By Ryan Christopher Coleman
“We didn’t expect that we’d be building this huge business.” A smile flickers across Alex Chung’s face, and he looks toward his friends. “Not that we’re a huge business.” “Yet,” adds Darius Jing, and they all laugh
.Alex Chen, Alex Chung, Darius Jing, and Joshua Ma are gathered around a table on a crisp spring evening outside a cafe in Arcadia. They’re partners in business. They’re also seniors in high school.
In the fall of 2016, these four friends, the future creative team behind The Faculty Clothing Company, were talking on the phone late into the night.
“It started as a joke, basically,” Jing explains to me. The group had been referring to themselves as “the faculty”—an inside joke between them and some other kids at Arcadia High, where they go to school. Ideas circulated, becomingly increasingly more real—they could design clothes, start a company, become moguls. Chen’s family has a background in the clothing industry, so for him the joke, or the fantasy, quickly took on tangible dimensions.
Still on the party line, Chung mocked up a possible logo on photoshop and shared it with the group. It was that moment, in Ma’s view, when the Faculty was born.
Just over a year out, the company’s success is impressive. 11.5 thousand followers on Instagram, sales in multiple states, international sales (one in Canada, recently—their first!), and a website that’s both glossier and more user-friendly than many belonging to adult, working professionals. But that’s not what it’s about, according to the team. People are attracted to the brand’s aesthetic, but according to Alex Chen, “The most important thing is the message.”
“I think marginalize is maybe an over-used term,” Chen begins to elaborate, “but you say you’re from the [San Gabriel] Valley and people brush you off. We wanted to create something that allowed us to be proud of being from the 626 area.”
Each of the Faculty’s four founding members are first generation Asian immigrants. They’ve all been inspired by the determination it took their parents to succeed in this country. It’s a big part of what brought them together as friends, and plays an even larger role in motivating the company’s philosophy.
“The hard work that went into them getting here, into staying here and trying to live the American dream; we try to match that spirit,” Chung posits.
That philosophy is not only mirrored in the Faculty’s visual aesthetics, for example in the Asian language characters they work into designs, but in the company’s sales methodology. The clothing is affordable, for one, and the young company is also already dedicated to social enterprise. Last Halloween the Faculty announced a special sale in which 75% of the revenue earned over a certain range of time would be donated to a breast cancer research fund.
“The brand should be a force of good for everybody. Not just everybody who can afford a $50 shirt,” Chung quips. People at their school and beyond are wearing the clothes, the designs are evolving, lines are expanding, and sales are going up—the formula is paying off.
But are they surprised by their success?
“We never would have expected to have this many followers,” Chung muses. “I think that’s one challenge we’re facing—converting. Converting the hype and the followers into buyers,” Jing adds.
“We don’t do it for the money,” Ma says in a cool tone, fingers laced, leaning back, “We do it for the culture.” The group sits for a moment stunned, myself included, at the constant and flawless promotion. The branding is strong with these ones. “Is that an official statement?” I ask them. “It is now,” Chung says. “Put that in there.” And they’re off, already halfway to moguls.