Photo caption: Photo courtesy of Kyle Ng.
As a teenager growing up in a suburb of northern California, Bay Area-based Kyle Ng wore the Nike sportswear typical of his peers in the late 1990s. But he also was fascinated by vintage clothing.
“They contain stories,” he said about his Japanese rag weaving and a World War II gas mask with the owner’s name written inside. “I like conveying stories, and clothing is part of it. I just like the idea of telling narratives through visual communication.”
That compulsion led Ng, now 27 and the founder of San Francisco-based menswear brand Farm Tactics, to move to Los Angeles to make films and explore other forms of art-making. In 2006, he fell into making his own t-shirt line.
“I was inspired by Victorian etchings, reinterpretations of natural life and animals. I’d ride my bike into different areas and hang out in different shops, learning and meeting everyone, and kind of like, getting the vibe. And they supported me and sold my stuff,” he remembers. “And I learned more about manufacturing clothing. It was like I had great friends who helped me out a lot.”
In 2009, Ng launched a menswear basics brand he called Farm Tactics, making indigo knits, shirts and chino pants. Last year, he started AXS Folk Technology, which he describes as a “psychedelic REI,” a full-on lifestyle brand mixing in his love of the outdoors (he’s a rock climber who gets around his neighborhood on skateboard) with a sense of nostalgia for a period he never experienced. This could be interpreted as part Whole Earth Catalog, Stewart Brand and the California mentality of living off the land in the era of 21st century technology.
“It’s a postmodern take on clothing,” Ng explains, in that experiences are referenced, even if the designer or the wearer never lived through them.
“Our generation is more about nostalgia,” he says. “Creating things like memories. And sometimes memories are not what you’ve experienced. So when you look at Comme des Garçons and how [Rei Kawakubo] does punk, it’s not literally punk clothing, it’s elements of punk she uses that inspire.”
He likes the Japanese brand Kapital for the way they “flip” heritage textiles and create something new.
Part of his role as a designer, therefore, is curatorial: selecting elements from the masses of visual information and materials that bombard us.
“I love that [fashion] is told through touch, feel, color, fabric and that it’s a subtle story. It’s not just straightforward,” says Ng. “Clothing is what we wear and it’s important. You’re taking a narrative that continues as you wear it. You create the narrative and it changes and morphs into your own lifestyle. When you put something on, it might give you confidence or make you feel a certain way.”
In addition to designing for his two lines, which are sold at boutiques in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Brooklyn, Seattle, London, Hong Kong and Tokyo, he has worked with Nike and Levi’s, and designs another menswear line in Japan. He was recently hired as special projects and concept designer for Urban Outfitters.
Last year in Los Angeles, he created for Urban a pop-up store in the collaborative fashion retail building, Space 15 Twenty. Ng selected 20 outdoor brands for the store and worked with a carpenter to build a climbing wall and a geodesic dome. Halfway through the run, when the paintings began to sell out, he brought in an enormous, stuffed bison. People could buy climbing shorts, then touch the bison or lie inside the dome. It was wildly successful and got the attention of Urban Outfitters’ top people.
Ng is a sixth-generation Chinese American whose family roots go back to San Antonio, Texas, where they were the first Asian family in the city. This is a story that he carries with him, along with memories of red-wrapped gifts during new year’s. But Ng says he’s never been to China.
“I’m sure my Asian heritage influences me, but I’m interested in everyone,” he says.