Brooklyn, New York entered the equation in 2002 with our new PROJECTCHANE division.
Enter the SWELL-O-PHONIC concept in 2003 into a brand new building (currently Fondren Public) with a skatepark, music venue and an art gallery for the up and coming young artists– ICON GALLERY.
In 2006, DWELLO FURNITURA opened on the 4th floor of the Fondren Corner building as a loft style hip furniture shop. We eventually set this concept to the side for a time when we could focus more on the design element vs the retail side. (DF resurfaced again in 2017 as just that – modern furniture design.)
2007 birthed our local JACKSON SERIES of tee shirts. This is the year we also coined the term – JXN as is widely used today.
In 2008, the ramps were getting old and we were tired of picking up cigarette butts smoked by 16 year olds at the music venue and it was time to chill. As the recession was coming with a vengeance, we headed up the hill to Fondren Corner.
2010 saw London, England come into the mix with our newest PROJECTCHANE LONDON division.
We opened THE REAL DESIGNERS MKT in NYC in 2012 as our co-op division that offered a selling space to emerging artists and designers.
THE WONDER LAB was born in 2016 as an incubator for artists and dreamers.
PROJECT CHANE NOLA surfaced in 2017.
Looking back, the decision to keep it core was made early on. We've never sold out for a buck and kissed our failures along the way as a result. Sweet, however, is the taste on the backside when you feel you might actually land the trick. Anti status quo became our shtick as 'not exactly fitting in' for 20 years to us almost meant more success than actually making it.
14 locations, 18 leases, 9 robberies, countless shoplifters, countless great co-workers, countless great moments...this collision of SouthWest JXN and Brooklyn created a staple of indie culture that would be ever evolving, never settling, always reinventing, never stopping and hopefully ever becoming. Our genre-bending over the years has kept us from becoming complacent. We have become hip to the hurt of our own failures as we refuse to massage the vanities of the upper crust. Success is learning from those who support you as a means of growth. Success is learning from those great young and unproven minds you hire vs trying to build an image with pedigree resumes and overblown egos. We never hire friend or family, but hunt for humble strangers who become both.
Apparently this is what you do when you don't want to grow up. Has this really been a form of success or just a fairly believable dream? I guess it's kinda fitting that we choose from here to keep our head in the clouds and keep it unrealistic.
I can't help but wonder if that jackass from 1998 ever found a place to put his office – might we offer a suggestion now...
Thanks to all of the the rest of you for believing in us when we might not have believed in ourselves, but were just too stupid to quit. The fun has been watching many of you grow up as we grow down...here's to the next 20 years of everything being just as new and hopefully just as squirrelly!
CHANE & the SWELL-O-FAMILY