Straight from the Hip

Kevin Poon has made a busi­ness out of be­ing cool—seven in fact. Chloe Street meets a tastemaker who’s in­jected a lit­tle Cal­i­for­nian cool into the way we dress, dance and even drink

Hong Kong Tatler - - | Concierge Close-up -

e were just anti­estab­lish­ment. We didn’t want to work for the man or wear suits all day,” says Kevin Poon, re­mem­ber­ing the at­ti­tude his 21-year-old self and child­hood friend Edi­son Chen shared when they started their first busi­ness, Clot, in 2003. The streetwear la­bel—and the re­tailer Juice they founded a year later to stock Clot and other brands—were in­spired by the love of mu­sic, bas­ket­ball, sneak­ers and streetwear they de­vel­oped dur­ing their school days. “Hav­ing the cool clothes was a big thing in high school. You had to dress fly to meet the girls.”

When his days at Hong Kong In­ter­na­tional School came to an end, Kevin had to trade the fly life for fi­nance, study­ing at Pep­per­dine Univer­sity in Cal­i­for­nia. “My par­ents said I should study fi­nance and be a banker and get a day job, but I would al­ways fall asleep in my classes be­cause they were so bor­ing.” Apart from his stud­ies, Kevin was im­port­ing and ex­port­ing sneak­ers for friends in the US and Hong Kong (“I had ac­cess to a lot of sneak­ers that weren’t re­ally avail­able in Amer­ica and vice versa”.) His first job out of univer­sity was in pro­duc­tion at In­ter­scope Records in Cal­i­for­nia. But he was fired for spend­ing more time sell­ing sneak­ers to rap­pers than as­sist­ing the head of pro­duc­tion. “I was dev­as­tated at the time but it turned out to be the best thing.”

It was on his re­turn to Hong Kong that Kevin and Edi­son got to­gether to start Clot “be­cause it was hard to find all the things we liked in Hong Kong. When you’re young you don’t re­ally thor­oughly think about these things. You’re just like, ‘Let’s do it!’” His mother was less en­thu­si­as­tic. “She was dev­as­tated when I told her we were go­ing to open a store sell­ing toys and clothes. She said, ‘You spent that much time in col­lege to learn to open a shop?’ These days I pay her mort­gage pay­ments and I have a credit card and a driver for her—she’s su­per stoked now.”

Juice be­gan life as a small up­stairs shop in Cause­way Bay and is now an in­ter­na­tional re­tailer with out­lets across Asia, in­clud­ing in Shang­hai, Taipei and Kuala Lumpur, as well as a pop-up shop in Los An­ge­les. The launch party Kevin and his team or­gan­ised for the first store was such a suc­cess that brands like Veuve Clic­quot asked them to or­gan­ise par­ties. Clot thus or­gan­i­cally di­ver­si­fied into events, and went on to plan par­ties for in­ter­na­tional brands such as Coach, Adi­das, La­coste and Pepsi. One event high­light for Kevin, and one of his proud­est or­gan­i­sa­tional mo­ments, was bring­ing Kanye West to Hong Kong for the first time in 2008 on his Touch The Sky tour. “I was stand­ing there and he was per­form­ing and I was so emo­tional. It was an epic mo­ment,” he re­mem­bers.

Dis­cern­ing a grow­ing ap­petite for life­style prod­ucts across Asia, Kevin launched Dis­trict Dis­tri­bu­tion in 2011, fol­low­ing up in 2012 by found­ing the So­cial/cap­i­tal mar­ket­ing and PR agency with Fed Tan. In 2013 he part­nered with Alex Ng from live events com­pany In­ter­na­tional Fixer to or­gan­ise Hong Kong’s first hip-hop and dance mu­sic fes­ti­val, Blohk Party, cu­rated by Phar­rell Wil­liams, and opened WOAW! (World of Amaz­ing Won­ders), a con­cept store sell­ing odd­i­ties and col­lectibles. In 2015 he opened a cof­fee shop called Ele­phant Grounds in the back of WOAW! and there are now three Ele­phant Grounds out­lets in Hong Kong.

“I play dif­fer­ent roles in dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies,” Kevin says of this web of busi­nesses. “It’s in­ter­est­ing be­cause when you’re en­tre­pre­neur­ial, you get to re­ally learn ev­ery­thing, from mop­ping the floor and tak­ing out garbage to mak­ing deals. Some days, though, I’m like a head­less chicken.”

Kevin’s plans are global, with pop-up stores in Los An­ge­les, a Juice store open­ing near the Tem­ple House Ho­tel in Chengdu, the ex­pan­sion of whole­sale for Clot, and there was even a fash­ion show in Paris days af­ter our in­ter­view. Yet he craves a slower pace: “When it goes so fast, you miss things.” Look­ing ahead 10 years, he an­tic­i­pates a “more laid­back” life­style. “Hope­fully I’ll be liv­ing in LA, have two or three kids and be more in­spi­ra­tional than oper­a­tional, try­ing to do good for so­ci­ety and leav­ing a pos­i­tive im­pres­sion on the world.”

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