I’m not sure exactly what year it was when I started working with the USA Shaolin Temple on their annual retreat t-shirts. It was probably 2016. I only know that because of the creation date on a set of photos I took of Shifu Shi Yan Ming for reference and designs. It’s a bit hazy- because I’ve been haunting the Temple since 2011- twice since then, briefly, as a student (the moment the money comes in for a babysitter I’ll be considering taking that up again).

Every year my clothing company- Love Nico– is fortunate enough to make a run of shirts for the USA Shaolin Temple’s annual Memorial Day Retreat. It’s that time of year again.

Shifu Shi Yan Ming- USA Shaolin Temple- 2016. photo by Corinne Alexis Hall

Love Nico had its beginnings in larger sized orders for stores. I developed my silkscreen muscle memory around a in-house self run sweatshop assembly line of one- my average order size being roughly 120-200 pieces, about a dozen of each design and colorway. Believe it or not, working that way is faster than making one of a kinds. And it can be very satisfying.

Some of Shi Yan Ming's disciples lending me a hand in my Love Nico studio- 2016.
Some of Shi Yan Ming’s disciples lending me a hand in my Love Nico studio- 2016.

If you’re into Kung Fu movies, there’s quite a few old Shaw Brothers productions where a hero is looking for recruits, and finds new students in unlikely places- like behind the back of a restaurant- where they’ve developed their own style of training with their daily life of bags of rice and giant jugs of wine. Whenever I’ve had larger scale orders, these scenes run through my imagination. It keeps me sane through the more tedious parts of it all, such as looking at one finished pile of shirts and realize it’s only “finished” 1/8th of the way. I always pretend myself as one of those drunk unwashed cooks- and get lost in the flow and repetition of my personal wax on wax offs.

Over the years the fashion industry changed, and my work with a rep slowed. The store orders through buyers gave way to a focus on internet sales. The larger orders disappeared- and by 2015 I was only making one-of-a-kinds through Etsy sales. Now I’m not making much of anything by hand. I would be crazy to keep doing it, because the Print On Demand world can make it all on a lot more products. Instead I now get to sit and watch over my girls while I focus on designs. It’s still work, but in a way only once, since you “set it and forget it”- by putting the finished made to order products out there and just letting people know where it is.

I prefer it this way to making one-of each by hand.

But all in all, my favorite way of doing things is still the larger orders. The sweating next to my shirt conveyor dryer. The ink on my pants. The work flow and blasting great music.

And once a year I get to dive back into that for one of my favorite groups of people, and through a subject matter that will be a constant source of inspiration to me for the rest of my life. It really doesn’t get better.