Nana: Fashion has infinite possibilities, and new power is born from it. As a carrier of culture and times, fashion encompasses everything. From trendy to traditional culture, from celebrities, idols to everyone’s daily life, and from West to East, it is our discourse, our power, our time. Through Asian Voice, we hope to spread the local Asian fashion culture to the world by moving cross languages and borders.
“Rationality, Calmness, and Creativity ” can represent Kevin Ng, also his pioneer menswear brand called Unawares originating from China. During his tenure at Bauhaus, the profound influences garnered significantly contributed to his aesthetic, which now defines his distinctive design universe under the banner of Unawares.
Within the realm of Unawares, everything undergoes redefinition. Consider the brand’s signature piece, the suit, as an illustrative example. While conventionally perceived as either conservative or fashionable attire, Kevin harnesses his unique perspective to reimagine the suit, infusing it with a renewed vitality. Adorned in Unawares, a man emanates an extraordinary tranquility, coupled with unwavering self-assuredness. This innate elegance seamlessly extends outward, paying homage to diverse occasions through the conduit of Unawares. Similar to Kevin himself and the core principles of Unawares, perpetually guided by tranquility and rational thought throughout the creative journey.
What’s motivated you to start your brand and named it “Unawares” initially?
Kevin: Unawares, it’s a relatively obscure adverb, meaning unexpectedly or without prior knowledge. When I first conceived of this brand, it was largely rooted in my past learning experiences, particularly a period during my time in school. I was deeply influenced by the Bauhaus movement. Back then, my studies revolved around the art of creating and establishing a brand, one that wasn’t necessarily tied to clothing.
Subsequently, I was also profoundly inspired by the holistic design principles of the German Bauhaus movement. This movement, in essence, shattered the boundaries between art and science, providing guiding principles for design. As it stands as a pioneer in the design field, it’s considered a significant school of thought in the development of design concepts. Its history can be divided into three periods.
When it came to selecting a brand name, I extensively studied the naming conventions of numerous existing brands. I noticed that many of them were either nouns or verbs. Consequently, I delved into Latin, ultimately discovering a term that could convey a feeling. Because I believe that aesthetics are a sensation, and individual perception is rooted in feelings, I stumbled upon a Latin term meaning “unexpectedly,” a sensation that I found resonant.
Now, nine years have passed, and I find that this brand name increasingly aligns with our identity. We consider this name highly appropriate. As a result, I hold a profound perspective on aesthetics. I’ve been influenced by the design principles of the Bauhaus movement, and this influence extends to even our furniture and interior design, serving as the foundation of our brand. It’s a steadfast and unwavering cornerstone of my beliefs.
Starting from your college years, you established your aesthetic viewpoint, which has been consistently carried through to your brand.
Kevin: It has become an indelible part ingrained in my essence – the Bauhaus aesthetic system. For me, it serves as my aesthetic output. It instilled a principle that everything can be redefined, a concept of utmost significance.
Just as chairs might not have been originally invented by the Bauhaus school, they managed to reposition everything within Bauhaus interior design as if everything were to be rediscovered. Similarly, for me, while clothing, including suits and various other categories, may not have been my inventions, I utilize the influence of Bauhaus to reimagine and recreate them.
The brand consistently releases new suit designs every season, and you frequently incorporate suits into your daily outfits. What does wearing a suit mean to you, and how does it reflect your design philosophy?
Kevin: Suits are actually a very clever category of clothing. For me, my first impression of suits is closely tied to my personal experiences. During my childhood, I was raised by my grandmother while my parents worked elsewhere. Every Chinese New Year, my father would be dressed in a black or gray suit, a memory that I can still recall vividly. In recent years, when I revisited that suit, I was surprised to find the label indicating it was made from Australian wool.
Therefore, to me, the impression of a suit has always been associated with shades of gray. This perception has endured and continues even today. Whether it’s about adhering to social norms or personal habits, I find myself wearing various styles of suits each day, entering a state of rationality and calmness.
I hold two distinct understandings of suits. In my view, whether in my home country or internationally, young people hold two extreme opinions about suits. One perception leans towards conservatism, while the other gravitates towards a fashionable, somewhat Italian-style approach. These two extreme perspectives have taken root in the minds of young individuals, causing their impression of suits to often remain superficial, centered around the idea of a formal ensemble, and hindering a genuine appreciation of their essence. However, following my experiences in New York and Germany, my understanding of how individuals from Chinese, Taiwanese, Hong Kong, and mainland backgrounds perceive suits underwent a transformative shift. It is no longer merely a presentation of external style.
During that period, I discovered that suits can encompass a broader range of options. They need not strictly adhere to Italian tailoring, nor should they be confined to the perspectives of certain domestic custom shops. While a suit might involve a complete ensemble, it doesn’t necessarily entail a combination of a shirt, suit jacket, and jeans. In my view, this represents a more New York-esque luxury style. Thus, I believe that the style of a suit should first and foremost reflect my personal preferences. This includes some experimentation, such as leaving the suit collar unflipped and having some metal elements on it. I’m reintroducing traditional elements into my aesthetic, thereby crafting my own unique suit style.
Nana: In Japan, we generally lean towards an easily wearable suit style. Although we are also renowned for street fashion, the Japanese culture, particularly among men, has a strong inclination towards wearing suits regardless.
How do you describe Unawares in three words?
Kevin: Rationality, Calmness, and Creativity. These three traits undoubtedly represent my personality. And the core aspect of my nature is unshakeable: Rationality.
Rationality and creativity, as terms, do have a subtle conflict, at least in the eyes of ordinary individuals.
Kevin: The aesthetics of Bauhaus were built upon a strong foundation of rationality, embracing pragmatism to rethink and recreate things. The first aspect, calmness, suggests that when faced with challenges or obstacles in the creative process, one doesn’t become impatient. Instead, they follow a methodological approach to continue creating. This forms the second step, which is why we place this term second.
The third step involves utilizing the established methodology after the entire thought process is complete. This is the time to unleash creativity and recreate based on the groundwork laid out. I believe the first two terms are about structuring logic, adjusting emotions, and finally, expressing creativity. By then, your work has also come into fruition.
The foundation of creativity is enriched by rationality and composure.
As a pioneering menswear brand, what do you imagine a guy wearing Unawares to be like in your mind, such as personality, lifestyle, or appearance they have ?
Kevin: Firstly, this young man is undoubtedly someone who is very clear about what he doesn’t want. In reality, people generally don’t want too many things. Each of us has numerous desires, but they’re often challenging to define. Looking at it from another angle, he must have a strong sense of what he doesn’t want – it’s quite straightforward. “I know very well what I don’t want,” is a simple way to put it. Let’s take clothing as an example: I find it hard to look good in a hoodie, so I rarely wear them in my daily life.
Moving on to his entire lifestyle, he’s definitely aware of his direction. This includes his logical thinking, his approach to work – he possesses clear cognition and well-defined logic in any job he undertakes. His quick thinking signifies that he’s an astute individual in any field. With a personality like this, his appearance becomes a secondary consideration. I believe that the internal, spiritual aspect is primary; that’s what gives a person a neat and distinct outward appearance. This embodies the two parts: firstly, the inner aspect, and consequently, the second part is about presentation.
Thirdly, he has both an internal sense and an outward appearance. When he wears Unawares, it shows respect for that particular context.
How do you come up and decide on the themes for every collections, and where do you find the inspirations behind?
Kevin: Fundamentally, I haven’t specifically determined the direction of style for each season. As mentioned earlier, the aesthetic consciousness of Bauhaus is ingrained in my inner world, becoming a part of my thought process. No matter how I search for relevant references, that subtle design concept naturally guides me forward. Therefore, I have never proactively defined the style and themes of any season.
In other words, as long as I possess sufficient reservoirs of knowledge, including various things I’ve encountered in the past, I can creatively reimagine and integrate them into my clothing designs. This way, I can present the latest creative ideas for each season. I continuously draw inspiration and aesthetic perspectives, whether from visual layouts or architectural creations. I instinctively apply my own aesthetic system and incorporate these elements into my latest collection of garments. This constitutes my creative style, which perhaps differs from that of other designers.
You started planning your brand a long time ago and now you’re 9 years into it, is it possible for letting us know some challenges that you faced during building the brand?
Kevin: Next year is actually the 10th anniversary of the establishment of this brand, and nine years have already passed. Although these nine years might not seem short, I’ve divided them into three phases. In the first three years, despite having aesthetic awareness, starting from scratch to build the brand required gradually shaping its visual identity and overall stylistic direction.
The first phase was crucial, and once the first two phases were resolved, the key was how to integrate the brand into the supply chain, which was vital. Therefore, in the initial three years, we focused on establishing the foundation of the brand. Many high-end brands often originate from institutions like Parsons or Central Saint Martins, enabling them to present remarkable trends in fashion quarters.
However, if your garments are pre-ordered by multiple retailers but you can’t deliver promptly, serious issues arise. Thus, many emerging fashion designer brands might encounter delivery difficulties in their first three years. Indeed, we made progress in the creative aspect during the initial three years, but achieving streamlined production takes time. This includes a profound understanding of the supply chain, which I believe is crucial for founders.
In the second phase, as the brand began to take shape, we gradually expanded sales through various channels. Yet, you need to focus on sales, as transitioning from a designer to a CEO requires adjustment. I see the second set of three years as a period of personal growth within this process, where team management, optimizing the supply chain, and building core sales channels were key. Among these, online sales played a significant role in our rapid development, along with engaging in promotional and revenue-generating activities.
During this period, our second set of three years primarily covered online retail and wholesale. In the most recent three years, the third set, due to a series of factors, we decided to integrate retail and wholesale more closely. I believe the company’s business model needed further evolution, no longer satisfied with wholesale alone. Therefore, in the past three years, we also began to venture into retail. Since last year, we’ve opened four stores in Shanghai, Hangzhou, Shenzhen, and Chengdu. My first foray into retail was in July 2021 when we opened our first retail store in Shanghai’s Xintiandi. I see these stores as spaces that embody all the core brand values.
In summary, these nine years encompassed distinct phases. Although it took a considerable amount of time, we built the brand from scratch. The tenth anniversary next year will be a significant milestone, and I’ll also formulate new plans for the next decade. I started this entrepreneurial journey at twenty and am now thirty years old this year.
What are some future plans that you have for Unawares?
Looking back at the entire brand development journey, we must recognize the changes in the market environment. Wholesale is gradually ceasing to be the primary means of consumer-brand interaction, owing to the evolution of the market. In my view, brands need to engage with consumers more directly. We have already adopted the direct-to-consumer model from companies like etc., which involves engaging directly with consumers. This implies that brands need to interact more closely with consumers and listen to their needs. Our goal is no longer to subjectively influence consumers, but to more fully consider their demands. Additionally, we aim to transform Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) into Key Opinion Consumers (KOCs) to enhance user stickiness.
In other words, over the next nine years, we will not only continue the iterative optimization every three years but also strive to establish a comprehensive, all-channel brand governance model. The primary objective remains facing consumers directly, which is an unwavering direction. This is also in line with the future trends of the fashion industry.
Rethinking the approach to revenue is also imperative. We cannot simply hand over designers’ creations to buyers for orders and then manage sales revenue. This would leave designers in a position where they cannot understand the reasons behind customer purchases. Because a brand’s assets stem from users, particularly VIP customers, we need to build a robust system that facilitates annual conversion of VIP customers’ purchases. This is the true embodiment of a brand’s survival prowess.
What are some advices would you give to someone who is interested in starting their own business in the fashion industry?
Kevin: I believe that when choosing a career, one shouldn’t simply follow the crowd just because others like it or because it seems appealing. The primary condition is to be passionate about the field you’re entering, and this field should have already had a profound impact on your life. This means that various aspects of your lifestyle, clothing habits, and more are closely tied to this field, rather than just wanting to enter it for the sake of it or solely because it appears glamorous.
Indeed, these are not two entirely separate concepts. Therefore, the first step is for me to determine which style or field I truly have an affinity for. I need to delve into my understanding of this field, identify what sets me apart from others, so that I can truly make a difference. Otherwise, I would merely become another ordinary individual within this field, and where would my unique spirit be then?
The primary condition is to be passionate about the field you’re entering, and this field should have already had a profound impact on your life.
Text by Yiyao Zhang