Kyle Ng is a busy man. When the Berkeley-bred, 25-year old designer isn’t showcasing his San Francisco-based utilitarian brand, Farm Tactics, at stores like Unionmade, Context, and Craft L.A., collaborating with Levi’s, or crafting individual pieces to perfection, he’s hiking up mountains, plotting his next move. That’s where we caught up with him to discuss the past, present, and future of style and his personal brand. Check our interview for a look Inside the Design Studio with Kyle Ng of Farm Tactics.
How did Farm Tactics come to fruition?
I started out with just a graphic t-shirt and jewelry line with a partner in 2006, but she kind of screwed me and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do anything from then on out. When I moved out to L.A. to do film and art, I became good friends with Darren Romanelli (of Dr. Romanelli) and the guys over at 181 Martel. Darren and the rest of them really opened my eyes to the clothing world and really pushed me to start my own line. Being into story telling, I realized that fashion would be a great way to tell narratives. I was fortunate to go to Paris with Steven Trussell, the guy who owned 181 Martel, and learn more about the industry.
I started off with basic t-shirts because I wanted to tell simple narratives that the customer could relate to. Using Fabric and colors to tell stories really interests me. I also made a series of bags out of repurposed fabrics. This was a way to play with fabrics that had its own pre history and story to it because of its prior use.
How did Farm Tactics start making it’s way around the menswear world? Has online word-of-mouth helped you?
I don’t drive so I walked to all these different stores in the area and introduced myself. Started off with just walking into places like Craft and Unionmade and said, “Hey, do you want to see my stuff?” Had no idea what I was doing or how to pitch clothing, but they loved it.
As far as online, I never pushed my product, never shot my stuff out to the blogs asking them to feature. It has been very organic the way people find out about the line. We try not to do too much press because we like people to find it on their own. Hopefully that way they can feel like its not being shoved down their throat.
What are some of the inspirations behind starting Farm Tactics and going forward?
I have tons of inspirations. I’d say my huge inspiration is like Kapital in Japan, 45RPM, Muji, all very inspiring because they make stuff that is standard but very unique. I’m also big into textiles; African garments, quilts, and different ethnic garments, I like to collect and learn from them.
I love old outdoor wear, like The North Face, Patagonia, REI Co-op From the 70’s. My dad was a rock climber throughout the 70’s and 80’s. I was raised around outdoor wear and those amazing color palettes.
I’m a big flea market guy and seeing all the vintage t-shirts and garments, different washes, you see where things started, you start realizing that what we consider really nice quality goods now were standard back then. Champion, Levis, and all the big names made amazing goods. Now all these companies make special “ Heritage” collections that cost more. But why should they cost more when that was their normal styles back then!
How do you incorporate your inspiration into the design process?
The materials from a lot of my bags are made from the same things I find at flea markets. Depending on what season, I’ll base it off a pattern or fabric I am inspired by at the moment. Like one season I’ll base my color palette on vintage quilts. It really depends on what I find inspirational at the time. So for Levis, we did tote bags out of faded Cordura materials and all of the handles were made out of my dad’s old rock climbing ropes. I was inspired by it, so it’s what I was feeling at the time.
Are you looking at expanding into doing full collections?
I started out trying to make a full collection for spring, fall, etc. Maurizio [Donadi] from Levi’s Vintage Clothing sat me down and talked to me about it. He gave me the inspiration for the direction I try to go now, telling me that seasons kill the brand, especially a small brand. He told me not to try and be like everyone else and make what the hell I want. Once you feel like you’re doing what someone else has done before, you will lose track of what you’re trying to accomplish.
What is your design process like?
Right now, I’m just trying to concentrate one individual item, like one jacket, or one pant. I want to perfect it and release things when I feel comfortable bringing it out. Now that different stores have seen what I’ve done, I try and make them what they want and expand some of the items I make as well. I am still perfecting the basic, like t-shirts, henleys and crewnecks, but when I’m concentrating on that one item, that will tell the direction my line is going. Right now I am working on jackets made out of vintage military blankets and tent canvas. The entire collection will be based on “shelter,” hence the military blankets and tents.
How do you think Farm Tactics separates itself from similar brands?
Other than the price point or size of the company, we are trying to make clothing that people can relate to. We strive to make garments that assist in the customers personal narrative. I’m really about the touch of stuff to tell a story. The attention to detail of the fabrics. What my company represents and how we can back it up.
All these stores are carrying the same thing, and there’s nothing wrong with the brands, but every store is carrying the same thing, there’s no variety. That’s why when a store wants to carry Farm Tactics, I make sure I tailor it to the store. I want them to have special items, creating a story with each item. Like the whole indigo program for Unionmade—indigo pocket tees, baseball tees, things like that. That’s their product, its exclusive to them.
How do you go about creating that special relationship?
Being a smaller brand, I don’t have my own store, so I have to rely on these stores to carry my goods. What is going to make it different for everyone, you know? I want to make it very personal for each individual. Everything is handstamped by me. I love to create the story with my personal touch there, as well. We want to create relationships with people and stores and have them support us, I don’t just want to sell goods. I want to create a personal relationship for the customer and the client.
Also, I get really excited when people call and tell us how they care so much about something genuine being made in America. Nowadays people used made in America as just a marketing ploy to make the customer pay more for their goods. I wanted to create American made garments at a good price because I feel that we need to bring back industry in this country.