It’s long, but if you are interested, here is my story.
I was born in Billings Montana, my mother was a postal worker and my father was a carpenter. From the time I can remember I always thought I was destined for something that would make waves in the world, I had absolutely no idea what that was, but it was just something I felt. Personally, I didn’t feel that growing up in Montana offered much in the vein of opportunity to impact the world. Perceiving that I had very limited options, and even more limited finances, I used the tools I had as a carpenter’s son. Half-demolished, or scheduled-to-be-demolished walls, old spray paint, scrap wood and bricks was what I had on hand on a consistent basis to feed my ever-growing creative side. Creating exceptionally atrocious wall, wood, and painted brick art held my attention for a while, but then once I realized how bad I was at it, it was easy to take a step back and focus on other passions. I tried to express myself through clothing choices for a very brief amount of time. Montana, very limited family finances, and the common hurdle of childhood bullying quickly squashed that idea. So, for my educational life, I became just another face in the crowd, but I knew I needed more.
During my college years, “fashion” to me was defined as “fitting in by standing out only a safe amount.” So that’s about the time my closet turned into an Abercrombie and Fitch lookbook, because it was edgy, but for sure helped me fit in. Those were definitely not my proudest years. Anyway, I graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration and Marketing in 2007 from Montana State University Billings.
After 2 miserable months of working a construction job that I was not physically or mentally equipped to do, I realized Montana had run its course. To nobody else’s knowledge, my stepmother at the time, who was just in a fairly significant accident, knew how upset I was and asked me what it would take to get me out of there. I jokingly said $4,000, that way I had a cushion to find a job and somewhere to live. She, without hesitation said, “Ok.” And gave me $4,000 of her settlement money. So the next night, a random Thursday, I decided to move to Los Angeles. I immediately MySpace-messaged a friend from high school to see what my options were down there, and if it was possible to find a place quickly. Again, kindness helped this journey become a reality. She offered her couch for as long as I needed. I packed up my car with all that could fit, printed out MapQuest directions and decided to take the leap. I called my mother, she told me to come say goodbye, we shared a tearful ugly cry, and she wished me well. I called my father, he unfortunately didn’t answer, so I started my drive. 10 hours into my drive as I’m passing through Salt Lake City, I get a call from My Father…
Here's how it went.
Dad: “Hey bud, sorry I missed your call last night. What’s up?”
Me: “I was calling to let you know I’ve decided to move to LA.”
Dad: “Ok. We should probably talk more about it, but if we decide it’s the right choice, we can figure it out.”
Me: “About that… I’m actually in salt lake city right now.”
Dad: “What the hell are you doing in salt lake city?”
Me: “I’m moving to LA.”
Dad: “RIGHT NOW?! What are you thinking?!”
Me: “Dad, I really can’t listen to this right now… this is scary enough…”
Dad interrupting: “I don’t care what you want to hear right now, I AM…”
Me interrupting (YOU DO NOT INTERRUPT MY FATHER MIND YOU) “Dad, I love you with all my heart, but I’m hanging up…” (you also don’t hang up on him)
I continued my drive in silence with a huge lump in my throat. My father was my hero, the person who I most wanted to make proud by moving and trying to make something of myself. I was devastated…
30 minutes later my phone rang.
Dad: “Nate, I’m sorry for getting upset, it was just incredibly shocking to hear.”
Me: “It’s ok Dad, I understand.”
Dad: “No, it’s not. Nate, I am so proud of you for having the courage it takes to leave all that you know to chase your dreams. I love you with all my heart, and I will always be here if you need anything.”
Me (sobbing): “Thank you dad, that means the world to me. Bye for now, I love you!”
I arrived in LA with big plans, big dreams, and a fucking naivety that could rival anyone you’ve ever met. In 1 year I was gonna be a big shot! I wasn’t sure how, I just knew I was going to be. Cut to 6 months later still living on a couch and working part time on the Santa Monica Promenade… at Abercrombie and Fitch… it was not going as planned.
After a few years of wandering, learning, failing, falling, trying to grow, not growing, finding and losing love, and attempting to find my calling, it was clear that I was lost. In a rut, no path, no place in the world that felt like mine, I truly had no idea what I was doing. The only thing I knew for sure was that LA had to be home for some reason. In times of struggle, I typically go back and dive into something that I used to be passionate about or that I’m comfortable with just to try and enjoy doing something…anything, again. I started stenciling and spray painting graphics again and feel back in love with creating art. Good, bad or ugly, it was creation in its purest form and there was a cathartic feeling involved in it. After a bunch of attempts at trying to find something that had some sort of substance to it, I made a piece called “FuckLove.” It was exactly as it sounds, a piece that literally said, “Fuck Love” in the vein of Robert Indiana's "Love" sculpture in Philadelphia. Remember now, I was going through a rough patch in my life, and that piece spoke to me so vividly, I immediately fell in love with it. I made canvases, different colorways on cardboard, and on anything I could find for cheap because I was broke.
Then one day I grabbed an old hoodie from my closet and used one of the smaller stencils I made and sprayed it on the chest of it to see what it would look like. Another spoiler: I thought it was the sickest hoodie I had ever seen! Was it? No no, but I didn’t care. I made it, and it was perfect! I wore it all the time, so much that I consistently had people asking where I got it. The next step felt obvious to me. “People think the hoody is sick. Might as well make some more and try to sell them!” So I started on my journey to try to sell some clothes. But hit an immediate speed bump… I had no idea what the fuck I was doing in the slightest. Fortunately, I had a friend who was one of those guys who knows everyone there was to know in any industry ever. So he did me a solid and reached out to a bunch of people he knew that were in the screen printing business to see if I could hire them to do my pieces. Unfortunately, every one of them was too busy to take my work, or more likely, they just didn’t want to. So I again hit a dead end. Another wall with nowhere to go and had no idea what to do. So, I called my dad and vented to him about how I was trying to do all this cool shit and how nothing was working out in my favor. I was being extremely dramatic, but it genuinely felt like the end of the world at that time. After a brief explanation of what I was trying to do, my father asked me a question, “Well, what does one of these screen press things look like?” I didn’t know why he was asking to be honest, but I explained fairly simply what the process looks like and how the press itself functions. He then asked, “Ok, I can kind of picture it, send me a photo of one so I can get a better idea of what they look like.” Still oblivious as to why he cared so much about what they looked like, I sent him a photo. I get the response, “Oh, that’s not too complicated looking.” I finally admitted I was lost and said, “Dad… I’m not sure what that means!” And he says something that changed my life forever, “Nate, just find the schematics of the one that you need, and I’ll make it. That way you can just screen print your own stuff, right?” I was blown away… I didn’t know what to say… so brilliantly I came back with, “Wait… what?” So he says, “Bud, if you can’t find someone else to do this work for you, learn how to do it yourself. That way you don’t have to rely on anybody else to make your art!” It was one of the most beautiful, most impactful and most impactful moments of my life, and I will cherish it forever. I emailed my father the schematics for a 1-color screen press… because again, I had no idea what I was doing and that felt like enough. He calls me a week or two later and tells me to book a plane ticket back to Montana so I can check this thing out and see if it’s what I’m looking for.
I get to Montana, really excited to see the press he had built. Once I finally saw it, I was completely blown away. This was not the simple one color press I had asked for. It was a rotating 4-color press made almost entirely out of wood and he even built drying racks underneath it. It was unreal. Apparently he got the schematics and decided that wasn’t good enough so he did his own research and found better plans and made some adjustments of his own and what had come out of it was perfection. I had no idea how to use it, but it was the best gift I'd ever been given! So, Pops and I put it in the back of his truck and drove it down to LA to see what I could do with it. After teaching myself the (VERY) basics of screen printing, and ruining countless shirts and rip sheets, I figured it was time to launch the “clothing” company.
N8 started in 2012 as a casual apparel brand, with a goal to become a fashion brand once I learned a thing or two about fashion. Again, coming into this thing with no knowledge at all, just a passion. The name is obviously a play on my first name, but more so pays homage to my father, without whom I wouldn’t be doing any of it. It’s how my father used to spell my name when I was a kid. He thought it was so clever because he was fairly certain he made it up, and since it was before the advent of the internet, I have always given him credit for it. N8 offered screen printed designs, graphics and the company logo on American Apparel and Alternative Apparel tees, tanks and hoodies. Again, this was a leap into a world I hadn't the slightest clue about, so this seemed to be the easiest first step. That continued for a few years, selling a handful of shirts and gaining a few fans/customers. I knew that’s not where I wanted to be or what I wanted to be doing in fashion, largely because I don’t like graphics on shirts, and every blank you get is the same square tee you get anywhere. None of that felt like anything close to fashion for me. There are also so many of those graphic-based casual apparel companies out there and I knew they were all better than me, and had the fanbases that I didn’t. But, I didn’t know what my next steps were or how to take them. I was scared, insecure, knew failure was the most logical outcome. I was just treading water because I was scared to try to swim.
Then, two days after my birthday… October 18, 2015, happened. A date that changed my life in more ways than are possible to explain. My youngest brother, who I was living with at the time, got a call. After what now feels like the longest minute of my life, he hangs up the phone and looks right into my heart. Mind you, this is the person I feel the most responsible for in this world, looking at me like this. He tells me that was our uncle, and that our dad had been involved in a motorcycle accident back home and passed away.
During the next few days, I didn’t know what I was going to do, or if I wanted to do anything anymore. I knew life was supposed to go on, but nothing felt the same, and the brand all of the sudden didn’t feel important. Hell, he was the reason there was a brand to begin with… so when he died, I figured maybe it was right that the brand go with him.
I flew back to Montana to take care of some stuff and help plan the funeral. When I walked into his house, one of the first things I saw was a lone card on his dining room table with his return address on it and my name with no address. It was my birthday card that he hadn’t sent yet because every year he forgot my address and he would text me to get it so he could mail it. It was one of the most haunting things I had ever seen, and then my older brother said something that would stick with me forever, but consequently made it even more difficult to open the envelope, “oh shit dude… That’s the last thing he’ll ever say to you…” and then, seeing my reaction to that, to soften it up a bit and make a joke at an inappropriate time, as was accustomed to do in my family, “I don’t envy that at all, what if he’s telling you, you were adopted?! Hahaha!” It took me a week at my dad’s house to finally open the card, because I knew that was it… the last thing he’d ever say to me… I finally opened it. In the beginning of the message he said how proud he was of me for chasing this crazy dream, and trying to make something of myself. And while I will always keep most of the message private, the final words after explaining that he didn’t know how to properly express how proud he was and how much he loved me were, “You are loved beyond mere words.” Simple, poignant, and perfect. It was something out of a movie, a beautiful ending to something truly tragic. I knew that card, and those words would change my life forever.
In an odd and possibly indescribable way, life itself just became that much more beautiful. Once you realize how short it is and it could all end in an instant, the time you have left becomes more important, more impactful, and more precious. There was only one thing to do now. Work.
The brand had been treading water for the last few years without a direction, or an identity, except for maybe as an average-at-best graphic tee/sweatshirt company. That was never the goal, the dream, or anything close to the idea behind it. It was the first step into the fashion world, a step that I stayed on for far too long. I was scared to take the next step, let alone the million steps after that it would take to be successful. The successes, failures, trials and errors, goods, bads, ups and downs that were sure to follow were terrifying. But, not more terrifying than staying in the same spot. Wasting time, treading water, and in 5-10 years regretting chances that weren’t taken. Being comfortable is the enemy of motivation. I wasn’t comfortable in life anymore anyway, so might as well get uncomfortable with the company now too.
I began to take meetings with cut and sew factories, and through a friend I was introduced to, we’ll call him “The Gentleman.” I thought he would end up being my partner, and we’d take over the fashion world together. But like so many times before I got excited and factors out of my control were working against me, and were about to come tumbling down on my head. For a brief period The Gentleman was teaching me a lot, things I never had to think about, and so much of the development side of fashion is actually created, that it ALMOST made what happened next worth it.
After months of meeting, patterning, fabric warehouses, samples, tags, every detail toiled over and thought about, time and money spent… it was time to go into production! The deposit was paid on my first ever production run! Something I made completely from scratch from my mind— starting with a shitty drawing on an iPad, to a terrible first version, to a less shitty 2nd, 3rd, and 4th version, to finally a perfect final version. I couldn’t wait, I had been teasing it on social media for months, trying to drive up excitement leading toward a launch. Everything was paid for, except for half of the production, which is typically paid upon delivery. It was all happening… but then…
Days, weeks, almost a full month at a time I was losing communication with The Gentleman. I didn’t understand what was happening… I called so many times I lost count, no texts, no nothing.
Then one day I get a call from The Gentleman, “Nate, I’m sorry, I cant fulfill your production run and will have to refund you the money.” I was destroyed. I had no idea what I was going to do. The Gentleman was the only place I knew that could make dreams like this come true. I knew there had to be other places—I’m not that dumb—but I put so much time, energy, and money into this and it just felt like a punch in the heart. But I couldn’t give up, because this is what I’m supposed to be doing, and I needed to do it for myself, and my father.
After months of searching, it turns out that it's incredibly difficult to find a factory in Los Angeles that will do small run production for a small company. Especially if most of your funds are in some person's bank account or, even worse, were used to pay that person's debts, so they don't even have it. But, I finally found a place that could fulfill my production run in a timely manner because, again, I had announced this production and had a timetable that I had to meet. The minimum number of units they required to produce was much higher than I was ready for, but I knew I just had to pull the trigger.
In between numerous trips to court in an attempt to get my money back from The Gentleman (which is still an ongoing battle), and trips to factory to see how production was coming, to marketing, to social media, to finally planning a launch party. I snuck in one more little detail for me and my father. One that I knew I had to do to honor him, his life, and his words. The words he left me with were embroidered on the inside of every collar of the first production run of the button-ups: You are loved beyond mere words. They will also be present on every piece I ever create.
Love is what keeps me and the brand going, and it’s what will be the driving force until the end. I appreciate you taking the time to read this, and I hope in some way I can inspire you to do things that make you happy and, who knows, maybe they make the world a better place.