That Saturday night started alone, with the music up and the windows down, jamming my white Ford Bronco up the LA freeway to some club in Hollywood. The traffic was light and when I got there a small Korean man kept wailing about the angle of my vicious park job. I slammed the door, failing to please him, and drifted along the easy Hollywood sidewalk with Jim Morrison's ghost mumbling like a drunk in my ear. I was making tracks to my buddy's start-up party. A t-shirt company birthed from two dudes from the Lost Generation -- who went to college and couldn't find a job. So, they made their own.
"Creeping Jesus!" shrieked Erik, one of the founders. He was standing near the door of the music-bumping club. "You old dog! How are you?" He was postured upright, near a myriad of hell-bent souls waiting in line, hugging each other and slapping hands ... giving big grins with a whoop here and there. "We thought you weren't going to make it. It's opening night!"
Bewildered and feeling the urge for a drink, I congratulated him with a fresh whack on the back and mentioned something about Whiskey. He gave out a bellow of laughter and crested his chest, whistling twice to the grizzly bouncer to lift the velvet red gate to pass the loitering yuppies ... continuing to whoop in their high top shoes, tight jeans, and Swag t-shirts. Their cigarette smoke stung my eyes like a blast of UC Davis pepper spray.
The reason for this party was simple: the launch of Swag of the Month, a company that taps into the fashionable desire of youngsters on a budget. And after a few cool minutes on their website and a social media-like experience of getting to know your tastes, Swag of the Month picks your probable Swag, sending you a fresh tee every month from independent designers. All for only 9 bucks a month. Don't like your new threads? Send 'em back for some more.
So not bad, considering that Erik Huberman and his co-founding buddy, Austin Smith, launched Swag of the Month in October on rogue change and surplus couch bait. Now, with a $100,000 angel investment from Quattro Development, the young company is dressed to play ... and so is the outlook for these two products from the Lost Generation: They graduated from college into the worst job market since The Great Depression and they didn't give up. The lack of an easy job fertilized their minds to take a risk. On themselves.
"All week I've been rallying everyone on Facebook to come out," Erik yelled, looking out on the dance floor. He turned back to me with a smile, "Hell, lemme buy you a drink!"
Making our way through the twisting tornado of dance lights, we passed a pack of moving bodies to the bar. "So whatcha having, old sport?" he asked. I muttered something about an old Fitz, but he wouldn't have it. This wasn't a place for crusty Kentucky drunks. "Ha! This is Hollywood," he burst out. I saw his point and gave into the trend. Okay, I said, Vodka soda.
Clutching the thing, I turned around and faced the slew of lust on the dance floor and Erik, damn-near deafening me as he moved into a crazed filibuster, continuing manically to explain his new venture: "It's pure entrepreneurism, man. Taking the simple idea of selling t-shirts and matching it up with social media and people's personal tastes to deliver something new... " Then, from the dark corners of the club, two busty girls wearing custom low-cut shirts came up to the fox, dragging him away to a table full of Swag. Everyone wanted in.
Alone with my vodka, I looked out upon a sea of fellow comrades from the Lost Generation. Almost all in their 20s. Dancing like fiends. Many college educated. Some unemployed. All facing the bummer of being hopelessly in debt to Uncle Sam. Forget buying a house or having kids. These were victims of derivatives traders, too-big-to fail Wall Street scams, and an American Dream that was trading swigs with Mr. Morrison in his Paris grave.
With no jobs waiting, Erik and Austin were forced to put trust themselves. And if dressing this generation in their Swag doesn't work? Hell, they'll just get a round of old Fitz and start over.
This is the so-called Lost Generation. The generation of radical indignities. Perhaps not as lost as it seems.