Nisei Fishing Company Apparel & Craft Shows

About a year ago I was asked to join an annual Asian-American craft show in the area called Koi Krafters. I don’t consider myself a “crafter” but I was intrigued at the idea. The organizers of the craft show asked me to come up with some apparel for Asian-American men, since the majority of their shoppers are their wives. I was told many of the men are fishermen so I designed a graphic that was attempting to appeal to their love for fishing and to their Japanese/Asian heritage.

The result was the Nisei Fishing Company. It’s not a real company – just a design that pays homage to the Nisei generation and their love for fishing. For those who are unfamiliar with the term Nisei, I am referring to 2nd generation Japanese Americans who lived through internment. Many Nisei men seemed to love fishing, my grandfather being one of those men. This design is meant to honor all Nisei fishermen like both my grandfathers, who worked hard to re-establish their families in the US after WWII.

Limited run shirts I designed for the show. This pic shows the chest graphic (bottom), back neckline graphic (center), and rolled/packaged shirt.

Limited run shirts I designed for the show. This pic shows the chest graphic (bottom), back neckline graphic (center), and rolled/packaged shirt.

The design I came up with was a vintage-looking design with crossed fishing poles. The vintage minimalist style is pretty hot right now, and I wanted to do something that a younger crowd could wear (as well as older men).  Although this is a “fake” fishing company, I picked 1942 as the date it was established to refer to the internment camps as a pivotal date in Japanese American history. The back of the shirts had the logo for the Nisei Fishing Company, which is actually my maternal grandfather’s mon. I really liked the way it looked on the shirts and hats I produced.

Fara graciously offered to help make tags. We ran them through a sewing machine to perforate them.

Fara graciously offered to help make tags. We ran them through a sewing machine to perforate them.

Koi Krafters started out as a “home show”, which refers to small craft shows with a handful of vendors setting up inside someone’s private residence. Koi eventually got so big that they moved it to a large banquet hall in Alhambra, where the room is filled with a large variety of quality vendors. I am told the show used to attract about 800 people within the 6 hours it was open! Koi asks their vendors to have perforated price tags on all their inventory. It’s really a well-oiled machine for a craft show. Here’s how sales work:

– Each shopper goes around to the vendors and picks out items to purchase

– A plastic bin is provided to the shoppers to place their collection of items in as they walk around the show

– When ready to pay, the shoppers head to the checkout area where the cashiers rip off the bottom portion of the tags on each item. The shoppers then pay for their items

– The cashiers collect each vendors tags to be tallied later.

– Koi Krafters then add up all the vendors tags, take a percentage of the sales, and write a check to each vendor for the remainder of the sales.

The packaged shirts. I used some hemp-colored thin twine, and rolled them so the chest graphic was displayed.

The packaged shirts. I used some hemp-colored thin twine, and rolled them so the chest graphic was displayed.

I was advised by the organizers to test my designs this year to see if they would sell. They suggested a limited run shirt with only a few sized (geared toward middle aged and older men). I printed those, but also wanted to do a second item – I felt like one shirt was not enough variety to look like I was serious about this! I knew hats were very rarely a profit-making item for limited run sales, but I really wanted to make some. Trucker hats really represent the Nisei fishermen (most wore hats like this when fishing), so I went ahead and had some embroidered. I found a great little company in Commerce that embroidered hats for Volcom and Billabong, and did mine for a good price.

The limited run trucker caps embroidered with logo.

The limited run trucker caps embroidered with logo.

I was also told that a vertical display was very important at these shows. People walk around to each vendor and something that is eye-level and stands out will attract them to your booth. So, I came up with using the old pallets I used in the Vine art galleries as my display. The rustic wood look is also very typical of the Nisei generation – who built a lot of things out of wood. I hung a bunch of my grandpa’s old fishing poles and reels, along with a wooden mon. I think the display was just as interesting to people than the merchandise!

My display at Koi Krafters.

My display at Koi Krafters. Fara helped set up the table to nicely display all the shirts and hats.

Another view of my Koi Krafters display.

Another view of my Koi Krafters display.

After Koi Krafters I had some leftover inventory, and I was lucky enough to be invited to a second holiday craft show! My aunt also has an annual holiday craft boutique at her house (Koi Krafters actually hands out fliers for my aunt’s show), which is a more intimate show, but no less crowded! Because I did not have the space (or energy) to lug the full pallet display to the second show, I created a smaller version with some old wood panels to make shelves on a single pallet. With a couple of screws, nails, and some metal baskets from my wife, I had a nice little mini-display.

For the Holiday Craft Boutique I took a single pallet and constructed a table-top shelving unit.

For the Holiday Craft Boutique I took a single pallet and constructed a table-top shelving unit. No room for fishing poles on this one, so I just used the reels.

Another view of my tabletop display.

Another view of my tabletop display. This one was a LOT easier to carry around.

After doing these two shows, I come away with a huge appreciation for “crafters” that participate in these shows. The Asian- American craft show is definitely a unique sub-culture that is so interesting to witness! One of the show organizers of Koi Krafters, Sharon, said, “what we’re really doing here is selling ethnic pride.” After experiencing 2 Asian American craft shows, I can see how true this really is. The vendors are (for the most part) “crafters” who create products for a small niche demographic of Asian Americans. They do things that primarily Asian Americans would resonate with (kimono fabrics, Asian American sayings, Asian food-related products, etc). And I believe it’s important. People need things like this to express a healthy pride in their cultures and stories. These craft shows do that.

I am so thankful to Irene and Sharon from Koi Krafters, and my auntie Donna for letting me be in both of their amazing shows. I know they all do a TON of work to put them on, and so many people come away with great products and a great experience.

Lastly, I do have some Nisei Fishing Company trucker hats and a few XL Logo shirts left. Special Last Minute Christmas sale of $15 (not incl. shipping) while supplies last. Contact me if you’re interested. Merry Christmas!

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4 responses to “Nisei Fishing Company Apparel & Craft Shows

  1. The Las Vegas Buddhist Sangha is looking into a possibility of hosting a craft show at our new Sangha Center. Since I am a transplanted Angelino, I know that there is a big following for the craft shows and thought it would be great to host the first “Asian” craft show in Las Vegas.
    Since I am a novice at putting together a craft show, I thought I should contact several vendor to see if there would be an interest to come to Vegas. We’ve chosen the first weekend in November for our first endeavor – Nov. 7-8 2015….Before the Holiday Crazies start – and would allow vendors to enjoy our fair city. We will try to make arrangements for room rates at a strip or downtown hotel.

    Please share this idea with other vendors you know and let me know if you would be interested in participating.

    Thanks,
    Patty Yamano
    Sangha Crafts Chairman

  2. I LOVE these designs Jason! Everything from the clean graphics to the display itself. It all ties so well together. And that splash of red in the embroidered cap… just awesome!!! You’ve got a great eye and gift for design and conceptualization. Looking forward to seeing more!

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