John lin is the owner and designer of zealots and villains. follow the brands journey here on his blog.

Failing Fast

I’ve always been a fan “failing fast, learning often”.  At least, philosophically and intellectually, I am.  In practice, I’m probably the exact opposite.  Especially in my own work, be it client or personal.  I sit there, staring at the screen, pixel fucking the design.  Sometimes pointlessly.  Maybe it’s because of the way I was raised (Hello, Asian parents.)  or maybe it’s something learned entirely separate to my upbringing, but there’s this constant nagging sense of “This Is Not Enough.”  Coupled with the ever present Imposter Syndrome, when I do creative work, it’s like the perfect recipe for decision paralysis.  Just ask my wife how many times I run out of my office and say “BABE.  CAN YOU LOOK AT THESE DESIGNS.  WHY DO THEY SUCK BAD?”

But like I said, philosophically, I love the idea of pushing stuff out and just letting it collapse to learn from its failures.  There’s something incredibly freeing (and noble) about that.  A sense that, you know what, shit is fucked, let’s go.  Or something. 

And I think that’s why I am so drawn to and passionate about Zealots & Villains.  I come from a background of motion graphics, doing large scale animations for commercials and tv shows and sporting events.  Everything is analyzed and dissected by clients, by bosses, by clients bosses.  We’re always using computers to design and animate and so everything is PERFECTLY ALIGNED.  We want pixel perfect because computers LET US create pixel perfect.  And in turn, that’s conditioned us as designers and clients to want The Flawless.  In other words, we pursue science, not art.  Just look at the whiz bang vfx heavy films now.  They’re soulless and empty because they’re faultless. One of the first lessons you learn as a 3D modeler or animator is that no object is PERFECT. You always want the curves to be a little bumpy or you want the edges to have a little crookedness. But now, the irony is, even the mistakes are manufactured.  I’ve always loved the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul precisely because they’re such imperfect movies, but in a natural, human way.  Lots of eyes reviewing the project coupled with the sense of creating perfection has created, in my opinion, death.  And I got burnt the fuck out on that. 

So when I started designing shirts, I got excited.  I loved the idea of creating a brand that spoke to a culture that resonated with me, that spoke to a message that gave voice to something I believed in.  But also, I really fucking love not having a clue how to do apparel.  Most of the time, I’m just winging it.  I google things I don’t know; I’m constantly on Reddit asking stupid questions like “Yo. Why are my collars flimsy after one wash?”.  And because I’m basically doing all this on my own, I don’t have the luxury or time to worry about every single fucking detail. And those limitations free me to actually prioritize the important parts of the work; the work that I care about. The authentic work.

But of course, regardless of what I say, I still spend a lot of time on these designs.  I still have version50 ready to go, I still go into Instagram and delete posts from like 5 days ago because it doesn’t feel right.  I do that all shit still.  But there’s also a sense of randomness and freedom that I am careful to not ignore. 

So yeah.  I want to make some awesome shirts and cool designs.  But in doing so, I’m willing to fail.

The Risk of Carrying Inventory