At the outset, these exchanges were neighborly, fun, practical. But it didn't take long for Brown to figure out that he could employ these people to work for Soldier. Just as fast as he could draw up the signs, "Trashcan Advertising" was born.
At ASU, Soldier was a dorm room operation that only ran when Brown had some extra money to pull a new design off his computer and print it on fabric. It was only years later, in 2002, that Brown had enough cash to apply for a trademark.
It's hard to imagine how Brown kept his one-man operation from running into the ground, which nearly happened on a number of occasions for the simple reason that Brown could only afford to print as much as he sold.
But as the buzz in Phoenix began to grow around Brown's designs and the "trashcan ads" behind them, others besides Brown's friends were willing to spread the word for him. By 1998, he had his first shirts in four of Arizona's better-known urban clothiers. His first designs made it into the now-defunct hip-hop store Style Rock, followed by the also-defunct 522 Bad Luck, formerly on Mill Avenue. Later he placed designs in Sounds Fresh of Tucson, and most recently at Swell Records & Clothing on Mill.
But that still wasn't enough to pay the rent.
Facing debt and trouble getting Soldier off the ground beyond Arizona, Brown packed up shop and headed home from Tempe in the summer of 2002, a year from the day he walked out of Wells Fargo Arena with a degree in marketing from ASU. Jobless, Brown was forced to get in line with corporate America. He took a gig with a local beverage company as a sales rep pushing beer and soda.
He'd retreated for a brief hiatus, but Soldierleisure was not dead, and in fact, Andy Brown's absence from the Arizona nightlife circuit created quite a stir of its own. Remember, people want what they can't have. So during his time off from printing tee shirts, Brown started saving money, sketching designs, planning to break down a few of those walls he would build steps over with his unique designs.
"I mean, you can go out every night and party for that night or you can invest for the future. I was investing for the future and partying on some nights. I was trying to find that compromise," he says.
Brown found that compromise in the late-night corners of Mickey's Hangover and the First Friday scene, where he could be spotted mingling with gallery owners, artists and revelers, shouting out "What's up, doggie?" greetings, exchanging in witty repartees he'd inevitably interrupt with his occasional "How 'bout it, broheim?" lingo.
Brown wanted to throw a party to celebrate the seventh year of Soldierleisure for those who'd supported him over the years. Wayne Rainey, who operates monOrchid Studios, offered to let him use the monOrchid space for a show. Brown agreed and contacted Russell Ramirez from Swell while Rainey brought in Mickey's Hangover to provide drinks.
That night last December, the crowd strolled through the corrugated steel doors and moved to the catwalk cadence beside paintings from Brown's friend Joseph Oursland. Scenesters sashayed across the floor sipping cups of jungle juice as huddles of parents, friends, artists and entrepreneurs bobbed their heads beside ravaged cases of Coors Light.
There in the crowd stood Brown's father, Marc, and his stepmother, Norma. Dr. Brown wore the first Macadamia tee shirt Andy had ever printed. It was a simple design with a flower in the shape of a star holding two other flowers in the shape of stars with a bubbly "M" on the bottom. Dr. Brown recalls that he insisted on paying his son $15 just like the rest of Andy's customers.
"I liked the shirt, I wanted to have him learn to profit from his work, and I knew he was low on money. Besides, I like the guy," Dr. Brown says, laughing.
Andy remembers his father telling him during some of Soldier's tougher times, "Why would you want things handed to you, when working for them is the best part?"
Taking this paternal maxim to heart a few weeks after the monOrchid show, Brown walked into Federal Express, sent off some line sheets to Hollywood, and waited for a response. In January that response came back positive. Andy was invited to showcase his designs at the annual POOL trade show in Las Vegas. The POOL show -- a marquee event for the best and the brightest of the urban fashion world -- allowed Andy Brown, for the first time, to set up shop next to the likes of the revered Stussy International, Adidas, and many other well-known indie labels such as Lemon Twist and Harteau.