Growth Spurts: Part II, Home...? / by Bernard Manarin

Words by Bernard Manarin

So as I continue to gather my thoughts in regards to the second part of the blog, let's recap what was talked about back in part 1 in October. Our launch into Korea has been well documented. Celebrity/Korean musician endorsement has definitely helped us and in return branched out our NTHNG family beyond the boundaries of a typical fashion house creating an extension of like minded artists who share our core values and principles of a brand. Slowly we've built up a following across Asia with Taiwan, Philippines and Korea where we're beginning to reap the rewards and understand the true meaning of brand recognition.

That said we've always been asked; "What about home?!" It's hard to say now a days what home is. Home could be something as simple as Canada. Some say we should be more direct and call home, Toronto. The "six" hasn't been more popping than its ever been at present, with established musicians like Drake and The Weeknd leading a Renaissance of Toronto artists. Visual artists/companies like Kid. Studio have been laying the ground work for a whole new crop of directors/producers following in Little/Director X's footsteps to have their work launched into the mainstream North American market. And I've been witness to the success and social impact both local and a far of fellow brands and artists like Bryan Espiritu and The Legends League as well as Sean Brown and Needs/Wants. That said, I guess this is where I can begin...

It's always interesting to hear the whispers out in the street from others, thinking our brand isn't exactly Canadian. Personally as much as I love my city, I've never been first or felt compelled to claim the "Six". The reality is knowing how finicky and skeptical we are as Torontonians, we need to see proof of any success outside of Canada before we can even begin debating as to whether we can claim someone as one of our own... its hilarious. That said, we took an indirect root of keeping things Canadian by showcasing talent and artists we feel would work as brand ambassadors for us. Our Perfect Tee campaign is a perfect example. Every artist minus one was from Toronto. We had a dancer, musicians, a poet, a graffiti artist, a photographer/entrepreneur... all from Toronto. In Rilla/Create MTTR, we were able to bank the success of her campaign into an official collaboration which sold out. That said this year, we've done a collaboration with another artist from Toronto specializing in natural dyes, by the name of Jefford Lam. (If you haven't seen the collaboration yet, this would be a good time to go on the shop and check them out if they haven't sold out yet by the time of this blog post going up).

A self portrait of Jefford Lam; photographer, writer, designer, in our collaborative NTHNG runic logo hat dyed in indigo. 

Designing garments as always been a passion of mine but seeing my friends and family come up with me is more important than claiming the top position solely for myself. In the end, who wants to be alone at the top? Jefford has become someone I'm very close with and we've shared many industry stories over beers/alcohol and food. He's come up in the retail and fashion industry with his mother being a costume designer and having a passion for streetwear, thrifting and garment construction which he parlayed into a photographer/editorial position at Intelligence Magazine as well as working in one of Canada's top contemporary menswear boutiques, Haven. Jefford has always come across as humble, happy and definitely has his own personal style. Recently in the last few years he has been exploring dyeing and it's process with natural materials, taking thrifted t-shirts and sweaters and turning them into works of art and 1 of 1s, hand dyeing each piece personally so that no two come out the same.

Jefford and our collaborative Runic Logo merchandise featured in Eastweek Magazine in Hong Kong; Oct. 2016

With regards to fashion, I have personally always enjoyed the feeling of having something no one else could have. That exclusivity and personalization that that one garment is yours and yours alone. It's at one end of the spectrum a kind of snob mentality to feel the prestige of having something individualized for you, yet at the other it's the artisan handled with care aspect that I really do appreciate and value. I wanted to replicate that feeling somehow with our brand and slowly our discussion turned into meetings of how can we do this. Despite us stemming away from graphics, our runic logo products have always been a mainstay and a sort of basic part of our wardrobe. From our hoody variations, t-shirts and hats, it's always been used as a means of bridging the gap and divide between old and young consumers. With that knowledge, Jefford proposed the idea of taking our basics and doing a small run of naturally dyed products.

Many nights were spent at McDonalds at Warden and Sheppard in Scarborough and my crib looking over the types of materials we could use and colours we could try and achieve but ultimately we settled on indigo and cochineal; indigo being a typical dye used in denim, extracted from plants and cochineal being a little more rarer to find as it is the dried and pulverized body of a female insect with the extract used to create shades of reds/pinks which can be used to dye garments, applied to food colouring and cosmetic dyeing.

As previously talked about, each garment is hand dyed singularly over various different durations which can be seen and witnessed in the results of some shirts having a more flat, pure and covered finish and others having a somewhat tie dye appearance. Some cochineal shirts even came out more red or more pink in colour.

In the end, all parties have been very happy with the result. In turn we've taken our basic principles and values of exclusivity, personalization, and created a collaboration that embodies everything we stand for. It's turned our core products into something more than just basics and we've given a vessel for Jefford to hopefully see that his research and development into natural dyeing has been put to good use and he can continue further improving his method and process and we can once again collaborate in the future.

We may not objectively claim Toronto or Canada for that matter, but know we recognize where we come from. Thanks to a mysterious poster on Reddit, we've been recognized as one of the few brands whose entire collection is made in Canada, something we proudly display on our tags every time you purchase an item. We do more for our family and friends doing work with them and putting them on than we could ever by just stating we're Canadian. And we're still trying to get more notoriety outside of home country so that one day our fellow countrymen can feel proud to represent us. In the end, we come from a city that lost its fashion week and is not a big supporter of the arts. We do our small part to show that we should still be supportive of one another and our garment industry.

We may not be the catalyst for change but we can hope for a better future for our home...