SGV for Life?
QR codes emerged around Alhambra with SGV printed in the middle of them this fall. When scanned they led to the Twitter feed @sgvforlife: "Purveyors of quality living in the almighty SGV. Unfadeable, so please don't try to fade this." The men behind this venture are Paul Chan and partner Adrian Mejia. Chan, a graduate of Alhambra High, once owned a skateboard shop on Main Street. Now he's got a vision to create a digital brand and clothing line dedicated to the SGV.
Why do you care so much about the SGV? Why for life?
Dude, where do I start? I love the uniqueness. Best Chinese food outside of China. One of the greatest examples of SGV to me is how nobody here tries to assimilate. I love how people have to learn to live with each other. You grow up at Alhambra High. There are Asian dudes that hang out with Mexican gangsters. There’s always that one white dude who hangs out with all Asian people. Claims he’s half when he is not. And it’s the white kid who has to fake like he’s Asian. We took over, for better or for worse, we took over. I think I love it.
How did SGV for Life get started?
It goes back to a skate shop I had in Alhambra called Official. It was 1999. It was on Main Street near Garfield. A boutique skateshop.
The company failed within a year, but it sparked me as far as wanting to do my own thing. A few years later I started SGV. I had all these friends that owned these really cutting edge lifestyle driven street wear companies. I decided to give it a try. Skateboarding, Hollywood party pics, and interviews with people I was fans of made up most of the content for the website (whatissgv.com). We sold a bunch of tee shirts and even got a cease and desist from Sriracha! But that site got too big for me to manage alone and it went under. I learned a ton from it, and I'm relaunching SGV for 2012 with my partner Adrian Mejia. this time around we're really going to make sure everything is SGVcentric. All our content and merchandise is gonna be about SGV. We're very excited about the video content that we are pumping out. Whether you're into local SGV history lessons or enjoy watching skateboarding in front of SGV landmarks, we've got it covered. You might still see pro skaters and street wear moguls on our website, but it will be tied into SGV somehow.
And why did you decide to call it SGV for life?
I have friends that live in Hollywood and West LA. Whenever I tell them about SGV they say what’s SGV? They think of the other valley when I say the San Gabriel Valley. They have no idea where it is. Or they’ll say Inland Empire. They’ll just trip out on where it’s at?
You grew up in suburban Washington and moved to Alhambra as a young child. What was that like?
Culture shock to the next level. I think in my elementary school there were three Asian kids. When we’d go to Chinese food out there, there was like one restaurant. I’d never seen Asian people that weren’t straight FOBs [Fresh off the boat]. I saw chics out here that were hot that were Asian. Are we in Hong Kong, this is weird? It was shocking in a pleasant way.
I also learned quickly that in the SGV you play your position and don’t over step your boundaries. I’ve always had a huge appreciation for that. The way those unwritten rules work. You can end up offending people without even knowing. It was part of survival to know about all the different cultures so I don’t end up disrespecting people and getting my ass kicked. Gang culture is so prevalent in SGV so you have to know how to navigate those seas. That’s why I want to make a shirt with all those curse words in Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese. Because that’s one of the first things you learn when you move to the SGV. It’s the curse words. How do you say this in Vietnamese? It’s almost like a gateway drug to learning about cultures.
You’re Chinese and a high school dropout. How did your parents take that?
I went to Fremont Elementary, and I was labeled gifted pretty young. And actually did well for a while. But when I became a teenager things changed: Chasing girls, listening to hip hop, smoking weed, typical stuff. For my parents it was pretty crazy because I’m first generation.
I did go to ELAC. And got accepted to UCLA right when I had a chance to go to New York. Instead of going on to school, I went to New York, Jamaica on a four-year whirlwind globetrotting adventure with Kronick, a hip hop and skateboarding magazine.
What do you do now?
Now I work for a non-profit called Stem Up. It’s a Latino engineering non-profit. And I work for a couple skateboard magazines.
It’s not bad, I’ve got friends with college degrees who are hurting right now. Or in tons of debt. I have no debt. I’m not rich by any means. I wake up every morning and I don’t want to kill myself. I consider myself winning.
So what are you trying to do with SGV For Life?
First time around it was just about what I was into. This time around we’re trying to make it SGV for real (though it will still have skateboarding). We came up with this series called SGV Hot Sauce Challenge where we ask people what hot sauce they prefer: Sriracha or Tapatio. The first episode was at a private skate event hosted by Skateboarder Magazine at The Standard hotel on sunset. That might not sound like it has anything to do with San Gabriel Valley, but we justify it by recognizing that almost every eating establishment in the SGV has Sriracha or Tapatio on its tables (there's a few places that have both!). Like I said, we’re going to make sure it comes back to SGV every time. And a new clothing line is coming out that is based off of SGV to the fullest. We’re going to have a full line, t-shirts, hats, socks, and piñatas in the shape of the SGV logo. Maybe some red envelopes too…