Post image for New York Daily News | Brooklyn Rock Duo

New York Daily News | Brooklyn Rock Duo

by Dekalb Market on August 25, 2011

in Artists, Press

A Bushwick family has turned their apartment into a factory of Brooklyn attitude.

Husband and wife team Chris Smith, 43, and Yukiko Wada, 45, run their clothing company, Brooklyn Rock, out of their Broadway apartment’s kitchen and living room, making thousands of hand-painted shirts since launching their label in 2002.

“We make them with love. And people can see that,” said Smith as he hovered over a table painting a red robot onto an orange tee.

Last month, Brooklyn Rock moved into the Dekalb Market – at the intersection of Flatbush Ave. Extension and Willoughby St. – selling tees for $20, working 11 hours a day to keep the business expanding. The shirts had been sold in childrens’ boutiques in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Many of the shirts ooze Brooklyn attitude with messages like “My mom and dad went to Brooklyn and all they got me was this lousy condo,” and “My crazy aunt lives in Brooklyn.”


“We are trying to educate people about the old-school Brooklyn sensibility, self-deprecating humor,” Smith said about his T-shirts with a message. “We laugh in the face of adversity.”

But it’s the tamer shirts that have turned Brooklyn Rock into a money-maker. Their signature designs include a simple red hook.

“They are so popular because they are handmade. They sell like hotcakes,” said Renatta Chagoyen, 21, who works at Area Kids in Brooklyn Heights. “I wouldn’t know how to make them.”

Smith let the Daily News watch his secret shirtmaking process. First, “we don’t use machines, it’s all done by hand,” Smith said.

The couple buys boxes of American Apparel shirts at wholesale prices, stacking them up against a living room wall. They work as a team, dying each piece in their kitchen sink to get unique shades of basic colors.

“It’s like developing film. You can play with the colors as you rinse,” said Smith, explaining it takes up to two hours to wash out the dye. Then the shirts air dry on a coat rack for eight hours before Wada uses one of their 70 silk screens to paint on the pictures and slogans.

“That saves us at least $75. Silk screens are expensive. We have many. She makes all of them. It takes her six hours just to make one,” Smith said.

Smith uses his homemade factory model at the Dekalb Market.

Shoppers pick out a blank tee, the design and its colors. Smith then paints on what a customer asks for, handing over the shirt in about 20 minutes.

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