Lexton Moy of CYNONYC: Excited for His Next Big Adventure
In addition to launching our second store in Chelsea Market, we’ve also launched our inaugural featured designers. You’ve already met Cynthia Koo of Wonton in a Million as well as Patricia Chang. Today we’re introducing Lexton Moy of CYNONYC.
We were instantly struck by the unique style of Mr. Moy’s CYNONYC offerings. The modern T-shirts with Chinese chop marks. Classic tea jars with a hip twist. Chopsticks in a sleek, minimalist design. There's a sense of history and tradition with the CYNONYC collection, but with an eye toward the future.
We had the chance to speak to Mr. Moy about how he started his company, his former career as a professional soccer player, and how his family inspires him every day.
You have a really interesting background! Tell me about your childhood and how you grew up.
I was born and raised in Chinatown. My great-grandfather was the first generation. He came to New York in the 1930s and brought my grandfather. They were in the laundry business back in the day, like many immigrant Chinese families since no one else wanted to do that type of work. Since then my family has had various businesses. A grocery store, partnerships in restaurants.
While my grandfather was here, my grandmother and her four kids, including my dad, were in Hong Kong waiting for the correct papers and funds to emigrate to America. They came over in 1964. My dad was about 11, and I was the first generation born here. Three generations of my family lived in the same apartment for decades. In fact, my dad, grandmother, and mom still live in the same apartment unit that my family has had since 1961 or 1962.
My mom is Filipino, but I grew up in a primarily Chinese household, speaking Cantonese and Toishanese. My grandparents were very influential, parental figures in my life.
When did you start playing soccer?
I started as a kid. I would watch my dad play with his friends. He was one of the founding members of United East Athletics Association. There was a lot of soccer going on in Chinatown. I’d watch my dad and his soccer buddies play, and would learn different skills from uncles.
My dad has always been rock and coach, my mentor, trainer, and friend. He’s really the person who propelled me into being a successful athlete. He taught me how to really be a scholar at the trade, which becomes a life skill in any trade, whether soccer, art, business, or design. As a result, I was able to take my game to higher and higher levels.
Growing up in Chinatown, I didn’t have grass or a field. I had to make do on my own and have the dedication to travel outside Chinatown. To find levels of competition that were conducive to my development. I went out to to Long Island from ages 13 to 18, traveling 90 minutes each way. It was almost like a Hoop Dreams situation. Going out to find the resources you need to get to where you want to be.
Then you spent a couple of years at Rutgers University [in New Jersey]?
Yes. Unfortunately my freshman year I broke my leg. I had a medical redshirt [a medical hardship waiver] so I could still play four full years of college soccer after my freshman year. But I wasn’t able to recover all that quickly. Opportunities and doors were closing. I was at a crossroads of making a decision: stay at Rutgers or transfer?
After two years, I decided to come back to New York and go to Long Island University in Brooklyn. I moved back home and was a commuter student. It one of the best decisions I could have made. I captained a first division team in the Northeast conference, and soccer along with my school work became a top priority.
I went from being mediocre student and decent player to graduating with excellent grades [with a degree in physical education] and being named student athlete of the year. I think I had matured after two years at a big school.
When did you start playing professionally?
After college I took a year off. That was around the time I met my wife Cooper. She was doing a study abroad program in South Africa, and I decided to go with her. We did volunteer work in the poorer parts of South Africa, and it was valuable understanding the situation and turmoil in various parts of that country.
But soccer was always in background. At that time was World Cup fever. We’d watch the stadiums being built. It was all a constant reminder that I eventually needed to return to the sport.
I decided to travel to Hong Kong for soccer. When I told my dad I wanted to go, he wasn’t excited about it. He grew up there and understands the culture. He warned me about the different types of distractions I might have and about hanging out with the wrong kind of people.
But I wanted to go for a few reasons. To play for a first division team and to learn more Chinese and about my heritage, to explore a different type of Chinese culture and learn traditions we might not see here in Chinatown, and to travel overseas. I didn’t want to stay in the States and travel across the country like I did for my entire youth career.
Through my research, I found that coaches weren’t so open to considering me while I remained in the States. They wanted me to already be there, in Hong Kong. So I picked up and left. I lived in a tiny hostel in Chungking Mansion for my entire period. I went through short tryouts with different teams until I finally landed one. My first professional contract. A first division team called Tai Chung FC [Football Club].
You seemed very focused in your decision making. Did you ever have any doubt?
Sure, there was doubt — I did have coaching as a backup plan — but if you don’t take that leap of faith, if you’re too scared to cross the line, then you’ll never know what’s there. Was it scary? Of course. I was just out of college. I was across the world. I was alone and my contacts were limited. It’s a competitive field. Everyone’s fighting against you. You’re always being judged and evaluated. To become a professional athlete is quite hard. All you see is the glitz and glamour. You don’t see how much work it takes.
How long did you play on that team?
For one season. After that first season, my wife and I thought Hong Kong was a great place but we were ready to come back and find out what the next move was in terms of our careers. We moved back to New York. She got work. I was coaching.
Then we decided I should play again, and I got the opportunity to play for the Philippines national team. Again it was a way of using soccer to explore cultural heritage, in this case my mom’s native country. I didn’t even know I was eligible to do that. I thought with my U.S. birth certificate, I was only considered American. But because of my lineage, I was able to play, along with Filipinos from around the world.
My mindset around soccer has always been twofold. How can I use it as a career but at the same explore myself and find myself culturally? How can I learn more about my family history?
When did you become interested in design?
That started in South Africa. I had more free time so I thought, Why don’t I start a blog? Look into how to build a website? All I need is a computer.
When I went to Hong Kong the first time, Tai Chung FC didn’t have a website. All these big clubs did. I asked the owners and managers, “Do you mind if I build a website?” They said sure. I was happy to be the one who built them on the website and put them on the digital map. To other skills I could contribute. I felt it made me more valuable as a member of the club. That lead to honing my skills more and more in web design and development.
After being in the Philippines for a year and a half, we went back to Hong Kong. I had missed the window for playing in the first division so I went to work as a junior developer for a web development company. At the same time I played first division in Macau, which turned out to be my last stint at playing pro.
Why was that?
After living in Hong Kong for a year, I wondered what would be my next career move. I had spent three years playing professionally. I was again at a crossroads: continue playing soccer or move on in my career, come back to States, and settle down?
I did a lot of soul searching. I had been playing soccer since I was 8 or 9. At this point I was 29. If you told me I couldn’t play, not because of injury or politics, but because of my own decision, was I comfortable with that? I decided I was.
What ended up being my last professional game was an international match representing the Philippines against a Hong Kong national team. I realized I had come full circle. Starting in Hong Kong, then going to the Philippines, and now back in Hong Kong representing the Philippines. That was the closing of the chapter. I felt like I was ready to move on.
Did you start CYNONYC right after that?
Yes. While I was coaching at Chelsea Piers, eventually becoming director of coaching, I dove into CYNONYC.
I knew that if I was going to create a brand, I needed a hook, something that would set me apart. I had to think about what the brand meant to me and how I could make people understand it. I knew that CYNONYC would be about delivering heritage and tradition. All my designs are connected to Chinatown and my experience with heritage, culture, and tradition. I also knew I wanted a mobile store. I didn’t want a brick and mortar because the overhead would be too high.
That's where this 1955 Chevy truck I found in California came in. It was the perfect thing. It became synonymous with the brand in terms of heritage and tradition. So I spent the next two years going out west and learning how to restore the truck.
Is that the truck you sell out of?
Unfortunately that original truck burned down in the Napa Valley fires [of 2015]. I had spent two whole summers restoring it while I had never even picked up a welder before. I was almost done when it burned down with the barn on Cooper’s dad’s property.
That was a heavy hit. I had been planning on launching CYNONYC with that truck. I thought that without that unique hook, CYNONYC was just another startup. I wondered, What am I going to do now? Do I launch the brand without the truck or find another truck? Or do I pack it up?
After some soul searching, I decided I had to find another truck. Which I did in Cincinnati. My buddy Colin and I flew out there, bought the truck, and brought it back to NYC. We turned it around in about six months. Those were 10-hour days while coaching full time. It wasn’t easy. But I was determined to get back on track.
It’s funny. Although my grandma is super supportive, she did keep asking, “When are you going to start selling those shirts? Why are you still working on the truck?” Chinese culture is sometimes not as accepting. Practicality and success are sometimes more priorities. I think our generation has a lot of resentment because they misinterpret love and support. Just because past generations question your passion and what you do as a career doesn’t mean they don’t love or support you.
What do you do for inspiration? Or do you see this as work that simply needs to get done?
I actually don’t feel like any of this is work, but I get enjoyment and inspiration from family and friends. Part of the motivation is preserving those feelings I’ve experienced and maybe that generations before me have too.
You never have a lack of inspiration when you dig a little deeper. I have this portfolio. I’m always adding to it. It’s kind of like old school Pinterest. I have all these ideas that I jot down. Family photos. A family tree. CYNONYC stems from all that. I want to know all my family stories and experiences. The triumphs and struggles, the successes and failures.
It all starts with a story.
Visit our Chelsea Market location or our website to see Mr. Moy’s CYNONYC collection.