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Smiles & Cries: Inside the World of Chinatown Market

At 27 years old, Chinatown Market’s Mike Cherman is already a veteran of streetwear culture. He worked at key San Diego retailers such as UNIV, at New York’s Prohibit, and eventually parlayed a guerrilla postering campaign he masterminded from his Parsons School of Design print lab into a job with Jeff Staple. He has as many detractors as supporters, but his critics can’t do anything to wipe the smile off his face — or his brand’s.

Six Ounce Studio in Los Angeles is situated in a graffiti-covered parcel of real estate that is flanked by the 10 Freeway to the north and the non-existent Los Angeles River to the east. Inside is the base of operations for upstart fashion label Chinatown Market. Straight away you know you’re in the right place — the brand’s moniker has been printed numerous times below a loading dock with a $6,000 printing gun that looks similar to a phaser from Star Trek. Alongside is a similar visual marking for Prada. It’s the perfect representation of what Chinatown Market is doing. It’s fast, easy to produce, tongue-in-cheek, and unafraid of the power and litigiousness of major labels.

Inside, workers diligently package numerous boxes ready to be shipped. Along an outer wall is an inventory of merchandise. Most is emblazoned with the brand’s smiley face logo, part of a licensing deal with SmileyWorld, the London-based company that first registered rights to the ubiquitous yellow-faced symbol decades ago. SmileyWorld once even forced the brand to stop production on certain early items after Chinatown’s smile was deemed “wrong.”

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