Growth Spurts: Part I, The Korean Wave
Words by Bernard Manarin
One year. Well, one year and "change" that is. It's been a while since I've had the opportunity to sit down and just collect myself. A lot has changed since you, our consumer, were last on this blog. Plenty of small "wins" mixed with a couple "losses". A lot of yin and yang and learning to deal with the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. I've missed the transparency, being able to communicate with our audience is a big part of what we do as a team here at NTHNG. While we do our best to be mysterious to some degree, a large part of emotionally connecting with our audience is getting you to understand the process at the very least. And in this case, there was/has been plenty of growing we've all had to do as a team and individually since we last spoke.
The singular biggest change for us here has been our recent expansion into the Korean market. With Taiwan holding steady and the Philippines primed for our arrival, nobody ever expected us to hit the ground running hard in yet another country. However, when life hands you lemons as they say, you make lemonade.
Riding off the heels of our successful "Elegy" campaign, the feature on HighSnobiety and introduction of our "Perfect Tee" we found ourselves, with the help of a friend (Thank you JK), introducing our market to a whole new demographic foreign to us. With a trio of Korean Hip Hop pioneers known as Epik High marking their first big North American tour in June of 2015 and making a stop in our homebase of Toronto, we saw an opportunity to test run a demographic that was not only playing catch up to the international fashion landscape but was beginning to carve its own niche that went past the stereotypical "K-Pop" norms of "costume" fashion. Hip Hop has always promoted the idea of "being real" and with Epik High, we found the perfect vessel to launch ourselves in. These were guys who not only matched their stage personas with whom they were outside of it but set their own rules of "cool" regardless of how trendy they appeared to be or not. During their encore performance, performing to a sold out Danforth Music Hall in Toronto, their lead vocalist Tablo, came out in full NTHNG "Elegy" apparel (Runic Logo Toque and Mandarin Collar Dress Shirt) much to our surprise and excitement... that was just the beginning.
In the following months after, Tablo was seen in our garments, most notably during podcasts of his former radio show, "Tablo's Dreaming Radio" (Seen here with the K-Pop boy band IKON). However, by connecting with him we learned of his intentions to start his own record label with Epik High bandmate DJ Tukutz, known as HIGHGRND. Fostering new, up and coming producers and artists, we grew fond of one particular individual by the name of Code Kunst.
With his Instagram account full of vague mysterious photos, snippets of raw unfinished hip hop beats, an adorable orange tabby cat and having an impeccable and original sense of style, we bridged a connection that has led to "C.K." being a part of our family. Culminating in our first (of hopefully many more to come) meetings just this past summer where I was fortunate enough to break bread, share beers and vibe out to new unreleased music as well as preview to him our second collection, Growing Pains.
In early 2015, JayAllDay and his band of rambo orca ninjas set the interwebs ablaze with their track "It G Ma" which featured crew mates Keith Ape and Okasian as well as Japanese rappers Loota and KOHH and literally turned the world upside down with their refreshing, Americanized/modern Asian Trap sound. Jay, was actually the mastermind of the collaboration having lived in both Japan, Korea as well as the States growing up. In Jay we saw a leader who led by example. Someone who was loyal to his crew and wanted to do anything to get his team to the top. The man could spit bars and the dude could dress... We were lucky enough to be able to reach out personally to him, despite his busy schedule, was humble enough to take our messages and it's been dope since. He's been spotted in some of our preseason, "When We Were Young" pieces notably our sold out Souvenir Jacket as well as our "Perfect Tee".
This past March, JK and the guys at TR Canada and KPOPMe hosted Dynamic Duo's Grand Carnival Tour which was their first North American Tour and featured Canadian stops in Vancouver and Toronto. We were lucky enough to be invited to their show and see the boys do what they do best as they performed for a near hour and a half straight, pausing for the mid comedic break in between to try their hand at the english language. After the concert, we were lucky enough to spot Gaeko in our new unstructured runic cap. It was an honour outfitting these boys considering they hold the title of having the best selling Korean Hip Hop album of all time, Taxi Driver, as well as founding their own record label; Amoeba Culture. That said, Gaeko had one last surprise waiting for us. In July, Amoeba Culture released a posse cut song with accompanying music video entitled "High Five". Around 24 seconds in, Gaeko can clearly be seen wearing our collaborative "Perfect" script shirt with Create MTTR. Imagine to think that one day our products would be featured in a music video, none the less a video by artists half way around the world is surreal.
Being solely focused on Asia has had many benefits but has also in large part alienated our home continent. There's been reasons as to why we focused to go east as opposed to sink our teeth into establishing ourselves at home but... I think I'll leave that for part two.