There’s no obstacle in life that can’t be overcome with a genuine smile. But even in the hardest of times, a polite, insincere grin (even an awkward one) can still make do. On this premise, a meme was born.
If you have any investments in the meme economy, then you’ve probably heard the name Gavin Thomas. Best known as the “boy with the fake smile,” the eight-year-old American has gone viral worldwide. His hilariously insincere expression has garnered him huge followings on Instagram and Weibo alike. Just six short months after joining the latter, he’s already won over millions of followers, and many Chinese netizens are even hailing him as “world-class meme material.”
Recently, Chinese fashion label BIZZCUT released a line of products with the boy (or rather the meme) himself. It includes hoodies, iPhone cases, blankets, and even mousepads. Named auspiciously with the upcoming Chinese New Year in mind, the Peace and Prosperity collection pairs Thomas’s iconic fake smile with vibrant colors and bold Chinese characters, showing that memes can live beyond our device screens and find a place in the real world.
BIZZCUT was launched in 2014 and is run by a small but dedicated team made up of two fashion designers, a design assistant, a graphic designer, and a three-man operations department. We recently interviewed Da Yao, a graduate of Italy’s Istituto Marangoni and the founder of BIZZCUT, about her newly released designs and the challenges of running an independent brand in China.
最近，国潮品牌 BIZZCUT（“别闹”）联手“腔调”和“假笑男孩”本人联名合作，出了包括卫衣、手机壳、毛毯和鼠标垫等等一系列周边，并为了呼应即将到来的中国新年，这个系列取了个非常讨喜的名字：“平安富贵”。Gavin 标志性的假笑，配上大量鲜艳的色彩和硕大醒目的中文字，让原来活在手机里的“假笑表情包”，比起不正经来，更多了点酷。
我们采访了 BIZZCUT 的主理人大妖，毕业于意大利马戈兰尼设计学院（Istituto Marangoni）服装设计系的她，于 2014 年创立了这个品牌。现在的团队已经有另一个服装设计师、一个设计助理和一个平面设计师，和三人的运营团队。
Neocha: BIZZCUT’s Gavin Thomas collection draws on the aesthetics of memes; it’s a large departure from the approach of other domestic fashion brands. How did this idea come about? What was it like working with him?
Da Yao: When someone from Taobao Kongdiao (a fashion-focused platform run by the Chinese e-commerce behemoth) approached us about doing a collection with the “fake smile boy,” I was on board immediately. I’m a fan of Gavin myself, and I often use his sticker memes on WeChat. It felt like something in tune with the spirit of our brand, so everything just happened quite organically. It was a smooth process overall. Gavin and his mom approved our initial drafts right off the bat. It felt like we were on the same wavelength, so it was quite enjoyable working together.
Neocha: BIZZCUT “假笑男孩”系列的产品有着浓浓的表情包风格，和一般“国潮牌”不太一样。是什么促成了这个系列的诞生？和假笑男孩的合作过程是怎样的？
大妖: 当时淘宝腔调的小二来问我们愿不愿意做一个合作款，得知是和假笑男孩合作我们毫不犹豫就答应了。因为我自己也是 Gavin 的粉丝，平时聊天也常会用他的表情。同时他的气质和我们品牌调性挺契合的，所以合作自然达成了。过程也非常顺利，我们提交初稿的时候就得到了 Gavin 和他妈妈的认可，可以说是一拍即合，非常愉快。
Neocha: What do you think are the primary reasons young people are drawn to your brand?
Da Yao: Maybe it’s our design philosophy. Compared to other brands, we don’t take ourselves that seriously. We enjoy making designs around self-deprecating humor. People are under a lot of stress nowadays, so a dose of quirky, offbeat humor resonates with them. Another thing is our perspective of what’s “cool”: Every brand wants to talk about being cool. To us, being cool is about exuding confidence. In other words, being “cool” in your own eyes is what’s most important. We hope that our products can help give people this type of self-confidence.
Neocha: 你觉得 BIZZCUT 能够吸引这些年轻人最重要的原因是什么？
Neocha: What are some of the brand’s underpinning design philosophies and inspirations?
Da Yao: It all starts with me thinking about whether it’s something I personally like—otherwise it’ll never hit the shelves. Secondly, it needs to fall in line with the brand of humor we’re known for. I like design that makes use of pop art; mainstream culture is also something that needs to be considered. After all, being a designer means staying open-minded. It’s about finding a balance between your own aesthetic preferences and what speaks to the masses.
Neocha: It’s been a few years since BIZZCUT was founded, and the brand has built a large following of dedicated fans. During this time, what are some the most difficult struggles and challenges you’ve faced?
Da Yao: The biggest risks we took thus far were our releases for the second half of 2018. We tried out some more serious designs, but the reception was lukewarm. It helped us realize that our audience still enjoys how we bring happiness with simple, unsullied humor. But we’re now back on track. This process provided us with a lot of clarity.
Neocha: BIZZCUT 从诞生到现在也有好几个年头了，目前也吸引了一大批忠实粉丝。但这个过程中你们有碰到过独立品牌“好险差点没活过来”这样的情况吗？
大妖: 最险的基本就是 2018 后半年吧，做了一些比较严肃正经的尝试，结果不是很理想，后来发现大家还是喜欢简单和纯粹的快乐，现在基本回到正轨了，这个过程中自我认知也清晰了许多。
Neocha: Once a brand becomes overly commercialized, it can leave a bad taste in people’s mouths. How do you strike a balance between an authentic independent spirit and being profit-oriented?
Da Yao: Commercialization isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Good business practice means getting more than what you’ve invested, and I think having an entrepreneur mindset is important for designers. We’re not artists. Design is intrinsically linked with marketing. That said, we still strive to strike a balance between mass appeal and our independent spirit. I consider this to be the most interesting part of being a designer—it requires an equilibrium between business acumen and artistic sensibilities.
Neocha: What do you think the most important qualities are for an independent brand?
Da Yao: The most important thing is the “independent” aspect of it naturally. Something we constantly remind ourselves comes from a quote by Hu Shih: “What is independence? Independence is following your heart. If you’re free but not independent, then you’re a slave. Independence means not being blind, not being duped, not imitating others, and not relying on others. It means not trusting what you hear second-hand, not trusting thoughts that aren’t your own, and not trusting vicarious experiences relayed by someone else. This the spirit of independence.”
In other words, it’s important to not blindly follow trends.
Neocha: How would you describe the BIZZCUT attitude in one single word?
Da Yao: Humorous.
Neocha: Aside from your online shop and brick-and-mortar retail location, you’ve recently opened a space for hosting events and exhibitions. Why this expansion?
Da Yao: This space is something new for us. There aren’t long-term goals for it. It’s just a place where we can meet and chat with guests, a place where we can share our design philosophy with people. At the same time, we do plan on hosting events catered to people looking for fun things to do.
Neocha: What can we expect from BIZZCUT in the future?
Da Yao: Surviving is high on our list of priorities. Refining our products and coming up with more thoughtful designs is also very important. We’d also like to work with some shopping centers and media platforms to do a pop-up store. Aside from these things, we’ll be putting out a premium collaborative projects once every year.
大妖: 未来发展的话，先是活下去吧。然后把产品的品质更优，设计更成熟一点吧。也会和一些媒体和商场合作做一些 Pop-up Store，还有就是每年做一次优质的联名款。