Dominic Johnson-Hill is the imaginative entrepreneur of Plastered 8, the Beijing inspiring streetwear store, which celebrates nostalgia in a fun and innovative way.
Plastered 8 store is located at 61 Nan Luo Gu Xiang in Beijing, China. The design concept blends retro brand labels and contemporary images. Working with artists and designers from all over the world, Plastered 8 mixes the concept of the present, past, and future of a frenetic and playful China. Since the shop opened in 2005, Plastered 8’s designs have gone from making T-shirts to shipping all kinds of clothing, lifestyle products, souvenirs, artwork around the world and creating murals in restaurants, cafés, and hotels in Beijing. Plastered T-shirts can be spotted on local and foreign celebrities worldwide and its flagship store is considered a “must-visit” when traveling in Beijing! Plastered 8 is a personality extension and celebration of the life of Dominic Johnson-Hill and the Beijing he loves. Plastered 8 believes in being green! All of its inks used for printing are environmentally friendly as well as all of its cotton.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself? Who influenced you as a person and as an art entrepreneur?
I was born in the UK and lived there till I was 18 and then decided to devote my life to travel and adventure, in fact, that’s a lie, I had no plan to do this but I started and couldn’t stop cause life on the road was so much better than being back home. I enjoy most things ridiculous, absurd, and silly. I have 4 daughters and a beautiful wife, so I never find myself jealous of anyone anymore. I walk a lot, like a shitload, I’m very restless and always in search of stimulation. Sitting down to write this interview was a fucking nightmare for me. I like Willy Wonker, Reeves and Mortimer and electronic music, started listening to The Field again this week, incredible stuff.
What about your first time in Asia? What cultural differences did you find at the beginning? What inspired you the most?
I arrived in Beijing as a backpacker in 1992, before that I was a year backpacking and working in India which was probably the biggest head fuck of my life, it was a year that defined my life, had no idea the world could be so magical. Beijing on the other hand was grey, flat, and dark at night, it was hard to see its beauty, but what inspired me was it felt like it was my own city like I was almost the only foreigner there (there were plenty more) and I was discovering this new alien world that has just opened up. I lived with a Chinese family in a tiny apartment with zero persona space and no door on the toilet, the family would ask me questions like they knew almost nothing about the outside world, I would wake up and find the old couple standing over my bed watching me sleep, it was pure fascination on both sides, I loved this so much, this is what inspired me the most.
Dominic Johnson-Hill reported how the more joking he is with Chinese audiences, the more he is appreciated, as Chinese turn out to be conservative when it comes to family values, education, and work ethic. But when it comes to fashion, they are very bold.
Why did you decide to move to China?
I came to China to visit my brother who was working in Qingdao, I came up to Beijing on my own to look for work as I had run out of money, I wanted to get back to India. Never thought id still be in Beijing 27 years later.
How did the idea of Plastered 8 come to life? What is the main reason that motivated you to get into the design world? How and when everything started?
I never saw it as a leap into the design world, I just saw it as creating stuff, I still do, I don’t know much about design to be honest, nothing technical, I just have ideas and find talent to bring these ideas to life. In 2005, I was living on a Hu Tong called Nan Luo Gu Xiang, with my family in a shared courtyard house, I told a hairdresser I’d like to open a store on the Hu Tong as a passing comment to fill the void as he shaved my head, the next day he found me a store I rented it and had no idea what to do, then about 4 months later I saw a tourist wearing a shit t-shirt that said “I Climbed the great wall” I thought if I Plastered a woman in a bikini on top of that design it would look good, that was the birth of my brand and that moment changed my life. 3 months later I open my store Plastered T-shirts and had about 25 designs, to this day that design is my worst ever selling design, goes to show you the importance of executing shit. One design sold really well and that was the old subway ticket design, so I realised the market wanted stuff with meaning and memories, so I turned to my vintage collection and that was the first 2 years, then I started working with artists I met in the Hu Tongs to bring ideas to life. Now we work with insane talent all over the world. We have 3 stores and a small agency and have worked with Adidas, The United Nations, Lulu Lemon, Hilton group, and shitloads of great brands around Beijing. What a fluke.
What do you love most about your job?
That I dictate the pace of my life, that I get to bring ideas to life, that I get to work with people I like and not accept working with assholes. I like to create magical experiences in the stores, Willy Wonder style.
Can you share with us any meaningful story?
My first shop assistant ran off with the shops money in my first month, so I didn’t open the store for a couple of days as I was working another job. An old lady who I shared a courtyard with in old Beijing was sweeping the yard and playing with my kids and she asked me why I didn’t open the store which was on the same Hu Tong just outside our house. I told her what had happened and she said she would watch the shop for me until I found a replacement. I said two weeks maxs and didn’t think ti was right to have a retired Beijing lady watching my street ware store. 15 years later and she is still working in that store, and every single shop assistant we have now is a retired Beijing lady. They are incredible and the customers love them as they are part of our Beijing story. I’m a big believer in serendipity. These ladies are like family now.
Plastered T-shirts takes iconic imagery from the street of Beijing and celebrates it. Everyday design is inspiration – from neon signs framing steaming karaoke halls, to delicate acrobatic twists and towers – Plastered puts these images on t-shirts in a celebration of everything beautiful about Beijing.
How much has China changed compared to your first travel? What are the main differences? Does this affect your way of working in the field of design?
This is a question I get a lot and I guess it’s a good one as China has completely transformed in the 27 years I’ve been there. It was like watching Rome get built in front of your eyes. When I arrived Beijing felt like a little village that was opening up, I felt like I knew every international person there. As foreigners we even had our own currency back in those days. The city was flat and you’d rarely meet anyone from B Beijing or China who had left the country.
Putting Covid aside Beijing has become a global city and China has globalised as opposed to westernized in a huge way. Our Chinese customers have very unique look on things and are extremely bold, we sometimes design full print tees for women that are really loud and colourful and it’s the men who buy them. Anything goes really and this is really exciting from a design perspective as we can try a lot of new out there stuff and it quite often sticks, so the market is really encouraging us to take risks which is tones of fun.
China, especially Beijing faced a huge transformation during the organization for the Olympic Games of 2008. Can you tell us about this period?
Back in the 1990s when I travelled back to the UK my friends would ask me why I was living in Beijing. After Beijing won the Olympics and hosted it it was really thrown onto the world stage and people started telling me I was smart to move to China cause there was a lot of opportunity. I didn’t move to China to make money, I came here for an adventure but after 2008 Beijing really attracted a lot of people from all over the world. The Olympics also brought a lot of attention to my brand, we had a lot of celebrities in the shop (Jimmy Page came three times) and a lot of people wanted Chinese art and pop art so we found ourselves starting to work with international brands. 2008 was a really exciting time, a very liberal time too in Beijing so we were able to play with a lot of subjects we hadn’t in the past.
Dominic Johnson-Hill, is also a television personality, public speaker, as well as creative and businessman.
Did living in China influenced and changed your way of seeing the world and people?
China for me changed everything in my life, the way I created and the way I conducted business and relationships. You can’t help but be influenced by the people who surround you. I had to adapt so fast to keep up with the pace of change in Beijing, I travelled to countless cities and villages around China too which is really what so many people neglect to do. This gave me much great empathy and was incredibly stimulating, Your Brand = The Sum of Your Life Experiences.
Environment global impact and Covid19 are affecting and changing world habits. Can you tell us how Beijing is reacting due to the Pandemic situation? What are your thoughts?
People in Beijing listen to authority and took Covid very seriously, personal responsibility, so people stayed in and everyone wore masks, I had seen this happen back in 2003 with SARS too. There’s also a lot of control so Beijing was able to control Covid comparatively quickly. Now life is pretty much back to normal but the boarders are firmly shut so its really a bubble right now. We are experiencing a slow return of our sales which are still quite bad compared to last year but we have a lot to be grateful for as we are still around.
Photos courtesy of Dominic Johnson-Hill and Plastered 8