Sitting down with thisisneverthat's three co-founders, Jongkyu Choi, Nadan Cho and Inwook Park, END. discuss their approach to design, how they navigate a myriad of influences in a globalised world and their latest collection for SS20, "Soft Work".
In a world where the line between streetwear and luxury has blurred, where traditional houses have cultivated new aesthetic values to capture the spirit of streetwear's youthful cache, where do OG streetwear brands fit into the rubric?
Drawing from a melting pot of influences, streetwear's status as the cool kid-brother of luxury has shifted significantly. In a globalised industry, where a myriad of influences and cultural perspectives are at the fingertips of each and every designer, streetwear's role has become the instigator of aesthetic change - the ground zero of zeitgeist defining movements.
Hailing from Seoul, South Korea, thisisneverthat has become a trailblazer in their own form of global streetwear, cultivating a unique set of aesthetic values over the course of their ten years in operation. Plucking inspiration from sources including music, art and underground cultures, the brand encapsulates the ever-changing dynamic of streetwear and its network of influence. Helmed by Jongkyu Choi, Nadan Cho and Inwook Park, thisisneverthat delivers a snapshot of Korean style at the cutting edge of streetwear, workwear, and contemporary brand identity.
Sitting down with thisisneverthat co-founders, Jongkyu Choi, Nadan Cho and Inwook Park, END. discuss their approach to design, how they navigate a myriad of influences in a globalised world and their latest collection for SS20, "Soft Work".
What was it that initially compelled you to start thisisneverthat?
Jongkyu Choi: It was my life goal to have my own brand with my partner, Nadan. We go way back. We've known each other since elementary school and we used to dig Polo, Dr. Martens, and all these vintage brands from the 80-90s when we were growing up. It’s funny though, we actually never discussed it or said to each other, “we should do a fashion brand together when we get older”. But we went to college and we both studied fashion design there; I think everything started from that point. When I went to Japan and Nadan went to the states to study abroad, we were on video chat every day to talk about what we saw on the street and in the stores. It kind of led us to brainstorm the first baby steps that would later become thisisneverthat.
How would you define the brand and its ethos?
Inwook Park: I define ‘thisisneverthat’ as an independent organization, not a brand. We are pretty much producing everything by ourselves with in-house production. I think that is a strength of ours and the biggest difference when we're compared to other brands. From designing the collection, shooting lookbooks, making promotional films and soundtracks, we do it all.
What are the most important lessons that you have learnt since starting the brand in 2010?
Nadan Cho: It was only three of us in 2010, but I realised that we needed more people to grow the business - that was the most important lesson that I’ve learned. It is very important to find people who you can trust and actually work with. You also need to keep challenging yourself and wait for your brand to be at the top of the world.
Inwook: Plus, you need to figure out what you actually like. It is really important to design and make the clothes that you like and you would want to wear every day.
Do you work collaboratively on each aspect of the brand or do you take control of specific areas?
Inwook: As you know, running a fashion brand is not just clothing design, there are so many other things that come along with it. All three of us had no experience working in fashion before we started the brand, but it was very clear that we wanted to make the clothes ourselves and we realised that making the clothes that we wanted to wear was not the only thing that we needed to think of when we were trying to run a business. We are still challenging ourselves regarding the best way of running a business. With that in mind, I'm more focused on giving direction on the creative and design side of the brand. I’m shaping each collection and the designs that my team creates.
Jongkyu: Once Naina and his team finish with that, I take control of production and manufacturing. Making all these flat designs into 3 dimensional things, you know? My team and I are always running around the country and even go outside of Korea, looking for a master of the craft that can make the clothing to the highest quality.
Nadan: I’m working with the merchandise/sales team with the results of what Jongkyu and Naina have worked on. My team works on the numbers. You know, all that lame stuff - but it’s really a key part of the brand when your company gets bigger. From the seasonal forecasting, making sure we are producing the right quantity and planning out the sales/marketing, e-commerce, and both domestic and international sales. Also, I take charge of the whole financial side of the company.
TINT has been a staple within South Korea for a number of years - how has the streetwear scene in South Korea developed over this time?
Nadan: Actually, it took a bit of time for us to be where we at right now. When I think about the beginning, I feel like we started when the paradigm of the fashion market was changing in both domestic and international markets. There were times when a lot of designers and brands were trying to copy American or Japanese culture in their designs but now my generation has invented and cultivated a culture of our own. With your online store and SNS, for example, people can easily access whatever they want and get anything they want that is happening around the globe. It means there is no boundary on the fashion market and a lot of small, independent brands started around that time. Within that changing dynamic, we were always seeking to present our brand in a different way and it made us who we are right now.
Korea has a specific stylistic approach that can often pluck elements from different areas of the world, before ultimately processing them in a wholly unique way – how would you describe Korean style?
Jongkyu: I don’t think I’m in any position to define or describe what Korean fashion is, but I feel like Koreans are very sharp with fashion trends - they are always looking for what is hot right now in the market. With that in mind, it's very hard for a brand to have a blueprint that guides you for decades - there are hundreds of brands that come and go every day. We are just trying not to follow a trend or cause any type of trend in the market - we are actively trying to avoid that.
It's very hard for a brand to have a blueprint that guides you for decades - there are hundreds of brands that come and go every day.
What has instigated your interest in blending together different aesthetics from around the world? Was this a conscious decision or is it perhaps symptomatic of a globalised world?
Inwook: Well, I always planned to blend these things together intentionally - we didn’t try to advertise our selves in that way or anything like that, though. We just blend our inspirations that we’ve been following since we were teenagers. It might seem like we are blending together different aesthetics from around the world but it all just comes from what we like and what we follow.
It all came very naturally. We always try to come out with the results we wanted and imagined in the beginning. It does not always come out in the way that we expected but we are challenging ourselves every day. With that, I would say that it was a conscious decision.
What are the fundamental inspirations behind TINT’s aesthetics?
Inwook: Of course, music, art, and various underground urban cultures are the big inspirations for me and the brand. I get inspiration from online content as well but I have to say that the biggest inspiration is my friends and everyday life. The people around me and everyday life directly reflect what I see and what I feel and I would say that this is the fundamental inspiration for me with thisisneverthat.
The name of the brand hints towards a constantly shifting dynamic, implying that change is always coming – how is this thought process incorporated into your garments?
Jongkyu: Well, ‘thisisneverthat’ was not the first option for the name, but the name reflects our thought process and philosophy of design. It denotes a transformation; the transformation of raw ideas into physical form and materials in an unconventional way. All three of us were spending a long time thinking of names for the brand but couldn’t come up with any better name than ‘thisisneverthat’. So here we are.
It denotes a transformation; the transformation of raw ideas into physical form and materials in an unconventional way.
You’ve recently unveiled your collection for SS20, “Soft Work”, a charming blend of streetwear, vintage Americana and workwear. What has served as the central inspiration for this collection?
Inwook: For this season, my inspiration came from the title of the book ‘Sterling Ruby: Soft Work’, by Julian Myers. I went through the book and I’d imagine a sequence or conceptual mood and share it with our team members verbally. With that sequence and idea, they then created the outfits to go along with the sequence. There was no limitation and all the results could come out differently because each member would express it with their own style.
Where does your design process begin?
Inwook: At the very first stage of the design process, we are not trying to send a specific message or target sales, but we are focusing on designing the clothes that are true to who we are and what we wear right now. We are trying to make clothes that represent the current era, which is something that people really like about how we present our collections. The three of us were in our twenties when we started the brand and the main criterion of our designs was to make the clothes that we would wear every day. Now, we are almost forty years old and some people could say that thisisneverthat got old too. However, most of our team members are in their twenties and that keeps thisisneverthat fresh and keeps it in the middle of the current era.
Is there a central thread that runs from one collection to the next, or does each collection form its own separate and wholly specific identity?
Inwook: I don’t always establish the season concept or theme from the beginning - I would say that it’s different every time. Sometimes the concept is settled before we start the design process but sometimes it becomes apparent in the middle of the design session. Most likely, whatever I see and experience throughout everyday life will link to the season concept.
Jongkyu: I agree with him. It might not be particularly clear but we can say that there is a connecting link between each collection somehow because eventually all these concepts are from our experiences and everyday life.