As part of my initiative to showcase the diversity of local brands, I invite you to discover Nathon Kong, the eponymous label of an entrepreneur who wishes to combine fashion, collaborations and the history of the craftsmen who design each piece. In recent weeks, he launched a unique project in partnership with Les Impatients, an organization that helps people with mental illness through art. The designer’s mission is that each collection becomes a work of art, while encouraging Quebec artists.
—By Andrew McNally
Nathon Kong by Nathon Kong, Founder and Designer.
How was your brand born and how would you describe it? The Nathon Kong brand must create something that is purposeful, artful and story-full. I believe that what you wear is the expression of who you are. Fashion is a form of art, and art by definition is limitless, beyond boundaries. Design has a purpose and is usually required to be functional. It has a scope for creation but it is still necessary to be innovative. Art, Culture, Fashion and Innovation are aligned and co-exist side by side.
As a microbiologist graduate, I’ve always aspired to be an entrepreneur and be able to personally challenge myself to be at the next level so I can truly say that I have made an impact in the community I am in. Fashion is a platform for me to express myself and be heard.
I cannot truly say that the Nathon Kong brand was originally planned from day one. The brand itself has grown and continued to evolve; just like me and my team as we continue to strive to be better. The Nathon Kong brand is an extension of who I am personally. It is a journey of self-discovery, but my values (Care, Client, Consideration, Contribution and Community) however have never changed or been compromised as we continue to grow.
Philanthropy was not something I was born into. I was previously a researcher, working in the hospital after I graduated as I hoped to make a difference. But I later found out that there was another way for me to remain relevant. So, I decided that fashion must be story-full. We work closely with professional artists and also participant artists from a therapeutic art program for mental health patients with Les Impatients. Their work of art must intertwine with my creation to create a different form of art, but remain truly a piece of art. 10% of the proceeds are given back to the communities and artists.
Our most recent project has taken the form of masks that people can wear and want to wear, without any obligation to do so. It is a sign of consideration for others. I can only hope that people are aware of what they are wearing and that they are touched by the journey of the artists and creators who made their masks.
Tell me about your creative process? My creative process starts with a conceptual idea. I cannot force myself to be creative when I want to. I usually get inspired by talking to people, learning about their stories, understanding their needs. I elaborate on a concept and validate it with people I know to determine if my idea is relevant. The last step is to visualize my creation in something more concrete.
But I must admit, a lot of my concepts often come to me when I am jogging by myself up Mont Royal or through La Fontaine Park. It was always an unintended creative process, but exercising in nature allows me to be free and liberated from my everyday routine.
What inspired your new collection? Each collection that is released needs to have a purpose. I am more interested in the artists’ stories or the story of the artwork (and of course, that it is visually aesthetically pleasing). I discuss with the artist and ask permission in order to create a new work of art together that has value-added. It is about collaboration and contribution.
What are your current influences? It is unavoidable that 2020 is a year of renaissance, a year of changes, a year of destruction and a year of rebirth. The way we used to do things is not necessarily the way we have to continue. This being said, our values and beliefs are never compromised. We are focusing on making masks that you actually want to wear.
All the masks are made locally in Quebec. Instead of the usual centralized manufacturing, I decentralize the production. I seek out those amateur artisans and seamstresses who are good with their hands, specifically those who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and are vulnerable to the COVID virus if going to work means that they are exposed to greater risks and severe consequences for their health. Nathon Kong provides a platform that allows them to work safely from home, allowing them to be entrepreneurs in their own environment. Additionally, we tell the story to the wearer; who is the person that designed the print and the sower that crafted the mask.
What is your brand’s signature piece? Rather than a signature piece, it is rather a concept that is my particular signature. The Nathon Kong brand must create something that is purposeful, artful and story-full. We consider and care for the community at the core through any project we undertake, always telling the stories of the artists.
Who is Nathon Kong? I am just an ordinary man who has ambition, and blindly and naively believes in the concept that I commit to and am willing to do anything to make it through. I hope to grow to be a better human being, not repeating the same mistake, and make sure that I provide value to the community I am part of. I don’t want to just exist — I want to live and be grateful for any support.
What is your most beautiful fashion-related memory? Working in fashion, people are mainly thinking of fit and design. I believe that the “look” is not the conclusion of fashion but the “feeling“ of how you feel when wearing something and why you feel special, proud and empowered. What you wear is the expression of who you are. Nathon Kong shares with you the story of the artist which then becomes intertwined with the wearer’s own story.
A special experience stands out. During the process of making his bespoke suit, I started a conversation with Dr. Delorme. I was able to share with him the name of the artist who did the illustration of the lining of his suit, a drawing by Pierre Ostiguy, a patient-artist from Les Impatients. Soon after, I realized that Dr. Delorme is the psychiatrist who treats Pierre. Dr. Delorme told me more stories about him, as I only knew his story through a short biography and the conversations I had had with him. Dr. Delorme and I bonded on a deep level and were inspired and moved.
Delorme truly carries a story; the story of his patient, the artist and Pierre Ostiguy’s healing journey. A story he will always remember.
How are you addressing COVID Challenges? I would have never imagined that my studies of Microbiology at McGill University combined with my experience in design would allow me to create a high efficacy mask that combines both of my interests.
Masks should be worn to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. This is a matter of public health consideration, combined with hand washing and social distancing. My goal is to make a mask that you will want to wear that is beautiful, artistic and tells a story.
We put beautiful pairs of glasses on our nose, so why wouldn’t we put on a beautiful mask to show that art and your personality are your greatest assets?
On a different note… which book is on your bedside table? Unfortunately, I am not a big reader, as my preferred method of learning is usually through audio and visual. However, I like watching documentaries, whether they are scientific or historical. If we stop learning, we stop growing.
Which song are you listening to over and over? “Young and Beautiful” by Lana Del Rey, for the lyrics (see below).
“Will you still love me
When I’m no longer young and beautiful?
Will you still love me
When I’ve got nothing but my aching soul?
I know you will, I know you will
I know that you will
Will you still love me when I’m no longer beautiful?”
Which television series are you binge-watching? Friends, as I am a 1990s kid. I learn how to speak English by watching the series, like 10 000 times and memorizing the lines of characters in the show.
What is your current go-to recipe? My mother put me in cooking school when I was a teenager in Thailand (where my family is from) as she was afraid I would starve to death if I didn’t know how to cook when I got to university. Cooking is a creative medium; I would also consider it a form of art. I like to recreate, combine and fuse ideas to make new recipes. However, the Thai food cooking method is my base training, so my comfort recipes are usually from South-East Asia. It tends to blend into my everyday cooking, even when I make Italian cuisine.
Which movie inspires you? The Intern, directed by Nancy Meyers. It is a Hollywood version of a fashion startup. I am not nearly as successful as Anne Hathaway in the movie, but I can relate to her struggles on both professional and personal levels when you are at the head of a company. She still continues to defy the odds. She makes mistakes and is willing to admit when she is wrong. She is not immune to vulnerability just like everyone else. She is surrounded by beautiful colleagues who support her to do good around her.
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