It’s a breezy, pleasant Friday evening in March in downtown Brooklyn’s DUMBO section and inside this cozy multi-level suite that overlooks the Manhattan Bridge, the team from Entree Lifestyle is doing a bit of Spring cleaning.
“Please excuse the appearance, we just moved into this spot,” admits Entree Lifestyle co-founder Henry Li about the once-vacant showroom that now homes a creative space featuring everything from a skating and gaming area, photography studio, basketball court, design lab and more. ”This whole space has done a lot for us,” adds PR Coordinator, Reginald Elliott. “Because you’re inspired as you walk in, it’s like this is our house.”
See, within the enclosed space is where all the magic happens for Li, Elliott, Asaf Azaria, Chuck Gee and Mike Yeung; all members of the booming streetwear line.
Starting out in 1999 by friends Henry Li and Chuck Gee, who together printed designed tees in their basement to sell out of their parents’ respective trunks, Entree has come a long way since then. After over ten years of rejection and missteps, the team is now watching their once-struggling clothing line become not just a brand but more of a lifestyle.
“There’s a lot of streetwear brands and clothes out there,” Reginald affirms. “There has to be something different. There needs to be a reason why [the people] need Entree.” And that’s just the case. Currently being sold in over 150 boutiques all over the world, Entree can now be seen almost everywhere and on almost everyone, including the likes of Chris Brown, Wiz Khalifa, Paul Rodriguez, T.I., Jim Jones, Bow Wow, Waka Flocka Flame, Meek Mill, J. Cole and more.
“Honestly, we dreamed and believed it was possible,” admits a humbled Mike Yeung, the gang’s Creative Director, about finally receiving recognition in the fashion world. “We worked hard and fed [this brand] with every penny we made to keep it breathing.”
Henry, Mike and Reginald sat with XXL at their headquarters’ third floor lounge area and touched on a range of topics including their experiences coming into the fashion world, the importance of hip-hop in their designs, the meaning of Entree and more.—Ralph Bristout (@RalphieBlackmon)
XXL’s Good Life: You guys started off selling Entree out of your parents’ trucks. Tell us about that.
Henry Li: Well when I was young coming up, I wanted to be involved with the hip-hop culture through clothing. [I’ve] been a big fan of streetwear before there was even streetwear. [One day] me and Chuck [Gee] got together and started printing up shirts and selling them on some street hustle type shit.
Mike Yeung: Yeah, the beginning of Entree was just like, ‘Hey, lets turn Chuck’s basement into a printing lab and turn his artwork into products.’ We started selling a lot of shirts to the neighborhood kids, but it was mostly [like] ‘I owe you,’ or just like, ‘Here’s five bucks.’ Given the little knowledge we had in this business, the crazy unrealistic ideas, everything completely went wrong, and next thing we know we were in debt.
Henry Li: None of us here [motions to Reginald and Mike] went to school for it or had prior experience. So I ended up literally going door-to-door [to stores] throughout the five boroughs, with or without a car, whatever I had access to and just straight up knocking and being like, Check me out. I would go to like 100 stores and 95 would slam the doors on me.
Those situations ended up fueling your ambition, didn’t they?
Henry Li: Absolutely. The good thing about that was instead of getting discouraged I felt like, Now I’ll just come back again when I’m ready.
Mike Yeung: We did the only thing we could do, which is to keep trying. We’ve learned that you have to put your heart and passion into something and believe in what you create or no one else will. Don’t be afraid of failing, but be afraid of not trying.
That’s absolutely true. This story sounds like the counterpart to one of an up-and-coming MC hoping to get their music heard.
Henry Li: Right. That’s why I compare this to the music game because it’s kind of the same. My collection is my album and each shirt is a track. We’re cohesive with our clothes and they have everything to do with everyday life. Not just the hip-hop culture but music in general. We take everything that we like—from Reggie, Mike, Chuck, everybody—and somehow make it work. So that forms Entree, one whole big platter.
What is it about your clothing line that seems to resonate well with consumers?
Henry Li: We’re a streetwear brand but we’re a completely different kind of streetwear. When we first came into the clothing game, we were like outcasts, which was what we wanted. Everybody had naked chicks and guns on their shirts. Nope not us, we got some cute shit with teddy bears goin’ on.
Reginald Elliott: This is where the ‘Misunderstood’ motto works for us. Because pretty much like individually we’re all misunderstood. It’s not too hardcore for [say a] Chris Brown and it’s not too softcore for like a Jim Jones, ’cause they mess with our stuff, too. Everything [we design] is all original artwork. Even if we’re inspired by something we’re gonna switch that idea and make it our own. At the end of the day, we’re suppose to be all about originality because we come from that world of graffiti where it’s suppose to be all about original artwork.
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