Interview with Karl Kong, Chinglish T-Shirt Designer
by Joy La Joie
It was a sun-filled Saturday afternoon when I sat for tea with Karl Kong. Taking a break from his silk screens, press irons, and impressive collection of thesauruses, Beijing's best up and coming designer shed some light on the concept and cultivation of what makes a Chinglish Tee truly chic.
Could you tell me how you got started in the fashion industry?
KK: My passion began long before I had any real equipment to make T-shirts professionally. I used to turn regular shirts inside-out and sew simple messages out of thread. It comes from my own style and fascination with the mysteries of the English language.
Ah-huh, I see. What sort of messages did you used to sew?
KK: Sometimes it would be something I picked up from English songs. Other times they were words I needed to study for a test at school.
Oh, that's practical. Can you give me an example of those early designs?
KK: The first one I ever made was "Hunger for Kiss".
Oh! I know! That's supposed to be from Unchained Melody, right?
KK: That's right.
How did you begin to develop professionally?
KK: When I was at university I could see how fashion was developing in China. More people were dressing according to individual and taste. The message T-shirts I was wearing and made for myself became very popular amongst my friends and classmates. Eventually I bought my own silk screen and started mass production.
And how do you get your ideas for designs?
KK: I take a look around me. I say whatever comes to mind, and then translate it. Maybe I find a passage in a book that inspires me. Sometimes I'll hear something in an English film, or I skim through a dictionary. There's a combination of methods that go into the creative process.
Are you familiar with the term 'Chinglish'?
How do you feel about it being applied to your work?
KK: I don't mind. In fact, my next collection includes a Tee that says: "Chinglish overcomes the mental destruction".
KK: I know.
What else are you working on?
KK: I have one that says: "Feel nature of hateful bliss" and another one that says: "Head voices evaporate the balming of the time" in the same collection.
Sweet. I can't wait to check those out. So, what's your concept of design? Do you consider yourself a poet?
KK: The fact that there is a market for my clothing tells me that there is a human need to connect through language, even without speaking. Really, I just see myself as an expressionist.
Find more of Karl Kong's clothing at Tian Le Market, Dongwuyuan, Huatang Xian Dong or Tongli Studio, Chaoyang District, Sanlitun Lu (6417 6668).