Like many people, Jeff Tang isn’t exactly putting his college degree to use.
A UC Irvine alum, 24-year-old Tang majored in International Studies but finds himself selling synthetic- and human-hair wigs at e-commerce business Vogue Wigs in Santa Ana—but, of course, as with most creative and artistic types, that’s just a day job.
Tang is the sole designer, owner and creator of 12FV, a graphic-T-shirt line he produces out of his Newport Coast bedroom.
“Working [at Vogue Wigs] teaches me about business and e-commerce, which will help in the future, but I’m slowly finding out that this clothing biz is something that makes me truly happy,” he explains.
Friends of Tang know him as the guy who was always scribbling, always doodling, always keeping his hands busy. Whether it was infinite rows of cacti with blank, lifeless eyes and gaping mouths on the walls of his college apartment or seemingly limitless one-line drawings scribbled in thick, black Sharpie on the back of a (legally procured, I’m sure) street sign, Tang chalks up his original inspiration to his father.
“As a kid, my dad would draw me comics about G.I. Joe and war stuff like Panzer tanks and Apache helicopters and A-10 Thunderbolts with the Vulcan cannon on the nose,” he recalls. (Among Tang’s list of inspirations: war, drugs, terror, the war on drugs, the war on terror, television, the atom bomb and riots.)
Tang first decided to put his designs on T-shirts his senior year of high school—one featured a soldier motif on an olive-colored tee. He sold them for $12 each to friends.
The T-shirt lines continued well into his college years, during which legions of student fans (and friends of the student fans) sported Tang’s creations. Designs ranged from eye-popping intertwining koi fish, Chinese characters, maps of Mexico, skeletons, snakes, type treatments, triangles—sort of just, well, everything, all emerging from Tang’s knack of finding the everyday object not so everyday. He’s constantly mixing things up, whether in his style of drawing (graphics once entirely vectored on the computer are now all hand-drawn), his subjects or even the name (12FV was once known as Riot 5, which then changed into Riot Five, then riotf, then riotfive, then riofve . . .). The only goal of 12FV, Tang explains, is to inspire others to not be scared of art.
Though this is the first year he has decided to take 12FV in a more serious direction, he is remaining hopeful in the face of the slumping economy and has finally begun submitting linesheets to stores. So far, like many labels trying to get off the ground, Tang has recruited a team of friends and hopes to expand 12FV into a women’s line—one without “unicorns, hearts and rainbows,” he promises.
Oh, and the usual reaction from people after learning he works at a wig company?
“They’re usually like, ‘No way!’” Tang says, laughing. “Then they ask for discounts.”