Kyle Ng belies the predominant streetwear designer persona.
Ng, who cofounded Brain Dead with Ed Davis in 2014, is gregarious, inclusive and good-humored, and his personality is on full display for “Social Fabric,” a 12-episode Red Bull TV series that’s streaming online now. Ng hosts the series.
“Streetwear is so pretentious and so cool guy, and I would say I am less fronting guy and more goofy guy,” Ng said. “I think at the end of the day the brand is very different from the show, but for me it doesn’t matter. I say the brand is its own kid. I’m not the brand.”
On the series, Ng travels around the world to learn about the culture behind plaid, sneakers, the leather jacket, the suit and cowboy boots.
“We were really interested in the cultural history of style and not from a fashion perspective but more from the side of ‘Where does it come from? Why do people wear what they wear and how does that communicate to different cultures?’” Ng said. “How does one item transcend different people and connect with different people.”
Brain Dead is still relatively new, but Ng and Davis have built a community around the line, which is informed by a mishmash of art, music and film references. Here, Ng speaks with WWD about the new online series, what he wants to achieve with Brain Dead and how he plans on doing it.
WWD: Talk to me about some of your most memorable experiences on the show?
Kyle Ng: Going to Texas to see the rodeo was insane and being a part of bull riding. To see someone risk their life was crazy. Going to Africa was life changing. I don’t think a lot of people have context before they see the country in person. It’s amazing and it’s super crazy and it’s heavy and sometimes it’s the most beautiful thing. It makes you feel really fortunate to be able to live your life the way you do.
WWD: How has the series influenced Brain Dead?
K.N.: This show got me inspired to make more film and video stuff. I went to L.A. originally to work on film. I wanted to direct stuff. I was doing a lot of music video stuff and working on more video art and that was amazing. That’s what inspired me to make clothing. Now it’s telling stories in different ways and learning from different people. So whether it’s music or having art shows or creating clothing, at the end of the day it’s inspiring to tell stories.
WWD: Is Brain Dead making money?
K.N.: Yeah. But that only happened recently. We just started to pay ourselves. We were putting so much money into making books and making records, so it’s been a slower build. It sounds so political, but the capitalistic side of clothing was really frustrating to me because at the end of the day, the things I love about clothing and fashion have to do with storytelling and conceptual ideas. It’s not about “you make this and it’s x amount of dollars.” And that’s what’s gotten us in trouble right now with fast fashion because it is really about how to make the most money with this thing and that’s why there are a lot of issues with design.
WWD: You’ve collaborated with Vans and worked with Tame Impala on merchandise. What is your take on collaborations?
K.N.: For us, if we do a collaboration we want it to be super weird and unexpected. People have come to us, but I think if anything we would create a new project with them if it makes sense. The Tame Impala project was cool. It was a mass thing. We’ve done a project called Erase Projects and we are probably going to launch that on a larger scale. With Erase we make product we give away for free. We are always trying to challenge the distribution model if given a chance.
WWD: Have you seen a positive impact from these partnerships?
K.N.: Oh yeah. It’s awesome because it reaches a larger audience that you don’t reach. It’s important to have that larger audience. We don’t disregard anyone.
WWD: What are your distribution plans? Do you want to open a store and grow out wholesale partnerships?
K.N.: We sell to Union, Dover, Tres Bien and other great stores, but I think our goal is to create our own retail and then focus on online obviously. We aren’t trying to grow that much wholesale. We want to go more direct because that’s where we can tell the strongest stories and build narratives that we can back. We are going to do weird, little pop-up things in random areas, and we are doing something with Dover again but in a more concentrated, narrative style. So it’s kind of exciting.
WWD: What stores do you enjoy?
K.N.: Dover is amazing, but I love vintage stuff. That’s the coolest thing about the show. We got to go to a lot of vintage shops and a lot of different stores that I respect. It’s just about finding something you can’t find. I really like Virgil Normal. They’ve really created a community. Shirley and Charlie [the founders of the store] are actually on the show. They’ve created a vibe that’s unpretentious, fun and playful. They have barbecues, screenings and these interesting juxtapositions of street culture. It’s just a weird place were people can all get together who are different.
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