As a Forest Hill High School graduate in 1988, Ron Chane thought he was loaded with cash. “A hundred and fifty dollars in my pocket from graduation seemed like a lot,” he says, 25 years later. Mowing grass since the age of 11 with a “heckuva business,” Chane was a self starter. So it came as no surprise to anyone when he took that $150 and took on a summer project – as a personal challenge. “In a very pretentious sort of way, I was pretending to be a business man. Little did I know, once you become one, you spend rest of life trying not to be one.” And 2,500 plus tee shirt designs later, Chane says at this point, he’s too stupid to quit.
Chane celebrates 25 years as a designer on June 19. It’s a moniker he avoids, saying he’s all thumbs with a computer and an amateur behind the camera. His tools, a scrap of paper and a pen, take him down magazine aisles, looking for a font, a shape, a color or even a word. “I stare at things until I make a relationship happen,” he says.
Call him a “lifestyle artist” instead. “This is what you do when you don’t have (digital) creative skills,” he explains. “Which is weird because I consider myself a creative person. It’s not an innate thing because it’s something I had to go out and get and work for. So I appreciate it even more.”
Most wouldn’t know Chane almost became a pharmaceutical sales rep. That was the plan while he was a Kappa Sigma at the University of Southern Mississippi. That was, until a suite mate was killed. “It made me think twice about life,” he says. “I asked myself ‘Do you follow the beaten path or do you get out and do something about it?’ I’d much rather fall on my face having tried.”
And try he has. He turned that first $150 in seed money over three times, selling tees at BMX races from the trunk of his car. When he lived in Pensacola, he hustled diners he was waiting tables for with his backpack full of his designs. In New York City, he sold shirts on the street with a found card table, even working, of all places, at The Gap for a time. Chane says he was starving to be a designer and starving to eat.
So, in the spirit of who he is, Chane switched it up: he did a nationwide tour of sorts in a car loaded with shirts. He maxed out credit cards, slept in Waffle House parking lots and searched every town for hippie stores, bike shops and skate shops. The designs he sold were all about surfing and volleyball but really about bucking the status quo. He says, “Pretty much everything I have done goes against the grain.”
On one of his final tours, Chane was swinging through his hometown and visited a store that was an account, Shakedown, next to Cups. The owner suggested he open a store in Fondren. That was February 1998 and the only time, he says, he had cash in his pocket. After a good pay day in Dallas, Chane says he was “just dumb enough to try.” He put a deposit down, signed a contract and opened a month later. Six months to the day, he thought he would have been gone. “Instead, I expanded into what became the former Shakedown space.”
Six months later, Chane had a third Fondren location, and a year later, a fourth. Before he knew it, he had five different businesses in the neighborhood. He asked “What monster have I created?” and called the time “intense.”
Still, there was always that dream that maybe he would be a designer in NYC. Chane, who now spends his time between Jackson and Brooklyn, borrowed money from a lawyer friend in 2003 to pay rent and make payroll in Jackson. “He took a chance on me to follow a dream,” Chane says.
After making the rounds in the city, dejected, Chane dropped off a catalog for his Mod Sushi line and was quickly called back. “I thought I did something wrong,” he says, “but instead, she told me I was about to miss out on a big opportunity.” That opportunity turned into a year in the Honey Bee Showroom in the middle of Times Square. “That was the dream. How it happened, I don’t know.”
New York design markets followed and, in his third and fourth year, Chane was the number one volume seller in market. Fast forward to today and he and another designer have taken over The Real Designers Market. “I didn’t see that coming,” he says. “NYC has produced fruits I never thought possible.”
Twenty five years in, it’s time to speed up before slowing down. Chane says “I’m spending the rest of year taking my stores to a level I want them to be at so I can focus on reclusing myself to become a designer.” Chane says there’s always a fight in his head. “At some point, I would like people to look at me and say “He used to work really hard but he’s a slacker now. I will be back to creating and letting my creative side win.” That may come in the form of his canvas art, a store redesign or a complete 360° redo of his Belhaven home.
Chane, now 43, plans to (re)launch a shirt line in London this fall all while managing the Real Designers Market, opening more locations in New York City and expanding his Fondren stores, Swell-O-Phonic, Soma Wilai and Slavebird. Through it all, his motto has always been ‘Life Fast, Dream Forever. “Go fast,” he says, “And you’ll figure it out along the way.”
“We were never trying to fit in,” Chane explains. “We knew what the lines were and knew how not to color inside those lines. There’s never been a desire to keep up with the Joneses.” For the longest time, he says, it was defying the Joneses, and then, he felt like he was the Joneses. “If we are the Joneses. We’re the weirdest ones out there.” He calls it “a little snarky, a little funny and a little ballsy” all of which makes sense with his whole journey thus far.
“I’ll do tees forever – which may be until tomorrow,” Chane says. “But I’ll do it until I die.” I’ll leave the world saying “I did it how I wanted to the whole time. For reasons I can’t explain, I’m still here.”
Celebrate #Chane25 Wednesday, June 19 from 5-8pm at Swell-O-Phonic in Fondren Corner. Music, food, beer, free tees and more. More details here.