Monday, July 28, 2014

The Local Look: Fourth is King's J. Byrnes

In 2010, J. Byrnes combined his passions for street art, skateboarding, music and traveling into one company: the Chicago-based street wear brand Fourth is King.  Their clothing, which includes t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats and other accessories, takes a minimalist approach to graphics, laying brightly colored images on high-quality fabrics.  We talked to Byrnes, Fourth is King's Owner and Creative Director, about what Fourth is King has in the works, what he's learn along the path to success and why Chicago is the right place for comfortable street wear.

J. Byrnes. Photo credit: RedEye Chicago.
Why did you choose Chicago?
Chicago is our home.  I always felt like if you can make it here in Chicago, you can make it anywhere. I refuse to relocate to Los Angeles or New York.  That’s just no who we are. Plus, those places are saturated with clothing brands.  I think there is a great opportunity here and Chicago is ready to have a clothing brand they can call their own . We like to say “Made for Us.”  The city has supported us by buying our products at festivals, pop-up shops and online, and we contribute to the creative and small business communities here by teaming up with other individuals and organizations and participating in various Chicago-based events. 

If you could go back in time before you started this project and share one piece of advice with yourself, what would you tell yourself? 
I think in the beginning I thought that if I create good work eventually someone will notice. This is partially true, but as I get older I have more of a sense of urgency, and I have realized that no one is going to do anything for you. You need to make things happen for yourself or for your company.

What are your next steps?
We are trying to grow. We want gain to awareness in Chicago within the creative community and street wear industry, as well as in the music and skateboarding cultures. One way we do that is through pop-up events. We have an event coming up with the Chicago dj group Hood Internet on August 8 at Rational Park in Humboldt Park Neighborhood. We have designed their new Mixtape Vol 8, which will release at the event, and we'll be selling our street wear at a pop-up shop on site.

We want to be in the know!  Name one person, place or thing that you think is one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets—a secret until now, of course.
Only one: I would be selfish and say us of course—Fourth is King.  Kidding aside, the first thing that comes to mind is a creative couple I met last week who run Heart and Bone Signs.  They are sign painters and do beautiful work right here in Chicago.  You have probably seen there work, and you didn’t even know it.

Q&As are edited for clarity and length.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Syndio Social's Andee Harris Helps Organizations Find Solutions

“How do we make our organizations perform better?”  This is the question that drew CIW Co-op member Andee Harris to Syndio Social, a Chicago-based software company founded in 2009.  Today, Harris provides answers to that question daily in her role as Senior Vice President of Client Success.

Andee Harris.
 Started by Northwestern student Zachary Johnson, the driving-force behind Syndio Social is the merging of the academic with the corporate.  Through data analysis and consulting services, Syndio Social brings the findings of social networking research—a line of research that had been confined to the Ivory Tower—directly to organizations.

“It’s the idea of really creating solutions for our client,” Harris said, adding, “all of those solutions are different depending on what our client is seeking.”

This may mean mining the client’s data to pinpoint which employees contribute most to a company’s growth—those who are widely viewed as helpful to coworkers or who work as ambassadors for the company. Or it may translate into helping the client leverage its outside connections for marketing purposes. 

“It adds a level of transparency…. It really looks at the organization holistically,” she explained of the Syndio Social approach.  It's not just about making a company more efficient.  It also can improve corporate culture and may even be able to prevent disruptive office gossip.  After all, when corporations correctly identify the most helpful employees, coworkers won’t wonder, Why did she get promoted?, Harris notes.  

“Clients have three levers they can pull: people, process or technology…. The only lever I really see that is game-changing is the people—getting the right people in the right roles doing the right activities,” she said.

It certainly seems that Harris has found the right role herself at Syndio Social.  A self-described “jack of all trades” with a technology consulting and a sales and marketing background, Harris draws on both skill sets in her day-to-day work, as well as in her work in the Chicago community more broadly.

“I look at [Chicago] from a tech perspective,” Harris said.  “Chicago is just this awesome hub of wonderful things happening in our tech community.”

Friday, July 18, 2014

CIW Consumables: This Week on the Internet

This week, the Internet compared Justin Bieber's mom to Leonardo DiCaprio, and we learn just what happened to the screwball in major league baseball.

The news from the US-Mexico border this week but scary (and we're thrilled our friend Jose Antonio Vargas has been released), but in reality, it wasn't new. Child migrants have been coming to America since the days of Ellis Island, and as this article proves, we didn't simply turn them away. 

There are 10.4 million residential swimming pools in the US, and every day two accidental drownings occur. Can teaching your five-month-old (yes, five-month-old) to self-rescue help prevent these tragedies? 

We didn't think the World Cup could get better, until
we saw William Kass's version. 
According to two-time Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum, the screwball doesn't exist. Hector Santiago begs to disagree, and his career is depending on it. What in the world is happening to baseball's most mysterious pitch?

What do Justin Bieber's mom, Ludacris and Leonardo DiCaprio have in common? They top the list of smartest celebrity Twitter accounts, each operating around a 7th grade reading level. 

Artist William Kass has created a beautiful, edible world that provokes a profound sense of adventure and is good enough to eat. 

Former CIW Speaker Adam Grant talked to Inc. about his incredible research on Givers and Takers, and how to build a corporate culture that works. 


Check out this handy guide to Pitchfork, and other activities to keep you busy for the next few days. 

This list was compiled by Brooke Scheyer, the Director of Programming for CIW.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Psalm One Takes Chicago Rap Global

Psalm One AKA Hologram Kizzie is used to transitions.  The University of Illinois grad started out a chemist before abandoning the lab for the record label Hieroglyphics in the mid-2000s.  Now, Psalm One is prepping for another transition: As implied by the “AKA” dividing her name, Psalm One is now Hologram Kizzie—at least for her latest album, Hug Life.

Kizzie is for Kizzy Kinte, a character on the 1970s miniseries Roots, and a name Psalm One went by earlier in her career.  And hologram: Is that in reference to the Tupac hologram that famously took the Coachella stage?  Yes, in many ways: “I wanted to look backwards and also forwards.”
Psalm One is leading a Chicago Takeover of hip-hop music.

Since her 2006 album with Rhymesayers, The Death of Frequent Flyer, put Psalm One on the Chicago hip-hop map, the South Side native has been furthering the underground rap scene in the city.  Although, of course, her ambitions go far beyond being the stand-out talent on the underground scene; she’s taking her music global with an upcoming international tour she’s named the Chicago Takeover. 

Actually, Psalm One notes, she’s “no stranger to touring overseas,” but the goal of the Takeover is more forthright than many of her past tours.  “I hope to bring my own brand of art and culture,” she said.  “I like to be a conduit or catalyst for changing minds.”

Psalm is a catalyst for changing minds in facets of her work beyond her musical tours.  She’s worked with Rhymeschool for almost three years, founding the hip-hop arm of the after-school youth educational program.  The program introduces students to all aspects of music production—from video and photo shots to recording—with a heavy emphasis on writing.

“We focus on being very literate and talking about their realities—not fantasy rap,” an emphasis she stresses in her own writing, also.  Psalm One’s lyrics sometimes veer toward the humorous, but songs like “Woman at Work” (whose music video puts Psalm One back in a lab coat) and “Regular Black Girl” (also the name of her website) are rooted strongly in reality.

It is that focus on the here, now and—most importantly—real that she brings to Rhymeschool students.  The experience, she added, is “enriching for anybody, even if they don’t become a rapper.”

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

CIW Co-op Member Nick Stocking's Design Cloud Fosters Chicago Creativity

As a real estate developer at Centrum Properties, CIW Co-op member Nick Stocking spent around 50 percent of his workday collaborating with the creative in the urban planning and real estate world, but he longed to put 100 percent of his efforts into creative endeavors.  So, when the economy tanked in 2008, Stocking knew his moment to quit real estate and think creatively had come.
Nick Stocking.
“Now is the time to start something where I could live a more creative life and be surrounded by and work with creative people every single day,” he said of his decision to found Design Cloud, a co-working and gallery space for Chicago’s “creative entrepreneurs.”  The business plan for Design Cloud was, in Stocking’s words, “reverse engineered” out of his desire for a creative network.  That community was one he had to build from the ground up: Stocking placed an ad on Craigslist just to “see if people would be interested in this kind of blue sky idea.”

Today, the initial founding group he culled from Craigslist and his connections has made that blue sky idea into a reality.  Perhaps most importantly, the founders have created, in his words, “a really great purpose-driven community of…creative entrepreneurs.” 

That phrase—creative entrepreneur—is one Stocking stresses.  Distinct from a creative freelancer, the creative entrepreneur hand-selects projects and products that fit into a broader vision and that may lead to the formation of a creative organization.  And the creative entrepreneur is the type of person behind the many offerings at Design Cloud.  In addition to its brick-and-mortar co-working facilities at the Near West Side, Design Cloud hosts events, displays local artists’ work and runs the MOUNT Residency, which allows an artist to curate Design Cloud’s gallery space for three months.   The latest MOUNT Residency exhibit, titled HERE|NOW, opens July 25.     

Ever the entrepreneur, Stocking has set yet another goal post for the organization: expand the community by 20 new members in 100 days.   His reasoning behind this ambition is simple. “[W]e have a great space catered exclusively to creatives,” he explained. 

CIW Speaker Buzz Aldrin Wants Everyone to Celebrate #Apollo45

Summer is the busy season for CIW 2013 speaker Buzz Aldrin—or the “global statesman for space,” as he calls himself.  The Apollo 11 astronaut is gearing up for the 45th anniversary of the moon landing this Sunday, July 20, leading a social media campaign asking individuals to upload their memories of the moon landing to YouTube.
Buzz Aldrin took the CIW stage in 2013.

So far, celebrities from Tom Hanks, Pharrell Williams and John Travolta to Neil deGrasse Tyson, Stephen Colbert and Bill Nye have participated.  But Aldrin wants this “tremendous list of people” to grow to include all Americans who vividly remember the moon landing.  The campaign is, after all, inspired by Aldrin’s everyday experiences as an American icon:  He’s stopped daily by people who want to share their experience on July 20, 1969.  Individuals can upload video memories to YouTube and written remembrances on Twitter or Facebook using #Apollo45.

Aldrin is thrilled that Americans still relish in their memories of that historic moment.  “We always need to keep remembering in some specific way,” Aldrin said.  For the month of July, his Twitter @TheRealBuzz and the hashtag #Apollo45 will serve as running logs of America’s memories.

Aldrin aims not just to push Americans to look back to the 1960s and 1970s when the U.S. held “the number one position in space,” but also stresses that it’s crucial that we consider the future.  He worries that many young Americans are plagued by information overload and “short-term thinking.”  Aldrin, on the other hand, focuses on longer-term goals.  He’s already looking ahead to the campaign celebrating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing in 2019 and even beyond that, urges the U.S. to spearhead “international permanence” on Mars—a goal he has stated that he thinks NASA can reach by 2040.  He believes that the space travel renaissance will involve collaboration across international borders, citing China–U.S. relations as key.

“Mankind…has always looked outward to explore what’s on the other side of the ocean,” he explained of the motivation behind space travel, adding, “I think people will be enthusiastic about recovering our space program from some decisions that haven’t been as good as they could have been.”

Aldrin certainly is enthusiastic about that mission, with his hands-on approach to the #Apollo45 social campaign and upcoming international trips in his role as a global statesman.

“It’s going to be quite active between now and the end of the month,” the 84-year-old astronaut admitted.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Chicago Ideas Collaborates with Laundry Project to Bring Free Laundry to Englewood

Chicago Ideas collaborated with the Laundry Project to bring free laundry to Wash and Relax Laundry in Englewood this Saturday, July 12 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.  The community outreach event resulted in 508 free loads of laundry for 42 families.

The Tampa-based Laundry Project helps low-income families meet the basic need of clean clothes through similar pop-up laundry events in Florida and Ohio.  The Englewood event marked the first in Chicago for the organization.

Laundry Project and Chicago Ideas volunteers helped
Wash and Relax customers with their laundry.
“Hopefully, these customers will walk away with a newfound sense of humanity,” Laundry Project Founder Jason Sowell, who oversaw the event, said. “Hopefully, when the leave, they can walk out and know there are some great people in the world who will help with no strings attached.”

The atmosphere at the laundromat was festive, as laudromat patrons called friends, families and neighbors to alert them to the opportunity to wash and dry their laundry for free.  The children in attendance colored, played games and blew bubbles with laundromat staff and Laundry Project volunteers.

“I see a lot of smiles, a lot of people with good attitudes.  It’s a beautiful thing,” Wash and Relax manager Andre Jones, Jr. 

Jones said, adding that Saturday’s event demonstrated the “heart” at the center of the Englewood community.

“Englewood is teaming up to get our community back for the sake of our kids,” laundry patron Shalonda Hickman—who hadn’t known her loads of laundry would be free when she walked into the Wash and Relax Saturday—reflected.

The event required help from a range of organizations in the Chicagoland area.  The River North–based Raise donated $500 worth of quarters and select laundry supplies.  CIW Co-op Member Andee Harris donated the bulk of the detergent used.  After posting a request for donations on her Facebook page, Harris reported that for two weeks she returned home to detergent—often anonymously donated—on her front steps.

“There are so many good people out there wanting to make a change,” Harris said of the experience.  “It was a nice message about our community, and we really do have a strong community in Chicago that wants to help each other.”