Back in the early '80s, when the term "geek" worked its way into the popular lexicon, Matt Houston was an elementary-school kid in Arizona who thought of geeks as bookish guys in button-up shirts and thick black specs. Twenty years later, that word now carries a qualified chic factor, and the Rhode Island School of Design grad runs a gallery/design house/retail shop (Houston, 907 E Pike, 860-7820, www.wehaveaproblem.com) that caters to those recently initiated hipsters.
Seattle Weekly: So you came up with the idea of developing a clothing line for people who worked in the technology industry while you were working at Microsoft?
Matt Houston: Right, everyone came to work in Levi's and a sweatshirt. That was kinda like the uniform. I saw this opportunity there. It seems like every culture has its own uniform—you can tell a skater, you can tell a snowboarder, you can tell a rocker. It seemed like there was no clothing line for geeks.
SW: What elements of that Microsoft lifestyle did you bring to the clothes?
MH: When I was working at Microsoft, I would eventually tear a hole right above the wristband of my shirts and just stick my thumb through there and use the mouse like that. It didn't really help too much but it felt good. And then I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. Most people when they sit at the computer rest their hands on their desk, which is a bad thing to do. Assuming people are going to continue to do that, how can you help them? The only way I could think of was to put padding there (under the forearm near the carpal tunnel vein) so there's no hard impact. And I figured, let's put the seam outside so there's nothing that's digging in. I mean, it's not medically proven or medically tested but . . .
SW: But they are pretty damn comfy! Did you have some quality-assurance testers?
MH: Whenever we got a sample back, we would test it on like 10 people.
SW: And you've got some other items on the way?
MH: We're gonna see how well the tops sell, but yeah, we've designed some skirts and pants and a jacket. They're all made out of fleece as well, so it's the same philosophy—just one step up from pajamas that you can wear to work. They're really comfortable and warm and lightweight. We designed these pockets that clip on to the waistband; you can buy them separately so you just buy what you need. Say you have a Walkman or a PalmPilot, you buy pockets for your needs.
SW: Has the impending "Internet recession" affected you?
MH: The majority of our sales are online sales. We have a 3,000-person e-mail list in comparison to a 1,000-person regular mail list. And we have a very low overhead; we have three employees. We send out about five to 10 packages a day. We don't even have it set up where we can accept credit cards; people have to call us on our 800 number. But we're working on that.