Lima Al-Azzeh

Interview with Welcome to East Van’s Rob Geary

In Vancouver Style on August 22, 2010 at 3:48 pm

When I was 16 years old, some friends and I met some people who lived in East Van. We decided to be adventurous and pay these lads a visit to see what kind of life there was beyond the border of our tiny West Vancouver neighbourhood. We weren’t accustomed to travelling beyond downtown, so we thought it was high time that we expanded our horizons.

Two busses later and we reach our destination: an old, broken down building which now houses The Whip restaurant. Back then, there was a skeezy bar downstairs and barely any sign of life around save for the bums and perverts crowding the entrance of the Triple X movie theatre across the road. We felt like we were in the middle of nowhere…

Almost ten years later and East Van has become a hot spot for students, artists, fashionistas, young families and even culinary enthusiasts. So much so, that it’s even becoming a brand in its own right thanks to 28 year old Rob Geary, creator of the T-shirt line “Welcome to East Van”. I sat down with Geary last week, appropriately at the JJ Bean on Main Street, to chat with him about the origins of this community-minded, community-based clothing brand.

I, Vancouverite: How and why did you come up with the “Welcome to East Van” brand?

W2EV: It started when I realized I was kind of tired of wearing other cities’ logos and their brands. I wanted to represent my own city and my neighbourhood. I wanted to tell the story of where I grew up.

I’m a graphic designer by trade, among many other things, but “Welcome to East Van” was something that just sort of happened. About 3 years ago, I started making these tshirts just for my friends and I to wear. Then other people started seeing them and asking them about where they got them – it sort of all grew from there.

The first year was slow because I was just selling everything out of my house and I’d even deliver the tshirts to people who bought them on my bike. I kind of liked it though, it was like that extra little bit of customer service.

I,V: How long have you lived in East Van and how would you describe it to people who aren’t from here or who just don’t visit the area as much?

W2EV: I’ve spent the majority of my youth in East Van – I’ve lived in almost every neighbourhood in it. It’s a beautiful place, with its stretches of tree-lined streets. It’s really just like any other neighbourhood. The thing that makes it stand apart is its diversity.

I asked Rob about the contentious “G” word: Gentrification…

W2EV: Honestly, I think East Van has pretty much stayed the same. Sure, there’s some growth along the Kingsway corridor but as a whole it has maintained its identity. Other people have this misconception that East Van is the same as the Downtown East Side. There may be places where the two converge, but for the most part they’re completely separate. They don’t have the same identity.

I think what adds, and keeps adding, to East Van’s diversity is that the downtown core is getting so overpopulated that the major arteries leading to and from downtown are growing out of East Van. I’m not one to talk much about gentrification, I’m not an expert, and it really has nothing to do with why I started the brand. Welcome to East Van is about people being proud of their communities and where they come from, no matter where that is. I wanted to emblazon my community on my chest and show it off.

I,V: In your opinion, what are some of the best spots to hang out at in East Van?

W2EV: The beauty of this community is that there’s something for everyone, it just depends on your taste or what you’re looking to do. Commercial Drive is good for socializing, eating and drinking of all types. There are also smaller communities and pockets of places to hang out at around East Van. You can get everything you need on Main Street, Fraser Street, and Victoria Drive.

I,V: Are you working on any other major projects with other Vancouverites?

W2EV: I have a few projects I’m working on – I can’t go into too much detail about any of them.

I generally keep in touch with other people who are in the apparel business in Vancouver in case any collaboration opportunities pop up. I’ll be working on a line of more feminine tees with Dope Girl Fresh. I also work with All-Citees, Ephin, Sharks & Hammers and Mental Wealth.

Boulevard Skateshops is one of our retailers and I sometimes collaborate on designs with them. But, if everything goes as planned, I’ll be taking this business to the next level.

I,V: What’s the coolest thing that has happened to you since you founded the brand?

W2EV: The coolest thing that has happened is that … it became a brand. I never really expected to be doing this, it was just a fun thing for me and my friends that suddenly grew into a business and a brand. I’m happy to see that this brand will play a part in East Van renaissance though.

I,V: It’s 2015 – Where do you see yourself and “Welcome to East Van”?

W2EV: I can’t really tell what’s in store for the future of myself or Welcome to East Van. I’m working on a lot of projects right now though and definitely have some travel plans. My ultimate wish is to see my tshirts in Value Village and have them be available second hand to be purchased by someone else.

I remember going in there one day and seeing a CD from this local Vancouver artist. I thought it was amazing that this one CD had completely had a life of its own and now it’s come full circle for someone else to experience it. If I can have that happen to my clothes, I’d be happy.

That being said, my tshirts aren’t really “trendy”. Their design and meaning is so general I can see them lasting a while. Trend or no trend, I’d still like to be selling tshirts in the future.

Overall, I’m really surprised that no one else has ever taken this on, apart from people just redesigning and recreating images of the East Van cross but no one has really taken it all to a whole other place. I’m happy to be doing that.

Learn more about “Welcome to East Van” – the community and the clothing line at

You can also catch updates on Twitter: @welcome2eastvan and the official Welcome to East Van Facebook page

If you’re dying to own your own “Welcome to East Van” tshirt then you can get your ass down to:

Sharks and Hammers
56A Powell Street, Vancouver BC

BLVD Skateshop
1340 Commercial Drive, Vancouver, BC

and buy one for yourself …

  1. awesome. thanks for the opportunity!

  2. I remember that trip… I can’t believe we thought we were so far away! Funny how perspective changes as you grow older…

  3. […] was first turned on to Dope.Girl.Fresh. by Rob Geary, creator of the Welcome to East Van brand and multifaceted artist and creative. He said that […]

  4. […] on my chest and show it off”, said Rob Geary, founder of the Welcome to East Van brand, in an interview I did with him last year. Geary was saying this in response to my asking him if his tshirt line had […]

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