Beijing's Plastered 8
by Joseph Nicolai
- Mar 10, 2015
Panda Guides gets a chance to interview Plastered 8's founder & creative director Dominic Johnson-Hill at their NLGX location.
The owner of Plastered takes a pose.
|Years in China
|Favorite place in China
|Favorite Chinese Dish
||Pidan Doufu (皮蛋豆腐)
May we know briefly about your life and career before you came to China?
Before I came to China I left school at the high school level. I dropped out and traveled across the world for three years, Africa, South Africa, India. Climbing mountains, riding motorbikes and making money. I arrived in China in 1993 with a backpack and 200$.
Why did you come to China and what made you stay?
I came to China to visit my eldest brother in Qingdao, this was in 1993. Then I came up to Beijing to see the great wall. I ran out of money so I had no way of leaving so that’s why I stayed. Then I found out there was so many opportunities in terms of jobs, and entrepreneurial opportunities, it was all one big accident really.
Plastered’s first t-shirt from 2006.
How’s your Mandarin?
My Chinese is pretty good. I do TV shows and I have a live radio show, Mondays & Fridays, on 101.8. I would not say it’s fluent but it’s certainly good enough for entertainment reasons.
There have been a number of reports citing the decline of the number of international tourists visiting Beijing and China. What causes the decline in your opinion? Does this affect your business?
I don’t think China makes it easy for tourists to come here particularly. Visa things make it difficult and it’s not always that cheap. I think it had its heyday during its Olympics – China opening up it was exciting – but after that the numbers have gotten down. Maybe its less exciting for people because its difficult. It has not affected by business at all. My business is 90% Chinese and Chinese tourists are on the up.
A lot of the designs revolve around Chinese slang and come from everyday local objects
What’s your opinion of the high price of Beijing property? Does the increasing rental affect your profit?
The high price of Beijing property is f*cking great. I bought property here five years ago and I love the fact that I am making money. But it is crazy for sure, a lot of speculation, but I am pretty happy with it.
Deng Xiaoping would agree that wealth is great.
What do you like the most about Beijing?
I love the fact that it changes every day. I love the fact that it is pack-full of history, and most of all I love the people here. If it was not for the people I would not stay. You can go to any city in the world that can have mountains, waterfalls, and rainforests but if the people don’t appeal to you then you won’t like it in the end. So Beijing is the people and I love that it is in a constant state of flux. Fast paced. I work in the hutongs so its it’s like living in a village in the city. So I can appreciate the slow-paced and fast-pace.
This little panda is ready for anything.
What do you dislike the most about Beijing?
Dominic: I don’t really have any dislikes of Beijing to be honest. I don’t really think of these things too much I am a pretty positive guy. I would say it would have to be pretty obvious, like the pollution. It gets me down a little bit, I have four daughters and obviously I don’t like to see them in facemasks at 7 in the morning when it’s 600 PM2.5 and it looks like the apocalypse outside. It is pretty shitty.
What was your most difficult experience creating and running this business?
The most difficult thing of creating and running the business was my fear was getting over myself and my fear of losing, the fear of what other people would think about me. Your creating your own designs as an artwork and your worrying that other people worry they won’t like it. Other than that it has been fairly smooth. It is a great business environment here and the Chinese are great customers. The creative market is still a very untapped market here in China.
Plastered works with local artists to make their designs.
What is it like being a celebrity in the Chinese media? Do you know some other famous laowais like Dashan (Mark Rowswell)?
Being famous is a bit weird. You know I just opened up a t-shirt shop and then I ended up on a TV show, and a chat show, and then on some big TV shows, like kuailedabenying (快乐大本营) and suddenly I got recognized everywhere. It was something that was totally out of nowhere. I never expected it. It was never a goal of mine to be famous. But I certainly benefit from it it’s not too intrusive.
I have been on TV shows with the likes of Michael Trey and Dashan, and the other famous Laowais. I think you just get on the shows, do your job, for my case it is to promote my business, not to be famous.
New takes on old designs.
How often do you travel to your home country? Which will you call home, Beijing or…?
I go back to England every two years. Beijing is my home without a doubt. My four daughters were born here, my business is here, my house I bought is here… Beijing is my home in my heart. Although of course here foreigners are seen as disposable, as “visitors”, it is not yet a multicultural city like London. Although I am not considered a Beijinger I am a Beijinger at heart.
If anything can be called a local business – Plastered definitely is. .
What do you think the government can improve so as to attract more foreign visitors, and make them stay and lead a good life?
They have to make it easier to get in the country. You have to work on the brand and how to advertise China and all the amazing things you can do here. But I really think the number one issue is to make it easier for people to get in.
What did you feel was unique to traveling in China?
It is an incredibly country with an incredibly long history and an incredibly diverse mix of cultures, food, terrains…. You know it’s unbeatable in that respect. If you learn the history of the country, even if you are reading a bit at the beginning of a backpackers guidebook, then you can get totally excited about this country and how it’s opened up in the world that you can still see things that almost no one has really seen yet.
You have undeniable been part of the growth of Nanluoguoxiang, from a relatively unknown hutong street to being plastered in Beijing travel guide books everywhere, how do you feel about the changes over the years in NLGX? Where do you hope NLGX goes in the future?
Nanluoguoxiang was my home for ten years. I opened up the first creative shop on the street and we held the first creative festivals on NLGX. We are somewhat responsible for its development today. If anything I am quite proud of that. Our goal was to create a nice community of creative business in a very historical area of Beijing and I think it worked.
It is now changed considerably, it is really a snack street now, you can only deliver what the customer wants. Chinese love to eat and so that’s why there is a lot of snacks there. Creative people are generally not that great at numbers so it was hard for them to keep up with the rising rents. Like many of these creative areas in the world they become very commercial and they change.
I hope it remains an inspiring place for people to understand Beijing’s incredible history – it’s a 780 year old street - and I hope that people continue to do original creative things there. I think it’s a very good concept to have creativity and history in one place. I hope young beijingers can bring their out-of-town friends here when they visit Beijing.
Plastered, making it new.
I have heard that since the beginning of Plastered8 you have supported some local charities. Can you tell us a bit about them and your involvement?
I don’t want to get too deep in the details about our contributions to charities, but I think It’s a responsibility for everyone to do something for society and give back a bit. We support mostly children charities. There are a lot of these charities are in need of support.
I had some questions with regards to some pictures circulating the web over the years. The first is one that came in 2008 when you were awarded “British Entrepreneur of the Year in China”? Can you give us some context to the photoshoped photos?
I won British entrepreneur in 2008. I am not a big fan of prince Andrew so when I was asked to take a picture with him at the end of the event. I flipped a British “V” which is a “finger up” type of thing. It’s a bit like saying f*ck off with two fingers. When the picture was circulated in the Chinese media they photoshoped out my arm and replaced my face with a different one where I was smiling. Something I am particularly proud of.
The famous photoshoped image
I also had to ask about the pictures that were circulating the web where the Japanese “action film” actress Sola Aoi (苍井空), known affectionately as “teacher Cang” in the mainland, was spotted wearing Plastered8 shirts in Beijing. How did this happen?
Yeah porn stars. I love porn stars. I did not really know who Sola was before but I was approached by someone who was doing her wardrobe and makeup and they wanted something special for her to wear in one of her films so we supplied them… I would love to see more porn stars wearing Plastered t-shirts. I think it is very inspiring for me.
Sola Aoi - a personal idol - wearing Plastered.
What are your future plans in the year of the yang?
We will have more collaborations coming up with Beijing artists, Chinese artists. We will continue to push new ideas and new products.
We are in the creative market so one of our big things is to be in a constant state of revolution. Keeping people excited about the brand and have a lot of fun along the way. That is what we do at Plastered.
We have a lot of fun and celebrate Beijing through images and artwork. And we collaborate great businesses, like Gung Ho Pizza, Great Leap, Moka Bros, Temple Restaurant Beijing, and even the UN. We create artwork for people we like and people we like working with.
We also do a whole lot of silly youtube videos you can see on our website.
There is a whole range of products at Plastered.
As a closing question, what would be your recommendations for first time travelers to Beijing?
Stay in the hutongs. Walk around the hutongs. Get out to the great wall, go camp on the wall. Go to the Confucius temple and go to the old parts of the city. And go up the Beijing TV tower and visit the revolving restaurant it’s incredible up there. I Love it.
Check out Plastered in Beijing’s creatively traditional NLGX.