Interview w/the owner of Hot-Block Clothing

March 18, 2008

Hot-Block Clothing

How did this all come about? When did you first know you wanted to do this? Is it just a side-hustle, or something you’d like to dive deeper into?
I was always into art. If you ask around in Long Beach, they’ll either say “Oh, the dude that be drawing?” or “Oh, the dude that makes shirts?” I used to make tees in high school for me and my crew. Just stuff we could rock instead of white tees all day. That turned into a little side hustle when people would just come up to me and beg for a shirt. It didn’t support me, I’ve had a couple 9 to 5s I’ve bitched about. I’m full time school, so the clothing stuff took a back seat up till a couple months ago. A lot of people have faith in what I’m doing right now, and that’s driving me to really concentrate on it.

There are alot of people out there with ambition, but have a lack of knowledge on how to get started with a business manuever such as this. How did you go about starting the line?
Luck has a lot to do with it sometimes. After high school I laid low on the design tip, and focused on work and college. Out the blue I got a call from one of my friends asking for logos and a website. At first I didn’t want to promise anything, but I told him I’ll try. It was for a streetwear boutique they were opening up. I just fell in real good with them, I even started working there. It sparked my interest again. I was looking at the product coming in, and told myself I could do that. I just started asking questions to all the people I was meeting at trade shows and what not. They really schooled me. I was only 21 at the time, and everybody I was talking to was around 30. They’ve been in the game for a good 10 years plus and had the insight I really needed. I picked up on everything they said. In the end, I was having doubts about the shop. Tension built up, egos were getting bigger, so I decided to part ways and start my own thing. I saved up a couple hundred, and got my first design out. Flipped that, and now we’re sitting on two.

You’re sitting on two what?
LoL, I meant two designs. Hopefully with every design, I can flip em and double the number of designs for the next shipment.

What boutique did it happen to be? Which trade shows did you attend?
I used to be Groundid’s ( designer. Their whole thing was stay humble, stay grounded. We tried to treat everybody like friends. We even let the shoppers model the tees whenever the shipments came. I was probably there everyday. I did the website, the line of store brand tees, held down the store on the weekends, inventory. That whole situation, and how it ended cut me pretty deep. I went out to MAGIC in Vegas with them. That was probably the biggest trade show I’ve been to. It’s crazy. Everyone was geared up. 500 dollar kicks, 200 dollar jeans, 40 dollar tees, it was ridiculous. Models you see from videos running around everywhere. Man, I was like a kid in a candy store. Besides that, I’ve been to the smaller ones out in San Diego called Agenda. More laid back, more one to ones with the sellers.

How far do you think you’d like to go with the line?
You gotta aim for the top in everything you do. I’m shooting for the moon. I wanna be on some Diamond, or Hundreds type shit. If I could get a store on Fairfax, I’ll die happy.

What do you think was your biggest obstacle so far concerning your line’s creation?
My personal life has taken a crazy beating. Money is a major issue, especially when you don’t have a lot of it. Basically budgeting is crazy. I don’t spend a penny on myself. I go M.I.A. from time to time, and nobody sees me for a good week or two. I don’t stress it because I enjoy what I’m doing, and I have faith it’ll pay off.

I noticed some underlying themes within the designs of the clothing, which I thought was a neat feature. What do you think are some of the influences behind your designs?
I’m a hip-hop head. Music inspires me a lot. Sometimes I could just be listening and a line just hits me. Lately, I’ve been real political/social with the newer concepts. I was born in a country that was going through a civil war, and mindlessly slaughtering its own people at the time. Google the killing fields, that’s what I came from. When my family moved out here, we ended up in the hood. I’m still on MLK Jr. Ave, and I don’t know if there’s a decent one in any city. Some of my best friends are career criminals. Some of em work corners. I’ve made different decisions in my life. I’m trying to get on some corporate shit so I can feed some people.

Wow, I looked it up man…that’s amazing..when did you & your parents leave Cambodia?
Throughout the 80s my family moved from refugee camp to refugee camp. I was born in one, you see M16s in my baby pictures. My family, especially on my mother’s side, were heavily rooted with the previous government, so staying in Cambodia was never an option. Family out in the US finally sent for us in 91, that’s when we left for the states. I was 5 or 6, and didn’t know a word of English when I started school. I shock a lot of people when I tell them I wasn’t born here.

How long did it take you to learn English?
I was in ESL, or English as a second language, up to the 4th grade. So roughly four years. The rest of the learning came from TV and music mostly. There’s no accent or anything about my speech that would suggest I wasn’t born here. I guess I’m one of the lucky ones.

What’s your name?
My mother calls me Rortha, but I go by Ro. Makes things alot simpler.

I’ve noticed it’s basically just t-shirts at the moment. Will your line grow more dynamic with time, or will you stick to your guns (no pun intended)?
Sweaters withing a year. I’m gonna take this slow, and not rush anything. I’m not just gonna pump stuff out for the hell of it. I want every design to have a meaning. I’m focusing on the message mainly now, but when it’s time to really step into the realm of branding, then expect everything.

Do you think you’ll ever work on distributing artwork that isn’t fashion-oriented (paintings, drawings, etc)?
To be honest I haven’t looked into that, so I don’t know yet. I never really kept up with drawing or painting. I’m diving back into it, but all of that is to help progress the shirt designs. Like the MOB tee that’s probably going to be out in a month, that’s the first one I’ve actually drew by hand.

If your line was a rapper, who would it be?
My man NaS! We’re a reflection of the streets, we play off of it. But at the same time, we try to motivate people, tell em shoot for the moon. We try to make them think, cause you gotta question the conditions and state of mind we in from time to time. We’re the dude around the way that’s smart low key.

Where will people be able to purhcase and view your mechandise?
I’m selling most of this stuff from word of mouth, or right out the back of my car. Everybody in Long Beach that knows me is supporting right now. Some of em don’t even wear this type of stuff, so I gotta thank all of em for supporting. If you’re not in Long Beach, check out for details. You can actually order online. I met a couple boutique owners over the years, and when I’m ready, I’ll start moving into stores.

Anything else you’d like to add?
I think we covered just about everything. Definitely look out for us. I’m trying to take over my hometown first, but give me a couple years and I’ll have yall screaming “The block is hot!”

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