Man Is In The Forest: A Conversation with Ben Yue of Disney

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Walt Disney once said, “I believe in being an innovator.” and surely the company he left behind has gone on to do just that, creating some of the best and most innovative movies of our generation. The brand is now one of the most recognizable in the entire world and licenses it’s products in various different countries. Disney has collaborated with a number of high profile brands in the past year that have caught our attention including Supreme, NEIGHBORHOOD, UNIQLO, and more.

Most recently Disney made a splash in Shanghai, China through an entirely new collaboration with Hong Kong’s CLOT, founded by Edison Chen and Kevin Poon. Disney and CLOT got together to create an entirely new retail concept that will feature the world’s best Disney collaboration products including collaborations with some of the world’s most famous artists and brands including CLOT, ANTIPAST, Bounty Hunter, Cassette Playa, Charlotte Tarantola, devilrobots, Dr. Romanelli, Han Cholo, Hysteric Mini, Johnathan Saunders, Milkfed, Secret Base, Campana Bros and WHIZ Limited . The store in called, Man Is In The Forest, which has a special meaning in itself that relates back to Walt Disney’s beginning.

WMan Is In The Forest is now open in Shanghai, just down the street from CLOT’s other retail venture in Shanghai, JUICE, and the store is a part of a new development that houses a number of other boutiques and restaurants. The store’s grand opening was held a few weeks ago and attendees included Edison Chen, Kevin Poon, Hilary Tsui, Kazuki Kuraishi, Madasaki Tsuchiya, and a number of other celebrities and influencers.

We recently had a chance to sit down with Ben Yue, the Senior Product Development Manager of Disney’s Fashion Division in Greater China, who conceptualized the store and collaboration. Ben sat down with us to discuss how the store came about, how Disney decided to work with CLOT on this new store and collection of apparel, and more.

READ OUR CONVERSATION WITH BEN YUE »

First, please introduce yourselves and give us a brief description of what it is you do.

I’m Chinese Canadian, originally from Vancouver.  I’ve been living in Asia for over 10 years now, and moved to Shanghai about 2 years ago to take up the role of Senior Product Development Manager for Disney’s Fashion division in Greater China.

What is Man is in the Forest? How did the concept come about?

Man Is In The Forest is a brand new retail concept that is the first of its kind for Disney.  This stand-alone pop-up store showcases the best Disney-inspired designer collaborations from around the globe.  There is also a gallery space inside the store which will showcase the design inspiration, artwork and installations this collaborative project has created with our artist and designer friends.

The name Man Is In The Forest is inspired from a line in the classic Disney movie, Bambi.  Back in the day when Walt Disney was heavily involved in the development of animated features, this used to be the code phrase amongst the animators to signal that Walt was in the studio.  So to call the store “Man Is In The Forest” is our tribute to Walt himself, a nod to say that his spirit and inspiration are still very much with us today.

The idea for this project was really the product of two Disney designers sitting on a flight together Stanley Leung, who is our retail designer, and myself with nothing better to do than to imagine what it would be like if we could open our own Disney store any way we wanted to.  Our concept: to bring the hottest, the most premium, and the most interesting Disney collaborations from around the globe and showcase them all under one roof.

Disney has long been looked at as a brand that caters mostly to children whether it’s their movies or amusement parks, however this new retail space seems to target an entirely different consumer and demographic, what was the thinking behind making this move?

Walt Disney himself once said, “You’re dead if you aim only for kids.  Adults are only kids grown up, anyways.”

And to that point, there are so many amazing Disney products for adults being developed globally, yet unfortunately, not everybody has access to them, or in some cases, are even aware that all these interesting things are happening with our brand.  And not only that, we have a few tricks up our own sleeves as well, and feel we can add to the mix of great product.  Basically, we want to broaden people’s idea of what Disney is, and show them a completely different side of the brand.  Disney isn’t just for kids anymore.  I think you cannot underestimate how influential Walt Disney was – and he how he continues to inspire designers everywhere around the world.

Given that this is a concept store by Disney, how did CLOT come into the picture and how did the two of you connect?

From the beginning, we felt it would be advantageous for us to partner with a locally relevant retailer, and who better than one of the hottest streetwear brands out there right now, CLOT.  They already had an impressive resume of cutting edge collaborations and a number of highly successful retail operations.

I’ve know Kevin Poon, one of the founders of CLOT, for a number of years, from back when I was working for Nike in Hong Kong.  We by chance reconnected one time he was up in Shanghai, and got to talking about this Disney project that was in the works, and from there, it just kind of took off..

We’ve already seen a CLOT x Disney 6 Year Anniversary t-shirt, will there be more CLOT x Disney products available? Will it be exclusive to the Disney x CLOT store?

Yes, there’s definitely lots more coming from this unique collaboration.  I’ve been working closely with Edison and their design team, and we’ve got some amazing product that will be dropping throughout the duration of this project.  All product is meant to be exclusive to Man Is In The Forest, but we may let a few items into CLOT’s Juice stores.

What other brands will we see in the new space? And what type of product will be available?

The list of brands in the first wave is vast and varied: Antipast, Bounty Hunter, Campana Brothers, Cassette Playa, Charlotte Tarantola, CLOT, Costello Tagliapietra, Devilrobots, Dr. Romanelli, Han Cholo, Harveys, Henry Holland, Hysteric Mini, Isabella Fiore, Jonathan Saunders, Kidada Jones, Lucas Design, Milkfed, MINDstyle, Secret Base, Tom Binns, Victor Glemaud, Violette Van Parys, and Whiz.  There’s lots more to come, but I think we’ll keep you in a little suspense, rather than give away all the surprises now..

Shanghai seems like a city that is still growing into it’s own identity compared to more developed cities such as Hong Kong, Tokyo, and New York so what was the reasoning behind picking Shanghai as the location of this store vs. a more developed city such as any of the aforementioned cities.

I think it’s for exactly the reason you just mentioned, why we felt Shanghai would be a great place to kick off this project.  Shanghai (and China in general) is developing so quickly, it’s already changed so much within the 2 years that I’ve been here.  People are becoming more design conscious, and aware of all these brands we are working with.

With the streetwear and sneaker culture becoming bigger and bigger in Asia and specifically China, do you foresee that similar projects popping up in other markets in addition to Shanghai? (If yes, can you please expand on your answer and give us information about potential upcoming locations)

The initial intent for Man Is In The Forest is that it may move on to another city after its conclusion in Shanghai, which may or may not be in Asia.

Obviously creating an entirely new retail concept is not easy, what challenges did you run into while creating this space?

From the beginning, this fledgling project received tremendous support from both our Greater China Senior Management team, as well as our Global Management team in the U.S., so we were very fortunate to have their blessing it made getting things off the ground a lot easier.  However, the fact that Disney had never done anything like this before, people couldn’t always answer our questions, and we were often left to just figure things out for ourselves – which can be at times, challenging.  But to be honest, looking back, it may have actually been a benefit.  Working within such a huge organization, it’s inevitable that things take longer to push through.  But with this project, everyone was aware of what we were doing and really believed in the project – it was great to have that support.

Working with the CLOT team has been great.  Our collective vision of what Man Is In The Forest should be about has been in alignment from day 1 and their creativity and attention to detail have made it a lot of fun to collaborate with them.

What other projects can we expect from Disney and/or CLOT?

Watch this space!  We have some great ideas so you’ll be seeing a lot more exciting initiatives.

What are some of your favorite collaborations or products that will be available at the store either now or in the near future?

It’s hard to play favourites, because all the collaborations are so special and unique.  Everybody loves the Campana Brothers chair, especially if we manage to auction it off (the chair is worth US$75,000), 100% of the proceeds will go to children’s charities in Brazil (where the Campana brothers are from) and China.  I also really like the Dr. Romanelli jackets, as they remind me so much of my parents taking me to Disneyland and having the most magical day ever.  Other products are still in early concept phases.  But I am pretty excited about the stuff that Kazuki and Madsaki are coming up with.  Stay tuned..

Any closing thoughts or words?

“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” – Walt Disney

I think this project so far has been a perfect example of that.