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The Creator: A Conversation with Edison Chen of CLOT

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[column width="50%"]In the simplest sense of the concept, its the coagulation of creative types, cool trends, unique products, and fruition of ideas. At least that was CLOT's mission statement when Kevin Poon and Edison Chen first started nearly 10 years ago. Of course, the brand evolved into something like a cornerstone within Hong Kong's ever growing sub-culture scene. More than just a clothing brand, a retailer, or even a design agency. The most applicable definition for CLOT would be that of a "movement".[/column]

[column width="50%"]Ahead of its 10th anniversary next year, we had the opportunity to sit down with CLOT's co-founder Edison Chen recently and discussed the road ahead. Our conversation also paid a certain emphasis on CLOT's newest project, the Tribesmen Collection, which saw the involvement from the likes of MC Yan and Wing Shya, the famed cinematographer for director Wong Kar Wai. [/column]


[column width="50%"]Over the past 9 years in CLOT's existence, the concept of East-Meets-West played a heavy influence in most of the products released. What lead to the use of a tribal direction in this latest collection?

Basically since our first offering we've been trying to really represent ourselves and what we stand for and what we like. We are basically Western influenced Asians. Basically, we tried to mesh the two things together. So before we did silk and we made it with more of a street platform kind of clothing. This time, we were trying think of a concept and we love all this stuff that's happening tribally... Tribal Prints, Tex-Mex and all this Mayan kind of graphic and stuff. We tried to find the roots of that in Chinese culture and basically that was something that was really founded and still evident in Tibet right now. We did an inspiration trip, we went out to Tibet and we bought some fabrics. We tried to mesh Tex-Mex with an Ethiopian flavor because there were some textiles out there that resembled the Tex-Mex that we love, so we just infused our own colors into it. We got graphic designer called Freegums who I really respect and we just turned out a print that we like to call our own. Other than that, it's a testament for our clothing making because when we first started we had no clue what we were doing. Our first two seasons were nightmares. Now, we're getting to a more finesse level, so I am really proud of the way our clothes are being made now. It's improving every year.[/column]

[column width="50%"]And does East meets West still play a role in Tribesmen Collection?

We don't really try, that's not something we sit down and we all think of. I think that's just automatic now. We did some pairs of bad shoes that are coming out and basically I just wanted to put like a Chinese robe on something. It wasn't like, "oh, we have to do this Chinese kind of element," it's just natural for us to think that way in most of our endeavors now. I think subconsciously, it was there, but you know, there wasn't a mission statement there put out there for our fall/winter season.[/column]


[column width="50%"] The Tribesmen posters are themselves artful pieces of the collection, what was the thought process in their creation?

Well, a lot of people, I don't about in America, but a lot people in locally in China they say we're "street brand" or "hip-hop brand." You can label us whatever you want, but we feel like we've evolved over the years and we wanted an approach that spoke for us instead of us saying, "we're this way," or "we're that way," it's just like our art speaks for itself. As our clothing has improved and our production facilities have gotten better, I feel like in our promotional tactics and angle that we portray ourselves has to be in line with our change.

We decided to do a little bit more, I would say, an artistic approach to marketing our clothes. I'm tired of being the person standing in front of the brand all of the time. In order for our brand to have popped off in the beginning maybe a little bit of the influence that I had was important for us to be an eight-nine year brand in a ten years store. I think that's speaking on the volume of our hard work and dedication to this stuff. A lot of people are like, "oh, why aren't you on the poster?" We're not about that. That's not something were about, even though that is an element to our company. We've grown to a point where we feel like our company speaks for itself it doesn't need to have a sort of figure standing there to say, "This is dope," because our stuff is dope anyways.

[column width="50%"] Please introduce the models for the Tribesmen Posters.

There's me. There's MC YAN who is a legendary graffiti artist and a really good rapper. He's the God MC of Cantonese rap. He's taught me everything about hip-hop and he really kind of embraced me and brought me into that circle. There's another female artist in there Josie Ho, the daughter of Stanley Ho, the Macau tycoon. She's a great punk rock artist, she's independent and she's got her own spirit, which really fits in with the CLOT mentality. She's just got that, "I don't give a fuck," type vibe. The girl on the main image is actually a girl named Ann Hong. She's from Taiwan. She's my girlfriend right now, so.... (laughs) She's fairly new. I met her and I just thought that she was really refreshing and she has that weird-ish, tomboyish, masculine feel to her and it really kind of fitting in with the marketing that we did. It was basically Wing and the stylist, which is one of my good friends, Sean, and me who styled the shoot. I think we could've put anyone in there and it would've been dope just because of the creative team behind the whole project.[/column]

[Left: Faye Wong in 2046 Photo by Wing Shya | Right: CLOT the company celebrates their Converse Pro Leather Release]


[column width="50%"] Many just arriving on the scene may not know the name Wing Shya but the old school cats might have seen some of his work on Wong Kar Wai's films. Tell us about him and the selection of Mr. Shya as the photographer.

Wing Shya has been a name I've been hearing a lot of especially because I live on Asia and Wing Shya is really revered in Japan and in France for his work on Wong Kar Wai movies. Wong Kar Wai is a legendary Hong Kong director. He's filmed movies from "In the Mood for Love," "2046," "My Blueberry Nights," and "Chungking Express." They've all been cult classic even if you take away the cult and say just classic movies. Wing was the cinematographer and he really captured many beautiful moments on these movies. I started really noticing him because I actually did some corporate jobs with them. Other than being a really artsy photographer, he has a commercial side to him which he does shoots for Vogue and he did for me and Pepsi. He shot my photo and the photo was on a can of Pepsi. Slowly working together with him, I began a friendship with him and then we rounded and we really wanted to do something together.

All the things we really did artsy was a shoot we did for ID magazine like eight years ago. I commissioned him to do this work with our fall/winter collection, which I thought would have been cool if Wing just put a spin on it. He broke it out and did some eight by tens and did like capture on an old real old Polaroid machine and the frames came out really amazing. If you look at his other artwork or his photos, they're just amazing. They have great composition, the light is amazing and the mood is definitely there. I think that in the coming few years, you'll hear a lot more Wing Shya in the Western world. Not only because of the stuff that he shot on set, but because he is a great artist.[/column]

[column width="50%"] In our years of following CLOT's collections and company, Tribesmen seems to be one of the biggest and most thought out collections to come out of your camp. In a way you guys are all grown up, is that the case here? Do you consider yourselves at that stage?

I don't try to think, I mean, I can speak for my company, me and Kevin, we really don't think of what stage were at. We are just thinking of where we are at in our own lives. We're not gauging ourselves at, "oh, we're at the fifth step of the twelve steps." We win some and lose some and we learn from it. We've learned a lot because... we've failed a lot. We've done a lot of projects especially with clothing making where we've reworked so that we're satisfied with the outcome, but we learned a lot from those mistakes.

Since two to three seasons ago, I think that we've grown a lot in understanding the market and understanding clothing making and understanding marketing, as well. Whereas before, we were like, "I like purple," and it would be purple. Now it's more like, "okay so what are people speaking to and then how do we put our angle to it so that it makes it that everyone... it just flows," instead of it just being like "this is what we like," and shove it down the throats.

The Chinese market has matured to a whole other level where they have their own likes and their own tastes now where as five years ago they just wanted to be fed stuff. So we're trying to grow with the market and, at the same time, grow with ourselves. We've grown, definitely, but I think we can grow a lot more and we can get a lot better. Hopefully the people keep supporting us and give us love because that's the only way we will really survive and the only way that we really want to work and go to the next level.[/column]


[column width="50%"] You've played a major role in the creative direction of CLOT, what is your art background and what influences you?

I have no art background just like I have no music background and no acting background. It's just something I have a passion for. What I think I have in my background is having a lot of good friends that have mentored me. Nigo brought me under his wing and showed me the hustle and the building of a brand. Hiroshi showed me the finesse of really finessing products, you know? And Eddie Cruz... Just so many people of influence me and not only have they influenced me before I knew them, they were idols to me.

Then, after I actually became friends with them, they shared a lot of knowledge with me. That's really where I think that all the expertise stuff has come in like doing cut and sew, Kazuki has shown me the way. He taught me almost everything. I'm not a clothing maker, I'm just the creative director and I can only direct my team. A lot of people have also helped my team deeply. Kazuki took my production team to the next level. We've been very lucky that we have a good community. That's something that a lot of people in Asia lack in partnerships. You're just trying to collaborate with and really make something good instead of trying to win.

I feel like that's one of the points why we keep having opportunities to do collaborations with other people locally because a lot of other people are thinking about, "how do you take this person out," or "how do we get here," and we're just thinking about something good. I think that's resonated over the years which is why we been able to do Nikes, Levi's and Van's and we've got this stuff with Scott Campbell on the art level. We've got this red COMME des FUCKDOWN stuff. It's all mutual respect because we try to be creative. It's not that we own the market because, no one can own the whole market. I'd feel like are the funkiest ... iriest dudes out there. (laughs)[/column]

[column width="50%"] Who are some of your favorite artists at the moment? Do you kick around ideas with some of these artists?

EDISON: I love a lot of artists from dead artist to current living artists, but you know I like to focus on people that are alive now. I think Alex Isreal. He's a new real contemporary artist. I'd say he's more of a fine artist. The Kaws, Scott Campbells, Phil Frost, who's definitely slept on. Man, there's so many that I can't ... José Parla... so many. I don't have a creative conversation with them, per se, I don't sit with them and try to pick their brains, but when we have dinner, obviously the stuff that we're doing is mentioned and we kind of feed off each other. I'm in a very lucky place where I get to go to Kaws' Studio and see his next show. I'm a little bit ahead, but you know I am definitely not in their brain and trying to influence what they're doing because I'm a fan. The reason why I think CLOT has been able to do what they are doing, is we're not really trying to tell people that what or whatever, we're just like we're fans, man. We're a fan of the culture; we're not trying to run the culture. We're just trying to be a part of it. I feel like a lot of these people have given us a lot of different ideas and it's like these highways that we go on and we go on a journey and come out of it, we come back a man from a boy. We've had a lot of great, great people influence our stuff including these artists.[/column]


[column width="50%"] Not only are you part owner and creative director of CLOT, but an actor, an artist and a musician, which role is your favorite? What drives you in that role?

When people asked me what I do now, I just tell them I'm the creator. That's kind of what I do. Even down to a music level, there are a lot of people that help me doing that, so I can't claim anything for myself. Everything's truly a group collaborative work. Other than being a creator, I feel like I'm a therapist for my companies, because I own my own media company as well. We run our own music and stuff. The more that I've worked and the more staff we've accumulated now—we have a total of like forty-something staff now—my role as the creator or creative director is secondary to being a therapist.

I'm constantly trying to keep morale up and getting my staff believing in what we're doing. When one man, me or Kevin Poon, we can't do this stuff we turn out. We have a great team that comes out. I really feel like the team ... a lot of people have been with us since day one and they've really put in a lot of work and effort for CLOT and especially for my media company. I just like being me. I don't like to say what I like being the most. I just like being me, man. I'm a lucky guy. I wake up and I have friends in every city that I go to. What more can you ask for? I don't care about cars. I don't care about anything. I just care about the lifestyle that I live in. The lifestyle is my friends and food and having fun. Every day I get to have some of that. I just like being me. I don't like being labeled as an actor or singer or designer or whatever. That's something for people trying to prove something. I'm not trying to prove anything I'm just trying to live.[/column]

[column width="50%"] In 2013 you will celebrate 10 years of founding CLOT. What gave you the drive to keep going after the trials and tribulation of running the company in addition playing so many other roles?

Quite honestly me and Kevin have been trying to do this for a long time and ... (phew) like I said, we went through failures and we went through successes. I can't speak for Kevin, but I can tell you is this that I feel obligated and I feel I have something I must do is open this culture and lead the way. I never say like people asked me, "oh so you think you're the best rapper," it's like, "no, man, definitely not." I will tell you that I've helped every other rapper out there that's in China, because I've opened doors for them. What I would like to see my kind of my role is really just being a door opener for all these people. I'm not trying to tell people that I'm like Kaws' nobody and you should, look at my art. I saying Kaws is the shit and you should go and like these dudes, or like SSUR is amazing brand from back then. We've been carrying that brand for four years when people weren't even on that stuff.

I just feel like I have a duty to do. A lot of other people still don't have an opportunity to bring subculture to a more mainstream level. I feel like I really need to do that in order for this subculture in general in China to go to the next level where we have something that we can be representative of ourselves. I'm not trying to say that I want Chinese culture to take over American culture or whatever. Our world needs to be shown things. If you've never seen something, you'll never know. If you never see someone do it, then you'll think this undoable.

What I try to do is try to show people that there is a way and that we can do it. We're a Chinese brand. There are not that many other Chinese brands in other fashion areas at all. It's important for us to have a good brand image and good product because a lot of people think that stuff made in China is a certain way. Almost all of our stuff is made in China. It's designed in China. It's thought by Chinese people. I feel like not only from a local level, but from an international level we've got to bring heat because people are looking at us and there like, "oh those are the Chinese dudes." We really feel like an obligation to really rep it hard. Sometimes me and Kevin make a lot of money on other projects other than CLOT. We've thought of not doing a brand before because it's a lot of hard work. You're churning in season after season, but I told him that a lot of people are looking up to us and if we kill the brand then we basically kill the culture.

I'm not saying that were super-important; it's just that a lot of other big brands and stuff look to us to make energy locally in our region. We fought out the long war and basically we feel like after bring in the front lines for many years and don't know if we are winning or losing. We're finally reaching that point where we are like, "okay, we see the light at the end of the tunnel," type of thing.[/column]


[column width="50%"] A question to help some of the younger brands keep going: Your well known name helped with the marketing your new company in 2003 but what other key thought or thoughts did you keep in your mind that CLOT would be a viable company?

We started off with company brand mission and our mission statement was a simple one. Why we're called CLOT is because we gather creative ideas, creative people, new things and we put them all in one place. It's like a clot, like a blood clot, and then it explodes and it comes out. We had a definitive brand identity. We weren't saying, "Yo, Justin Bieber rocks it. He's the shit." That will only get you so far. It may get you 50,000 T-shirts sold, but what happens after that? We had a real brand identity and what we wanted to say through our clothing. We never really sold out. We reference and we are influenced by people definitely, but we never use the concept and recycle it. I think that we try to come up original stuff and put our own spin on something even if we do a M65, we covered it silk. It's the same jacket, are we're copying someone? "No." "Yeah?" "No?" "I don't know." But we have our own spin on it. [/column]

[column width="50%"]It's not like I just made some camo that looks like Bape, cause I love Bape and I'm just going to make me some camo. A lot of people have idols and they should look forward to the formula that they have and not the actual product that they make. What made their company, Bape has an amazing, amazing, amazing brand logo, their company direction, their prints; It's just a great story. I feel like we have a story and if you have a passion for what you do instead of just thinking about I want to make money or I want to make one dope thing you have something that you believe in and is recognizable and you can basically stick to that really try to blow up with it. I would say something like all along the lines of SSUR. Like SSUR is an amazing artist. He's got Caviar Cartel which he did for so many years.

There's a certain time when people didn't believe in him so much. He has one breakout and his company immediately becomes dope. Is it because the one print? No. It's just elevated the company for people to see what they're all about. Don't get fooled that it's this one-print game. This is definitely about the brand identity and what you're trying to tell your customers and if you understand where your market is. It's not trying to please everyone. It's just trying to please the people that you know you want to please.