Fast forward a few years. Inspired by all these new sounds, my Halifax cousins and I had started a band, the Strate Jakets. The band kept playing, we got half decent and played shows, put out an album and moved up to Montreal. I had continued to make shirts for myself over the years and I designed our first tour t-shirts. I remember going to the screen printing shop to place and then later pick up our order. It was a small shop and the guy doing it lived in the same space, but he did shirts for most of the indie bands in Montreal and knew what he was doing. I was fascinated with the whole process and swore I would do it myself as soon as I got a chance.
Well the band eventually broke up and we all moved on. I still liked punk rock but I listened to a lot of other stuff by then as well- everything from old jazz to Fred Frith, King Crimson to Public Enemy. Punk had opened my ears and my mind, and it left a lot of room for lots of other cool sounds and ideas to come in. In 1993 a long-term relationship ended and I moved out to the west coast to check out Vancouver BC, the city of my birth. Not long after getting settled out there I met a guy who had one of those old t-shirt heat presses. I asked him if he wanted to sell it and he said he did. So I scrounged up the $350 and dragged the press, which weighed about 8 tons, home on the bus.
A good friend at the time was actually working at a company that had once had a string of those "t-shirt shacks" that used to be everywhere in the early 80s. Well that trend eventually petered out and most of their stores closed, and they were throwing out literally thousands of transfers. It was like some sort of divine destiny- first I got the heat press, then literally the next week I found out about these transfers. My buddy managed to get me a couple of garbage bags full and I started playing around with them. There was some great stuff in there- muscle cars, tons of animal prints, all kinds of fun stuff. Scored a box of these cool old shirts for less than 2 bucks each from an old tourist store going out of business down in Gastown and I started making my own designs by cutting up the transfers and combining them with my hand designed logo. I had already thought about it for a while, and knew what I wanted to call my clothing company: Zero.
I consigned some of my creations into a store downtown called Cabbages and Kinx and was shocked and delighted when they actually started selling. My hobby was now a business! I started ordering blanks and coming up with new designs at night in my bedroom. This was the mid-90's and I was still doing everything by hand- Windows PCs were on the market but they were slow and expensive, while Apples were still several thousands of dollars. So I drew a lot and made a lot of photocopy art, while I prepared to move back to the east coast, where I planned to make even more t-shirts and get in on this World Wide Web phenomenon I had been hearing so much about.
My old heat press and I made it down to Halifax in one piece and once I got myself established I managed to procure myself a computer, a scanner and an early cracked version of Photoshop. At the time this felt like winning the lottery for me. I got busy holed up in my basement, spending every waking non-work hour digitizing all of my ideas and learning how to build a web site. I didn't know how it was going to happen, but I was convinced that I'd be able to sell my shirts online if I could just get my ideas out there in front of people.
Hard work paid off and in October 1998, one year after arriving in Halifax, I launched my very first web site, zero23.com. The designs were all over the place- I drew a lot of inspiration from comics, old cars, science fiction art from the 1950s and cool photography. I had a collection of images I had pilfered from magazines and books over the years and a lot of these images made their way into the early shirt designs.
Next time: soaring successes, crashing failures, parenthood and mid-life crises, all leading to this.