Dominic Johnson-Hill owns a T-shirt shop, Plastered, in a traditional area of Beijing. Despite stringent copyright restrictions on the use of almost any image to do with the Beijing Games, he launched an Olympic range exactly a year before the Games are scheduled to open.
How long have you been in Beijing?
And how long have you had your shop, Plastered?
Two years. I used to own a market research company.
Did you open the shop because you knew the Olympics would be held here?
It wasn't a deciding factor behind opening Plastered, but if ever there was an Olympics pushing factor it was having the shop on an Olympics lane.
Nanluoguxiang Hutong is one of just two official Olympics lanes in Beijing. A huge amount of investment has been ploughed into developing and beautifying the lane in time for the Olympics. I'm on the committee for the development of the lane for the Olympics. Some 1 million yuan (HK$1.1 million) has been given to beautify this area, this lane and the lanes off it.
Oh, you mean the cladding?
Well it's not exactly cladding, they have taken real bricks and cut them in half, where they would normally just use slate. I think it looks quite nice. In 2006 a lot of the properties which had expanded themselves into the hutong were brought back to their original sizes. There's 780 years of history here, it's always been a commercial trading street and now the theme is different, but it is being preserved. It'll help preserve others.
So how is your business doing?
Really well. We are struggling to keep up with demand. At first, 95 per cent of our customers were non-Chinese. Now we still have those same customers, but the ratio has been diluted by the number of Chinese we have so that they are far and above the majority.
How about the Olympics range?
With one year to go we thought we had to do something to celebrate it, and of course capitalise on it, though we couldn't use anything that said 'Beijing 2008', or the fuwa [the five Olympic mascots], or the Bocog Jing symbol, or even the Olympic rings, but we came up with some quite retro designs, using strong 1970s images. We had 11 designs, and four sold out straight away.
Do you think the recent Tibet crisis will affect sales? For instance, I have heard westerners say that they don't want to wear clothes with Chinese motifs on them, or buy them as gifts for western friends.
There is no political element to our T-shirts. They are more a celebration of anything you see on the streets, any iconic imagery - a Beijing bus stop, a thermos, or a dish of noodles - very retro, and very popular with locals. It wouldn't matter if non-Chinese did stop buying because 95 per cent of our custom is from locals anyway, and they don't think that way. Our T-shirts are about life, not politics.
And after the Olympics?
Oh, we will just carry on. Thanks to the Olympics we have had some greater coverage overseas, but nothing will drastically change. The Olympics are a great thing for China. I was here when they lost the bid to Sydney [for the 2000 Games]. Everyone expected them to win it and automatically started cheering when the result was announced because they didn't think for a second it wouldn't go their way. When they realised they hadn't won it, it was so sad. Now, it's here.