In a sunken loading bay just off of Commercial Drive, next to the quiet Britannia Branch Library, the headquarters of WTFWear are hiding out. Ironic, considering that when Adam Lando, the brand’s founder, ushers me into WTFWear’s studio/shop space, I am met with the fabulously round ass of none other than my queen Nicki Minaj kaleidoscopeing over a neon pink shirt. She’s not alone—Drake is there too: a shirt with an allover print of his tormented face seems to prove that he really is the saddest boy in all of Canada. Beside me, a massive printer overflows, fountain-like, with Kanye’s serious visage and the yellowest collection of beaming Homer Simpsons I’ve ever seen. “You wouldn’t know it now,” says Lando, “but later these [images] are going to be heat pressed onto socks!”
While I marvel at the technology that allows Lando to create a garment with literally any design that he can print off of his computer, he tells me how he got started in the clothing business. Lando began by selling snapbacks for $25 each on the street during his lunch breaks and then moved to this studio space to sell knockoff street and luxury merchandise imported from China.
But Lando wasn’t satisfied. “It got to the point where I really wasn’t getting inspired at all about selling the fake stuff,” he recalls. Lando was drawn to creating his own merchandise and controlling every step of the production process. “The reason I wanted to do it in Vancouver is because I wanted to make the stuff myself...We’re gonna be making stuff in Vancouver for as long as we can, as long as it’s profitable,” he says.
At 23, Lando is running a growing clothing company as well as a couple of side businesses. The ambitious entrepreneur has locked down collaborations with EDM artists like Vancouver’s own The Funk Hunters, Victoria’s Neon Steve, and Ghastly, who is endorsed by Skrillex. “I never really thought I’d have a store at all,” says Lando. “It’s actually only three blocks away from where I was raised as a kid. So to be in my neighborhood, to have my own boutique, it’s more than I could have ever imagined.”
Lando’s road to success was atypical, but not surprising. He is confident in his skills and relentlessly business minded. His creativity seems uninhibited by insecurity and his focus on his goals is unwavering. “I went to Langara for a year and a half. I got expelled,” Lando recalls. “I didn’t really like business school. It puzzled me that my business teachers were teachers and not business people. I never really found it that applicable to me.” Siri, who has come on inadvertently in Lando’s pocket, responds, “I thought so.”
“I was in an e-commerce class the semester before I was expelled,” he says, “and [at that time] I had started an online clothing store as a side business. I was failing this e-commerce class while I had this business that was about to make fifty grand in its first year.” Lando didn’t let failure run him off the tracks of his entrepreneurial goals: “I failed that curriculum,” he says, “but it’s not the only way to do business. I like to keep a good circle of people to talk business with and I think having a good network around you is really important for learning...I learned from trying things and not being afraid to fail.”
WTFWear’s success is owed, I think, in part to Lando’s charisma and genuine interest in building a community of creative people around his work. His parting words to me are nothing less than inspirational and humbling, bringing some light to this gloomy city where the artists are perpetually struggling to stay afloat. “I think the one thing that I had that really bugged me when I was a hip hop artist is that people were really afraid to work with you, they would just stick to their own projects,” he says. “I think there’s a lot of unnecessary hierarchy that prevents shit from getting done. I encourage anyone who has an idea; if you’re a creative in Vancouver, if you want to work with me, I’m totally open to it. I encourage [anyone] to contact me because I really think that more stuff gets done that way... I feel like we, at times, as creatives and business people in Vancouver are the biggest thing holding us back.”
Lando doesn’t plan on slowing his brand’s growth anytime soon. He’s always seeking out clients for big orders and looking to collaborate. Lando says that his next goal is to create a line of pillow cases and bed spreads, so if you’ve ever dreamed of falling asleep on a bed of chicken and waffles, WTFWear will be able to help you out. Until then, you’ll just have to settle for Drizzy crying softly over your chest.
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