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I met Knox during my first trip to Taipei just after spending the day with the guys from Stay High Crew Production. To make a story short they were going to shoot a promotional video and they asked me if I wanted to join them. I stayed the whole afternoon with the guys from Pretty Nice, TPOOC and Knox who is the creative director behind DeMarcoLab & the founder of LAB Taipei one of the best select clothing stores in Taipei to discuss his background, views on the underground & streetwear scene in Taipei.

à Taipei : une discussion avec Knox, DeMarcoLAB & LAB Taipei.

Interview & Photography Farade Nicolas


please, click on to read the few video’s links.

Can you introduce yourself?
Knox: I grew up here in a city nearby Taipei. I used to come to this specific neighborhood very often because there was a Japanese guy, Kenji, who opened a skate shop in the area. I was there hanging out every week chilling and skating around with my friends, buying some clothes and such… Ultimately I began to work in the store. At that time Skateboarding Culture became popular here, not that many people skate, they were just buying clothes, you know, pretty much like nowadays, it is mainly about the style, how you look and dress which is a shame because people don’t really care about the Culture itself, they simply focus on how they are looking…

Why do you think it was that popular in Taipei at that specific moment?
Knox: I think because it was new & fresh… Therefore a lot of musicians, Pop artists were also wearing Skateboarding brands like DC Shoes for example. You could also see certain brands like Freshjive () that stores started to sell.

What about you, how did you get into Skateboarding and do you remember your first skateboard?
Knox: Hmm, it was a long time ago but when I was in Junior High School I was into sneakers. I was buying a lot of magazines, mostly Japanese publications such as Popeye and Boon, reviews that gave you a glimpse of the Japanese style, culture & aesthetic. It was definitely throughout those media that I have been able to dig further. A few friends were also skating, if I am correct it was a World Industries skateboard () that I acquired.

Do you still have it?
Knox: Not at all, I sold it. To be accurate, the first one I bought was a complete set, it had a camouflage grip. I eventually sold it to one of my friends and got one where I choose my own setup, it was way cooler and a bit cheaper.

What kind of music did you listened?
Knox: Most of the people were listening to Hip Hop, some Eminem, Dr. Dre & New Metal (Korn, Limp Bizkit) , I was curious and didn’t know much about music so I even listened to Reggae, D'N'B, Techno, House...all kinds of stuff…

You were buying mostly CDs…
Knox: Yes, I took pleasure in collecting them.

Was there a place where you could buy everything, like a Concept store as we know today?
Knox: Not really. If you desired to purchase music you had to go to Tower Records or some other records stores… There wasn’t any Concept store.

I think in Tokyo you could already find some, like the Nowhere () store that Nigo and Jun Takahashi opened in 1993…
Knox: Yes, where different culture where gathered in the same space…

Talking about Tokyo, did you had the opportunity to spent time there when you were younger?
Knox: I was curious about it, clearly looked forward to visiting, unfortunately, I couldn’t find the time with school, work and military I was quite busy…

What happened next, did you went to College to study fashion?
Knox: Not really, I didn’t go to College to learn about Fashion, I was studying Philosophy. Following the impact that Skateboarding Culture had in Taiwan, the Harajuku/Urahara style was more influential. A few stores opened and brought Japanese brands. Nevertheless, they weren’t dealing with distribution. The shop owners were flying to Tokyo to purchase straight from these clothing stores and were reselling later in their own… One of my friend -from Hong Kong- opened his shop and sold excellent brands.

Like what?
Knox: Bape, Supreme, Stussy… It was quite easy to get some of those brands because we also had a good friend that lived in Tokyo and knew what kind of brands was blowing up. Following my graduation from High School, I joined their staff and learned how to use Illustrator. Later, I worked for a Street Culture magazine (BANG!) as an editor, at the same time, I was going to College. We were a small team so I had to multitask, it was definitely stimulating.

How many years did you work for the magazine?
Knox: Two or three years, the magazine was available on a monthly basis. I was busy working on those side projects, therefore, going to school and complete my studies was challenging. At the end I drop out. You have to know that in Taiwan if you’re not going to school you have to do your military service.

There is no way to avoid it?
Knox: Not really. If you are over 20 you have to go unless you are in school and graduate. Before leaving to Army, I started a brand with a few friends, we were mainly producing tee shirts.

What was the name of the brand?
Knox: Skatopia.

Oh, word? I think it is also the name of a skatepark in the states right?
Knox: Exactly, in Rutland, Ohio. ()

Were you selling your stuff by yourself or to some retail stores?
Knox: The local streetwear scene was starting to develop in Taipei, clearly Internet was an easy way to deal with the distribution. Additionally, we dropped some garments to a few select stores yet the brand didn’t last long, I had a partner but I wasn’t sure about going further with the business then I decided to go to military service for a year…

How was military service?
Knox: Well, when you think about this whole experience, it is not that awful, of course when you’re inside, it is another story, it is shitty. There are several positions, some are more

comfortable because you can go back home, go out by night, some are harsh because you have to stay in the base for 24hrs and have free holidays…

I can imagine that, it must be a pain in the ass to have to quit everything and stay there for a year, forgetting about your current projects…
Knox: It was but at the same time you have a lot of freedom to think about life, things you want to do once you’re out. It was beneficial for me. When I left my decision was taken, I needed to create my own brand. At that stage, I thought about the name, the contents and a lot of other stuff...

Before considering developing your brand, did you had a few you respected in term of cultural references you bought for your own self?
Knox: Supreme was and is always inspiring. Bal (former Balanceweardesign) would definitely be on the list too.

So you were not paying attention to high fashion at all? You were mainly finding your inspiration throughout Street and Underground Culture.
Knox: Principally yes. 

Nowadays the link between both High Fashion & Streetwear Culture has never been so close. When we see brands like Hermès, for example, using Skateboarding culture in their ad campaign and even on their runways show, models, sitting aside skateboards…
Knox: Completely, still, I didn’t think that much about it, for me Skateboarding & Streetwear are still Underground even if a lot of people are buying those specific brands…

What was the idea behind DeMarcoLAB?
Knox
: Hard to say, it might be cliché but I was just looking for designing clothes I enjoyed, the style me, my friends always had. The ideas are constantly changing. We are becoming older, therefore, the material we are delivering is evolving with ourselves.

You found the name when you were in the Military service right?
Knox: Indeed yes. I saw a movie whilst being there « Don Juan DeMarco » a movie directed by Jeremy Leven ()... I had this specific idea of using a name, not mine but a random one when I saw this movie. Unfortunately, when I tried to register the name -over the web- it was already taken by someone else and I couldn’t overbuy the name, that is why I added LAB after DeMarco.

It didn’t put that much thoughts on finding the name…It could be the hardest part, to find something that will last and that you won’t regret ha!
Knox: It is one of the toughest decision indeed.

What was the first design you created?
Knox: As a matter of fact when we began the brand it was already Fall/Winter season consequently, we didn’t produce any tee shirts but hoodies, shirts and as I told you, with my past experience doing my first brand I already knew the process involved in making tee shirts. I aspired to try something new and different.

You already assembled your team, friends that helped you out when you started.
Knox: Exactly, friends, everything worked in a natural way. Nonetheless, I didn’t plan to build something immediately. I was mostly having fun, creating things I enjoyed. I didn’t work 24 hrs and 7 days a week on it.

It grew organically. It might be less complicated to produce items like hoodies, tee shirts & long sleeves if you are starting a brand, these are basics pieces. If you want to go further, be taking more seriously developing heavier pieces is definitely something more challenging right?

Knox: Yes, and as I said earlier, the local streetwear scene was starting to grow here. Many people aspired to have their brands. A few were shitty, some were cool. Like you mentioned producing hoodies ad tee shirt is an easy choice. We didn’t choose the obvious way. It was important for us to be noticed, to make a difference. We produced an only small amount of garments and our price range was higher but with a better quality.

Your graphics are something special. Are you doing everything by yourself? How do you find inspiration and do you sometimes sketch some of them?
Knox: Sometimes yes, I hand draw a little bit but I do a lot of research throughout the Internet, publications & magazines. I look into everything. You know when people are sampling songs, for me it is the same process when I am working on a new design, it is necessary to create something meaningful, to not just put a logo on clothing so when people ask me about a design, they can fully understand where it came from, what is the story behind it.

Yes, you are living and wearing more than clothes, it is a Lifestyle, a particular mindset.
Knox: Truth, it is primordial. It could be random too, when finding a design (he shows me a hoodie with a lettering logo) I can’t forget where -maybe it was in Vancouver- I went to a record store and there was a vinyl with some Hebrew type font, I just took a picture of it and decided to create a piece using the same typo... Of course, there is no meaning behind this design but there is a story of how I found it.

It is about experiencing life, like Art. You have to be open-minded. You are not working, always striving, doing something.
Knox: Kind of.

Must be hard to turn off your brain… I know for me it is a pain the ass!
Knox: Definitely man! Sometimes I try to rest. You know Discogs, that music website?

Yes, what about it?
Knox: It is an example of resources and inspiration for me.

Does it happen that you find yourself Googling a word and scroll until you found something that catches your eyes and inspires you?
Knox: Totally yes, it could also work like that.

What about the collection you and your team are designing. Do you guys think about a theme, a concept for each one of them?
Knox: No, we don’t do that. A lot of brands are working that way. In my opinion, if you are giving a complete storyline, produce an entire collection on one single theme & concept it could be hard to get away from it, right? For example, if I decide to create a collection based on Hip Hop theme, I couldn’t make products related to Jazz music… I don’t want to be confined to something definite.

Yes so that your consumers don’t expect anything specific. It keeps a bit of mystery too…
Knox: Also, I never thought about making clothing for a certain group of people…

It has to speak to everyone. What about your color palette, there are a lot of bright colors, why so?
Knox: To stand out. I take pleasure in playing with colors, try

out different stuff, mixing them to get a new aspect. We over-dye a lot.

Is it hard to develop that kind of process?
Knox: It could be. It is a long-drawn process. We invest a lot of time and money to get an accurate result.

So you would pay a visit to the factories, making sure that everything goes well?
Knox: In the beginning yes although it has been a few years we are in the business, we know our suppliers pretty well, we trust their ethic of work and it is easy to communicate with them on a daily basis.

Everything is produced here, in Taiwan?
Knox: Mostly. It is not about quality being better here or overseas it is mainly because we can have a real control over our production and quantity. If you produce in China they ask you to order a lot. Since last year we began to manufacture a few items there. You cannot do everything in Taiwan. For example, we needed to create a specific button up shirt with a high-quality full-printed cotton. The factories here didn’t have that sort of machines, we had to seek for another one.

What about the Made in Japan, it seems that a lot of brands nowadays are doing production there, do you think is it still a sign of quality?
Knox: I do think so, in my opinion, it’s still a sign of high-quality, even the way they are doing business they will make you feel professional somehow, however, we never produced anything there.

Could you tell me about your product catalog? Do you have in mind, when thinking about creating a new collection, how many pieces you’re going to create such as five tee shirts and four hoodies for example?
Knox: Every season is different. We are usually making a list of things we want and after we have a discussion about what are the few items we are going to produce.

Could you add more items along the way?
Knox: Of course, we could add more, sometimes less, there will always be issues especially manufacturing problems that could happen. The final decision happens when we receive the samples except for the tee shirts because you could always picture how it will look like…

Yes unless you're adding a special material on the front pockets, sleeves or anything else you have in mind… What is the hardest part of having your own business?
Knox: I will say creating new merchandising for our costumers. We are not following the established trends. You can see black & white is definitely what's popular these days. It is way harder to sustain in this economy if you have a brand and you don’t seek for the mainstream minds, especially for a Streetwear company.

What drives you in life, give you motivation to do what you do on a daily basis?
Knox: I just love clothing, to see my ideas and products alive, seeing people wearing my design is the best feeling, it makes me happy!

Could you speak about your collaboration work with other brands & artists? Do you reach them directly?
Knox: It is mostly friends & entourage like the brand Pretty Nice. It is a longtime friendship. It happens that I found about an artist and consider his body of work interesting, we just reach him and think about a collaboration project.

So you never plan any collaboration work beforehand?
Knox: Never, it totally depends on the actual mood.

Do you have a favorite item you created since you launched the brand?
Knox: It is a tough answer. As I said earlier you grow within your work, you evolve at the same time… Something I created 10 years ago, I wouldn’t wear it.

Do you think that sometimes, as I am drawer myself, when I take a look at my old body of work, I find it rather bad, however, some ideas were interesting? I sometimes thought about recycling them -in a sense- and making something new of it. Such as Supreme for example or any other brands, that takes an old item and duplicate them exactly as they were. Fashion is a circle, the old trends that were popular back then will always come back at some point…
Knox: I never felt this way, I can’t tell you why but like you said if you look at Supreme, I think it’s refreshing how they manage everything, even know they are evolving as any brands should however if you look at their past and new looks or style, it's always steady. I think for them it kinda makes sense. As for me and DeMarcoLab, I wouldn’t be able to do so.

And about a specific piece, is there more complexity in developing a range of products?
Knox: I don’t think so, for manufacturing obviously some aspects might be difficult to work on. Last season, for example, we conceived a puffy coat, it is an effortless look however on the inside layer we designed several pockets with various size and utility. It was challenging to construct but in my mind when I pictured it, worked on the drafts it is another story you know…

I can tell. I would be frustrated if I had a wonderful idea about a piece I dreamt to design and it is impossible to produce…
Knox: Frustration...

Then if it is not possible, you try & make it in a simpler way...
Knox: Yes, you have to fix the problem, find a better solution. Each season we are designing a denim piece. It is difficult to develop denim garments because you have to find the perfect fabric, to think about washing... There are a lot of elements involved in the process however I still enjoy every bit of it.

And now, you are dealing with overseas dealers. That’s great!
Knox: I am hopeful about that, it is essential to maintain a decent relationship with our overseas dealers. We are also running a store, everything is about the budget, most of the time they are looking to do pre-order so, you have to be ready because their budget is running and they won't keep it for you. Therefore you don’t want to be late about delivery. We are working hard about that.

Could you told me about the Lab Taipei, how did it started?
Knox: I started DeMarcoLab around 2008 - 2009 as I was thinking about opening a store but not one essentially selling my brand. I was looking to sell other brands as well. Do you know Delta, a skate shop nearby?

Haven’t got the chance to go yet…
Knox: Anyway, it’s really close. At first, we opened a tiny shop there were we sold brands we liked like HUF, Stones Throw Records, things we deeply liked.

When did you move to that building?
Knox: Recently, about two years ago. We were already carrying Bal & Cav Empt. The brands we carried kept growing with time. Before we moved, there was Remix Taipei, (another Taiwanese brands) in the building, we just emerged and shared the space.

Must be an awesome feeling to wake up, open your store and sell the products you like…
Knox: To tell you the truth it happens that I am buying stuff in my shop!

I would love to own a place like this, that gathered a community, the kids…
Knox: You should do that.

I might but I am really bad in therm of management & marketing…
Knox: Probably you would have to learn a few things, that is how we did in the beginning, we were just learning throughout the way.

One of the first time I stumble on your boutique was because I saw an article which mentioned something you organize with Cav Empt, you hosted a pop store… How did it happen?
Knox: I was into Japanese fashion when I was younger. I knew about a few of those emerging brands. When I heard that Toby Feltwell & Sk8thing were going to work alongside to make a brand I was instantly interested in it. I emailed Toby and had a chat with their team to make something happen. The brand is selling pretty well and the way we were doing business with them was excellent. I suppose they trust us to manage a project like this… Following this event, a lot of brands wanted to do the same thing.

That is pretty cool! What’s next?
Knox: Keep growing, manage the tiny details and develop our overseas market.

You have seen the Culture evolve here, surrounding the Streetwear scene. What are your views on the growth?
Knox: Actually, I don't know. I think it is kind of negative. You are going to Japan a lot, right?

Yes.
Knox: Well, you can feel that they always want something new, they are working hard and living in the city is difficult, however, even with all the struggle, they strive for more, they want to have fun, go to parties, experiencing stuff or whatever... In Taipei, I think people are too lazy. Most people are not satisfied with the life they are living yet they also don't want to fight for more. It might be a cultural thing, plus the Economic system is not great. You have seen the toys machine right, they are all over the city, it is quite popular in Taipei. I think people just want to spend small money to buy small happiness. They don't want to spend 4000 NT$ to invest in a jacket or go to a great concert... But we are trying to change that particular state of mind, we try hard to sell excellent brands. We want people to understand and be aware that you can have high-quality products without spending much.

Educate the people…
Knox: We hope so, we hope we can achieve that.

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DeMarcoLAB & Lab Taipei.