In Montreal’s Southeast Asian diaspora, creators are making their mark with a playful irreverence that stands out from the city’s hub of artists, designers, and DJs.
If you’ve been around for the past few years, chances are you’ve come across Albert Nguyen’s apparel designs with restaurants and brands like Pumpui, Raised By Wolves, and Ssense. Nguyen, an art director and designer, launched Double Dribble, a label inspired by basketball on and off the court.
Likewise, regulars at the Van Horne Skatepark can be caught repping Eddie Phouth’s BUG boards and skatewear. On the streets, artist and designer Tam Vu—through his business and artistic practice TKV Fine Arts & Financial Arts—subtly challenges perceptions of Vietnamese culture by giving new meaning to items and apparel commonly found in Vietnam.
All three bring something distinct to Montreal’s vibrant creative scene, sharing a common goal.
“It’s about everybody else,” says Phouth.
“Like my buddy Tam always says: ‘a rising tide that lifts all the ships.’”
We spoke with the three to learn more about their projects and how they’re shaking up the Montreal scene.
How does TKV Fine Arts & Financial Artselevate Vietnamese imported goods and workwear?
Tam: These are everyday items, but it’s the stories that I’m telling to an audience that [elevates] it. I view my business as performance art, [where] I have some freedom to express myself and communicate ideas in ways not bound to eCommerce.
Let’s talk about storytelling. With how the Vietnamese diaspora is perceived, there are common outside perceptions of what the culture is, like restaurants—
Tam: —the nail salons.
Right. And with your practice, you’re communicating something much more nuanced.
Tam: I’m doing this project so some Vietnamese kid can be like, “oh wow, that’s sick. I fuck with that,” or they’ll look at it and say, “that’s whack, I could do this but better,” and that’s equal parts amazing for me.
Another common misconception is about where things are made. Take “Made in Italy” or “Made in Japan,” for example.
Tam: It’s all in the marketing. What’s the difference between SpeedCar and slides when [they’re both] made in Vietnam and photographed [by the same high-end photographer]? I’m elevating this product to be at the same level as an Adidas slide. For me, it’s the same value with the same feeling. It’s all intentional.
Eddie, when it comes to BUG, tell me where you manufacture your boards.
Eddie: I was fortunate to get a contact with Generator in Oceanside, California. They make boards for REAL, Krooked…all these brands with a long lineage. It’s an honour.
As a relatively new homegrown label, that’s a big deal. And this is entirely your project?
Eddie: Yeah, it’s just me holding it through with bubble gum and dental floss. I’m so sensitive to this brand because I care so much. I’ve got rapper goals. I want to get everybody to eat.
You come from a background of supporting people. And with BUG, it’s pretty community-minded. Skaters at the park rep your gear—some of which you give away.
Eddie: I hook kids up all the time. Who gives a fuck about me singularly? That would be boring. You see [these kids] and how dope they look on the board? It’s worth my investment.
Albert, with Double Dribble, you’re not following the traditional fashion calendar.
Albert: I follow the basketball calendar. That gives me room to do what I want. So, season openers are always in October. That’s drop one. The second marker would be All-Star Weekend in February. Drop three coincides with playoff season in mid-April, while the championship is in June.
At the community level, are you trying to inspire kids to get on the court?
Albert: I hope so. What’s basketball without the people playing it? There’s always a serious tone to basketball. It’s about winning. But with pickup culture, it’s casual. [I want people] to go and have fun.
So you’re giving the spotlight to the playful side of pickup culture.
Albert:[With brands], there’s nothing that represents that side of pickup culture—the silliness, irreverence and camaraderie that comes with it. My big thing with Double Dribble is that it’s about the love of the game and participation in it.