Christian Brown a.k.a OHKAYCHRIS recently dropped his first 60 page zine titled “Twenty Plus Things That Owning A Brand For Two Years Has Taught”, giving insight on lessons, experiences, and memories learned from the journey. We got to sit down with Chris for a little and pick his brain about who he is and what drove him to create the zine. You can check out the full interview below and shop the zine for $15.99 USD here.
CF: How Would You Describe OHKAYCHRIS?
Ahahaha you know, even to this day I’m still trying to figure that one out. Like – in a sense it’s my alter ego, you know what I mean? It’s a name that I just came up with one day freshman year of high school and ran with it. It’s a way to separate life in the now and life on the screen. But when the day ends and we look at life from a step or two back, I’m realistically just a regular teenage kid with a lot of ideas and a platform to express them on.
When Did You Have the Initial Thought of Writing a 60 Page Zine? Is This Something You’ve Always Wanted to Do?
Ok so if there’s one thing I prioritize in life it’s making lists. I have three sets of lists, right. I have my “Do This Stuff Today” list that I make every morning and check everything off before bed. I have my “Stuff To Do – Places To Go This Month” list where I basically map out all my projects for the month, see how I’m going to execute them, and work accordingly. Then, I have my “Before The School Year Ends” list. That’s the big one. So my whole life I’ve just been really into writing. I’ve written like fifty blogs on my website and each of them are over ten pages long. I just do it for fun. I love telling a story that people can read because I like to give the reader a sense of who I am through words. It’s not like a youtube video where your short attention span just listens to me talk. You actually need to read when people write. Just like you’re reading this. By this point, two questions in, I’m sure you’re reading this in your head and you’re imagining me narrating it in whatever voice you think I have. Well – going back to the list thing – the last thing on my “Before The School Year Ends” list was to write a book that I could self publish. I had no idea what it would be on, initially. During finals we have these things at school called Twenty Fours in the library. It’s when you spend 24 hours in the library doing everything you need to do to get ready for finals and the school year to end. After ten or so hours of studying I took a break and googled “How To Make A Zine”. A couple hours later I had set up the format and I just started writing. By the time the sun had come up I was on hour 6 of non stop writing and I had a solid 40 pages done. All in one go. Listening to the same piano instrumental tracks on spotify over and over again. It was a few hours before my last final in this lame computer science class and I printed out the book on my library printers. I was like five coffees in, shaking as the papers came out. I folded them all up and stapled them, just like the google article had instructed. I read it through and I was like “Wow – this is it. This is my book”. A week later I moved to LA for the month and worked on it a lot more, making revisions and finding out what pieces to add in. It was on my final list of things to do before summer ended – to publish it and put it out. And this is it.
Where Are You From? Where Did You Grow Up and What Was It Like?
So I grew up in this small town in suburban Massachusetts called Danvers. It’s a really cool little place, right on the ocean in the top right of the country. I lived there my entire life growing up, just my mom and I. I’m an only child and my mom traveled a lot for work so the majority of my early teen years were me just figuring life out as it went – all by myself. I played sports in high school, like I was on the soccer and lacrosse team and I was class president before getting impeached by my principal senior year for being too hectic. As I grew up and moved away and went to college, I learned the importance of the whole only child thing. I never had people to come home and talk to after school because I was the only one living in the house, so I always did everything I could growing up to make as many friends as possible. I had friends from anywhere and everywhere. I never really had a set in stone friend group – I bounced around from different friends in different towns and used the internet to make most of my cool friends. Growing up was a beautiful time and if you asked me today if I’d go back and change anything – I’d tell you no. Where you’re from makes you who you are. It teaches that young version of you how to be you.
When & Why Did You Start Ohkay?
See, you’re going to have to get the zine to find that one out. I break it all down across like eight pages and talk about what was going on in my life when I wanted to start a brand, how I initially started it, and how it transformed from my high school business class project for this program called DECA into what it is today. It’s a pretty good story i think.
In the Zine You Mention 4 Main Points; Expand, Learn, Live and Never Give Up on This. What Does This Mean to You?
They kind of go in that order – like the priorities to life in branding. First you need to start your brand and then it’s an uphill battle. At the top of the hill is a big hump and once you get over that, you kind of make it to the top of the first hill (of many). Once you start expanding your brand, you begin to learn how it works. I talk about it in the book, but there is no “How-To” direction manual to starting a sucessful brand. There’s a lot of key things you have to focus on to grow the brand, but expanding from a small-scale idea into making it a full fledge business is the first main milestone in branding. Once you finally get to the top of the hill you kind of look back behind you down to the bottom where you started and you say “wow, this specific thing worked out well and that other thing really didn’t”. Once you start to see what’s working for you, you just keep going with those individual things. After you start learning the ropes, you’re going to start having money to live off the brand. I don’t necessarily mean you’ll be balling out, but by that point you start to have friends who have brands, you’ll probably start making internet friends all over the country, and hopefully you will have learned to travel around. Once that happens, you can live. You can see the world and learn how people work outside of your small town or wherever you started from. You start to meet some of the big players and the people who have years of experience in this and then the ball will officially be rolling. At that point you’ll just instinctly know that there’s no reason giving up on something you’ve built, because at that point whatever you’ve built will feel like your baby and you need to keep growing it until it’s your entire life. I hope that made sense.
How Do You Separate Brands & Merch When It Comes to Ohkay?
Man, I have such a hatred towards that word merch. There’s actually a section of the book that desribes the drastic difference between brands, and merchandise. A brand is an idea. It stands for something much bigger than the products that they offer. A brand has a certain niche following of people who share similar interests and lifestyles. When you buy a piece of clothing, or an accessory, or anything from a “brand”, you’re buying into the idea that the brand represents. When you buy Supreme for example, you’re buying into the late 90’s / early 2000’s era of SoHo kids running around New York. Maybe you’re representing the brand in some sort of “hypebeast” way in today’s times, but you’re buying into what it represents. Merch on the other hand has a specific meaning : to represent a specific person. People buy merch from youtuber’s because they love that person, not the idea they necessarily represent. People buy merch from concerts they went to or merch from albums they liked. When you wear that, you promote a certain individual project that resonates with you, but you don’t wear that to represent an idea. When you walk into a store that you love and buy that piece you’ve always wanted, you’re supporting a brand. With that money, the brand can expand and work on bigger and better projects and grow the brand image and what they’re working towards. When you buy merch from one of these youtube kids or from a rapper you like, they just take that all in their pocket and keep doing what they’re doing. Whether it be on the road, or in your apartment where were the main spots you’d usually get most of your writing in? Ok so along with lists, I am a big fan of workspaces. To me, that’s everything. When I find a place that I can work in and write in, it’s very special. Everything needs to be right for me. The enviornment, the colors around me, the energy in the rooms surrounding, the amount of outlets in the room, the lighting, the wifi connection strength, everything. Honestly, I can’t get much done when I’m traveling. And I’m traveling a lot. I’ve tried to break that and find workspaces when I’m moving around, but it’s really hard. Just like the writing of the zine, the place i work best is at the library at my school in Chicago. I sit at a very specific high top desk that has a giant iMac and I open my laptop and just go to work. The thing is, once I start writing I can go on and on for hours without interruption. When I was younger, like in high school and stuff I used to work for a company that would fly me out all over the place all the time senior year and when I was on the plane I used to make my best OHKAY designs. Now that I fly like every week I just use the time in the plane to either read books or listen to new music and just think to myself. Rarely can I get work done in the air which really sucks. There were so many times this summer that I flew back to Chicago just for a few days to go to my apartment and breathe for a bit and go work somewhere on my campus, even though no one was there. It’s just where everything flows for me.
What Motivates You to Keep Going? You Live a Very Fast Paced Lifestyle, How Do You Keep Your Energy?
I laughed to myself out loud reading that question because that’s probably the one thing every person asks me. I really do have zero clue how I do it, but I maintain a very high level of energy every single day and just go-go-go. The minute I wake up in the morning I start my day. I never ever sit around. If I get up at my apartment at 9am, my day starts at 9:10 and I’m out the door ready to go somewhere and work on something new by 9:15. Even if I just drive to a coffee shop and get a coffee and read a book for a little while, the idea of getting up and going going going keeps me alive. Most days I stay up for 18 hours. That’s usually my goal. I’ve taught myself to only need (at max) 6 hours of sleep. These past few months of summer I’ve mastered the idea of living two days in one. I’ll wake up in the middle of the day most times around like noon. I have my day friends and my night friends. I’ll live an entire day and hangout and work with my day friends, then I’ll eat a huge meal at night and sit for a little while then I’ll go out all night long until like 4am. Sometimes we go clubbing, sometimes we’re traveling, some times we’re just out and about having fun and enjoying life in the moment. But that way I can live multiple lives and maximize my potential. I think playing video games and watching tv is such a useless, mindless act of time wasting so when I’m home I’m just sleeping or working on my laptop thinking of new ideas for the future.
With a Fast Paced Lifestyle Comes Traveling, You’ve Often Tweeted About Running From Gate to Gate at the Airport, Do You Have a Record Time for the Readers?
Oh my god if there’s one moment in time I wish I had someone recording, it was my great rush through the airport. I will never ever forget it. Right after school had ended I was moving to LA for a little bit and I found this great fifty dollar flight one way in the middle of the day on some weekday. For some reason I had been running around all morning long and forgot about my flight. Oh another thing I do is I never check bags. I religiously bring carry ons. I threw my laptop, my chargers, and my camera into my backpack and threw like five shirts and a bunch of socks into my tote bag and looked at Uber. Because of city traffic in Chicago it was going to take me an hour to get to the airport, maybe a little longer. If I take the bus near my house it brings me to the train and I can take that directly into the airport. That takes 55 minutes exactly. It was like 12:35 and my flight took off at 2:10. That means that boarding starts at 1:25 and gates close promptly at 2:00 (ten minutes before you take off). Uber was going to be cutting it close on time so I ran to the bus and jumped on and it took me right to the train. I swear I looked at the clock 100 times during that bus ride. It brought me to the train and I jumped on at 1:05, keep in mind it’s a 30 minute ride to the airport. I’ve never missed a flight in my life and I pride myself in that, and I was certainly not about to miss this one. I get to O’Hare at 1:32 on the dot. The doors opened up and from the train and I started sprinting. I touch the ground of the airport 13 minutes before the gates were closing. I booked it to the stairs and tripple-stepped it up to the floor where you go through security. I ran to the TSA line (at this point sweat is definitely dripping down my face) and cut in front of everyone. The gate was closing in 11 minutes.My QR code didn’t scan at TSA so the guy told me to sprint over to the person at the desk and get a physical ticket. That cost me 4 minutes.I ran back to the TSA guy and jumped through the line, literally tossed my bags through the scanner and went through with, at this point, six minutes to go. I had no clue where gate L15 was so I asked the airport staff and they said all the way down on the right. I hit the ground running bro. Full spring. JUST like those movie scenes. I was dodging people left and right, dripping sweat and all I could think about was high school soccer conditioning and how I’m so glad I showed up to practices back then.I finally get to my gate and catch my breath, there’s 3 minutes left before the gates closed. I jumped in the front of the line and handed the woman at American Airlines my ticket and this woman looks at me and goes “This is A. A flight to LA. Your ticket is for Spirit”I didn’t even have enough time to think or even say a word, I grabbed the ticket out of her hand and started sprinting, olympic style, to the complete other side of the airport. It was easily a half mile sprint and I didn’t slow down a second. My bags were bouncing on my back left and right as I was split dodging airport goers. My fastest half mile sprint came to an end and I saw the people at the gate – everyone had boarded. I start screaming “HOLD THE DOOR I’M COMING” and every single spirit employee just watched me break the O’Hare Airport Track and Field record time. I ran up to the gate and literally threw the woman my crumpled ticket. Bro everything about it felt just like out of the movie this woman caught it in the air, uncrumpled it, scanned it, and handed it back and all the employees started cheering at the gate. I made it through TSA, security, to one end of the airport and back to the other all within 11 minutes of arriving.
Why Do You Believe the Best Brand Names Only Have Two Syllables?
Think about it. I’m typing this on an A-PPLE computer. I just got out of a TES-LA. I grew up loving SU-PREME. I get all my news content from a platform where people share ideas freely called TWIT-TER. Nowadays people meet their new boyfriends and girlfriends on a stupid app called TIN-DER. The millenials best friend is a device called the I-PHONE.Two syllables sticks. People remember it. It flows off the tounge and it doesn’t get people confused. Most major companies in the world strives to have a two syllable title and a recognizable logo.
In the Beginning, Why Did You Start OHKAY?
Honestly, I had to write a 30 page paper on a prospective business idea my junior year for a competition we had through school called DECA. I had no clue how to actually start a business I was like sixteen and had never had a job before. The outline of the paper was basically asking questions like “What is your plan for expansion” in different time intervals, or like “Describe the products/services offered in the company” and I was like ok so I have this idea to make a content company called OHKAY and sell stuff, but i had no clue what to sell. I made some photo prints and used them as products for the paper. Eventually I taught myself how to make a website and I branded it as OHKAY Photography. Long story short my paper had won at the state level and I got to fly to Florida to compete against all the other people who had won with their businesses in their states. I had to make that 30 page paper much better and basically prove that my business had a long-term life to it. The only part of the paper I didn’t get a perfect score on was the expansion opportunities. I was like well yeah people don’t want prints of photos. People want products they can touch and wear and actually show off. That’s when I walked into a screen print place in my town with the $400 I had to my name and two logos I made on photoshop and learned how to print the first ever OHKAY pieces. That $400 turned into $600 and I put that $600 right back into making more clothes, you know like screen printed tees and stuff. That $600 doubled in a few weeks through my website and people on instagram thought it was cool and then that $1200 gave me enough money to legalize the company, get a new website domain, buy a few tables for my basement which turned into the office, and bam. The rest is history.
Back in June You Posted a Couple Write Ups on Your Blog, One Included the Pros and Cons of a Summer Job Compared to an Internship. Were Articles Such As These a Stepping Stone For the Zine or Had You Already Started?
The blog you’re referencing here is the “3600 Summer” blog. I think that’s my favorite one ever. I wrote that outside at school during my finals week before I even thought of the zine idea. All my friends at school were telling me they were going back to their hometowns all summer to work normal basic people jobs for minimum wage and I did the math and after taxes and everything, if you work 5 days a week for the entire day at minimum wage, by the end of summer you’ll walk away with $3600 and that’s before paying for food or anything fun.It was a cool article and I had a lot of fun writing it and a little over 50,000 people ended up reading it which I thought was cool but that was just another blog i wanted to share just for fun. The zine came a week later.
Are You Planning on Monetizing Your Lifestyle When You Go Way For While? And how?
I’ve got a few plans, but none I’m too stressed out about. In a week I’m moving to Barcelona to go to school for a few months over there. It’s going to be a huge experience for me and I’m going to travel to a new country every single weekend. I think I’m going to start a youtube channel and just document my entire experience. I think it’ll do good. Every time I see my friend Cam (Cam Haller) he always tells me how easy it is to just pick up a camera and start documenting everything. Hopefully I could just grow a following there. I’m also going to be releasing clothes while I’m away. My best friend Sam is going to take care of the production and our other friend is going to handle shipping the orders out. And I have two other businesses that I run that do very well that I have a computer program running that generates sales of other products completely unrelated to my life to a whole different demographic. The magic world of drop shipping.
What Advice Do You Have To Any Kid Reading This Wanting to Start A Brand or Become an Artist?
Just go for it. Honestly if you don’t do it now you’re never going to do it. We’re in the age of fast consumerism. Kids love clothes. Kids love art. People don’t like spending $400 on a shirt anymore, most kids wants to have the most amount of cheap clothes that make them feel cool. Make a brand, create an idea, learn to make products, and give it a go. I think every single creative teenager should start some sort of company selling what they love to make. It teaches you the core aspects of business in a trial – and – error fashion. Fall down a few times, get up a few more.
Is There Anything Special You Want to Say About The Zine?
I think the zine overall speaks for itself. I don’t want to give much away about it because if people got this far in the article I’m sure they’ll want to read sixty more pages of me talk on about life and what I’ve learned. It’s a really cool project and I’ve had a genuine time producing it and I hope it inspires more kids to write more and share their ideas with the world in other ways than posting on instagram. The book sold over a hundred copies first day and I kind of sat back and looked at it like “alright, now that’s cool”.
What Can We Except From OHKAY Next?
A very hectic youtube channel, more writing pieces, interviews that I write about some of my friends in the industry, maybe a collab or two, and a lot of figuring out how to run a brand when I’m half way across the world.
Anymore Zines On the Way?
I made sure to put “OHKAY ZINE ONE” on the top of this one so that I force myself to make “OHKAY ZINE TWO” after I spend all this time in Europe. It won’t be the same format, I’m hoping to switch it up. After a few zines I’m hoping to publish a hardcover book through a publishing company and get a real editor and distributor, a magazine with real brands and companies involved, and a photo book of all the thousands of point n shoot photos I’ve taken all over the world in the past years.
Anything else you want to say, anyone you want to shoutout, yada-yada?
Start somewhere, never stop.