Artists of Theory: Evan Kinori
Interview by Isaac McKay-Randozzi
From one perspective you could say that Evan is a Connecticut Yankee with a European soul and a French garnish. His eastern abruptness, upfront yet polite way of speaking and going about his life is seen both in his textile work and his skating. There isn't extra fluff in either, plenty of style no doubt but nothing unneeded or exaggerated. Simplicity in form with an aesthetic that references influences from across the Atlantic and Pacific. From another, he is a product of his times, growing up in the late 90's and early 2000's his tastes then reflect his style today. His youth was not sedentary, with movement from east to west and to Europe he was well traveled by 18. That life experience has helped to create a human with an old soul and a specific ethic that flows through everything he does. This combined with a solid work drive has lead to his one-man-show of a clothing line that has grown over the past five years. A project that is not just about fashion but about producing something with a soul that exists from button to seam. Quality, vision, panache and the conscious choice to select material from sustainable sources are what make his clothes special.
Evan Kinori: Portrait by Isaac Mckay Randozzi
A wise human once said, "it is not the quantity of friends we have but the quality of each soul we call friend that counts.‚" I may be paraphrasing the old master but Evan's choice of friend's and who he associates with and what they say about him, count.
"I remember going to SF a couple years ago and staying on his couch for 2-3 weeks, and I hardly saw him twice because he was working like a madman everyday to get his brand off the ground. Despite not being able to chill with him, it was beautiful to see this commitment and the passion he has for what he's doing. And to see what he's done with his brand now, I'm stoked for him. I wish he still lived in Paris, these were amazing times.‚" - Soy Panday
"Evan's a student of the game. That's really it. There's no magic or mystery. Emersion combined with attentive and systematic observation-this is his approach. I think it's obvious in everything he does. Sure there's creativity, hard work and all that other bullshit. But to me he's the embodiment of why it's important to know your roots.‚" - Trevor Thompson
"Evan Kinori, the koala-looking skateboarder, clothing designer and French speaker was kind enough to take care of me on my very first visit to San Francisco, almost ten years ago now. His passion for skateboarding, fashion, and French culture has made him a creative and nonchalant character that I've looked up to since. Merci Evan! " - Leo Valls.
"Evan claims I slept walked into his room and stole weed from him. His heads on straight but he's got a couple screws loose. He's family. The urban dictionary definition. Evan's put me up for weeks when I had no home, gotten me sponsors, clothed me with his old drug rugs, beat me up when I came home drunk, invited me to family events and given me proper advice constantly. He's the best type of friend.‚" - Ben Gore
Heel Flip: Photo by Jean Feil
What's your full name and how old are you?
Evan Kinori, 29 and a half years young.
You grew up in Connecticut but have called San Francisco home for a long time. When did you move to SF and how old were you? What drew you to the city?
I moved to SF in 2006, a month after finishing high school - so I was 18. I had visited multiple times growing up, and always felt really at home here. At that time you could still really feel the variety of cultures that were colliding in what is technically a pretty small city, almost a town really - it also helped having some family scattered around the Bay Area.
You also spent a lot of time in Paris skating and making friends with a bunch of folks from that scene. How did that become part of your regular travel circuit?
My parents lived in Paris for a bit in their 20's, and are pretty full blown francophiles - so I grew up with the influence of french music, language and culture kind of looming in the mix. I was really fortunate to have the opportunity to go there throughout my childhood, and eventually in college I did a semester in Paris which really solidified the friendships I have there. It's really one of the funnest cities to push around - I think there's something about pushing fast through an 'old world' city and having people be a little bit horrified by you.
I first met you at the DLXSF shop back in the late 90's/early 00's, I think? You were head to toe Rasa Libre/I-Path back then. What drew you to that vibe?
I don't know if it was that long ago! Probably 2003-2005 range, but yeah I was a full Rasa soldier. When I look back at my evolution through skating, I didn't know where I fit in or who I really identified with as 'my shit' until I found Real to Real, which gave way to me worshiping the holy trinity: Nate Jones, Matt Field and Kenny Reed. So naturally I-Path and later Rasa Libre were brands that I could identify with 100% - from the ad layout, to the riders, to the product and even music in the videos.
To this day I think Rasa Libre had absolutely the highest caliber graphic work of any skate brand - building its own identity from the ground up and not relying on taking a Campbell's soup can font and writing the brand name in it. There was some magic that came together from all those who were involved - I know its easy to call it 'hippy stuff' but I think anyone who gave Rasa the time and consideration, could find those graphics to be far more sophisticated and elegant than almost any brand born in skating had touched upon. The team was incredible and Jack Sabback was like the promise of a new generation of skaters that shared a cosmic link with the forefathers ie: Quim, Ricky, Ocean...I still think if someone would make something like Ipath today, it would be great - skating as an industry has a pretty big void where I-Path and Rasa existed.
Do you think any of your designs reflect that style and aesthetic?
I think that without a doubt, my mind has been formed and shaped by those brands and the abstract notion I had in my mind of the world they were creating. One time Leo even commented on it - saying how he felt some Rasa Libre coming through some of the textiles or clothes I've made.
There seems to be a simple, almost Japanese look to some of your pieces. Is that just my interpretation or is that an intentional part of your work?
I certainly make an effort to boil things down to their essence - try and peel back the bullshit to look at what the core of a piece of clothing should be. As far as one specific culture is concerned - its more of a nebulous mix of all that I've ever seen or been into. Japanese culture is definitely a part of that.
What was the first video you had footage in?
Black Squirrels video from this small Wisconsin board company - we met in SF when me and Trevor were like 15? And we split a part in this guy Kyle's video. After that probably a Magenta guest trick or Rasa edit...
How did the Magenta connection happen? Did you know Soy and Vivien from Paris?
I met Leo one day while me and Ben were skating in the Panhandle in SF - I had a few people already tell me 'you have to meet him, you guys can speak French and skate!'. So eventually we crossed paths and became really good friends. He invited me to visit Bordeaux that coming summer - so I went to see him there, which ended up being the filming for Minuit. I think it was on that trip that I met Soy and Vivien, and was the same summer they were getting Magenta together as an idea.
Fast forward a decade and you have your own clothing brand that you make with you own two hands and participating in shows in Paris and New York. How did you get into making clothes?
I always wanted to make skate shoes - and when I slowly realized how much I was struggling trying to get a bachelors degree at SF State, I started to think what else could I possibly pursue that I would actually be excited about. I looked into shoe programs but they were all pretty far away or would have been another 4 years doing CAD work and would still not really ever be able to make them at home or even in the USA anymore. So I think my focus slowly turned to clothes - I was always picky about what I wore and would save a jacket or shirt from my grandfather or dad. I just started to look down that path and found myself in a Pattern making and Design program at this design school in SF.
Can you skate in the clothes you make? Can they take the abuse?
Of course - they're not runway embroidered silk gowns, Isaac. I make pretty classic and utilitarian stuff - with fabrics and sewing that are meant to last your whole life. Dickies can't take the abuse, and there called 'workwear' - so be careful of how your perception is given to you by capitalism!
I'll be frank man, on average you charge about $300 per item. I know they are hand made and limited in availability to less than 100. Why not make more and charge less so more people can afford them? What is the appeal to making them so limited and so expensive? Is it because it's just you making each shirt, jacket and pair of pants in your line?
Without getting into a preachy or guilt trip style approach - put it this way: if you want to use nice fabric, that comes from good sources - meaning the fibers (cotton, wool, hemp, etc) are sourced ethically or in a high quality way - and then they are woven in a factory of good reputation where labor is valued and respected - and then you ship those fabric rolls and pay for duties - and then have that fabric cut and sewn in a small sewing workshop in the USA that you can walk into and feel its a good atmosphere and the people working seem happy - and on top of that you have a focus on good, solid construction - AND then after all that, you wholesale said product to shops around the world...You end up seeing that my pieces are actually on a pretty low end of the price spectrum in terms of the type of product they are.
Are you your own sweatshop?
No - I design and make all my own patterns (paper pieces that make up a garment) in my studio - and then all the production sewing takes place in smaller scale sewing workshops in SF and LA.
At this point, is it your full time job, or are working another gig to help cover things?
It has been my full time job for about two and half years now - which I feel very grateful for.
You've had to move your studio/showroom a few times over the past years and you are now in a new location in SF's Hayes Valley. Do you think you'll be at this spot for a while?
Yes, I'm sticking there for a while. My new spot is close to my house and literally next to a flat ground spot that me and Ben have been skating for probably 6 or 7 years.
You've worked with Yoan Talllandier and Allen Danze to create your videos and photograph your lines. With so many fashion focused video and photo people in SF why work with them? Is there something about the skater's eye that works for your aesthetic?
I don't want to work with 'Fashion focused' people, generally - it's much more fun and easier even, to create something unique or original when you work with people who don't know or give a shit about what else is out there or came before - it's important to feel loose and creative when your trying to do that kind of stuff - because it can really easily look like 'fashion focused' work - which is not what I would want personally.
I made my own company so I can work with my friends and create together. Allen is an incredibly talented photographer on his own, and I felt his eye and approach was in line with how I want to present what I do. Yoan is just Yoan - why not try and make a 16mm project with him!
Backside Lipslide Transfer: Photo by Jean Feil
The way you explained it was that you work a year in advance when you go to exhibit your lines in Paris and New York fashion weeks. Does that mean you have already finished production of the seasons up to that point? Or when you get back from those trips do you have to finish the production of, let's say Winter and Spring?
Basically you have two presentations and two productions a year - in January you show the coming Fall, and right after that you deliver Spring in February/March - and then you present next spring's pieces in June and deliver fall in August/September. Your almost always dealing with production or preparing to present.
You recently wrapped up another round of traveling, where did you go and what was the purpose?
I just went to Paris for a really big textile show.
When you go to something like that, what is your goal? Find new material? Meeting potential new clients?
This particular trip was for the textile show - so the goal is to meet with fabric mills and distributors from around the world in order to find the fabric you want to work with - its all there, from the biggest companies to more artful smaller producers.
Where do people go to find your clothing aside from your website www.evankinori.com?
I currently work with just under ten stores worldwide - 3 in Japan, one in Antwerp, one in Rome, and 4 in the USA - I try to grow slowly and find the places that feel right for me and my work and that will grow into long term relationships. Slow and steady...
You met up with Mark Oblow not too long ago, is there any chance you two might collaborate on something?
It would be great - it's amazing when skating can be a link into other projects outside of skating, working together/together
You've never come off as someone who has wanted to pursue skating for a career, as a rider or in the industry. Did you ever have ambitions to skate for anyone?
As I imagine most skater's have had, there was certainly some years of ambition regarding becoming 'sponsored' - the idea of traveling the world, meeting new people and experiences while essentially living like an artist with no set schedule seems very appealing. However, for me the reality of having to be consistent and motivated enough to try and film and shoot photos, essentially every time you go out and skate wasn't natural to me. My style of skating is really inconsistent, trick-wise, so the external variables of getting kicked out, having a motivated and productive filmer around who is either working on a project or willing to send your footage to someone who is, being inspired to find new ideas to try - I couldn't really find a high level of discipline in myself I think.
I have always been around friends who are on that level, and for a few years I was sort of trying and was excited at the idea of putting parts together and having ideas for how tricks could be shot. But to actually support yourself from it seems really intense - and you have to understand how to work really hard and be productive with the same thing you grew up pushing around goofing off with other kids when you were 13 years old. Take Ben for example - he busts his ass all the time constantly going out skating and filming with all different people on all different projects - I could never ever produce that much from myself on a skateboard!
Backside Nosegring Revert: Photo by Dan Z
Eventually I felt like skating was my personal escape from the rest of my life, a moment of pure self expression that didn't need to be validated by outside eyes or curation - so it became something different to me after I was lucky enough to find another passion (design). It's a complex and painful change to think something you are that intensely linked with and that you basically use as your lens to see the world - is not going to always be the center of your existence, but it can still play a vital role in your life and identity but just not as the primary mode of expression or focus. I think I'm just happiest with pushing around downtown SF and maybe skating a ledge if we don't get kicked out.
Did you ever consider making your brand a skate company?
Unfortunately, to make a high quality product in an ethical way, particularly to make it in the USA is far outside the price range that can work in skating. So no, from the time I was in school I knew that if I made a product it wouldn't really be skate specific. Skaters should just get everything at thrift stores anyways - best price and plenty of good baggy corduroys, khakis, and button-downs to choose from, and its mostly logo-free.
I still might start a skate shoe company with Chris Fireoved at some point though...
Why not make designs for a larger company and collect a bigger check?
Ask me this question again in 2 years - I told myself I'd try my own thing for 5 years and see if I can support myself and do things on my own terms. I think it's better to try early and possibly fall flat on your face before you have a mortgage or children or other epic responsibilities.
I get to create the imagery I imagine and believe in, the product is completely in my control: I manage production and make all the patterns and samples, and the whole project is highly personal and allows me to express my creative vision and interact with the people who want to purchase the product. If I worked as a designer at a large company, I would be executing someone else's ideas, sitting on Illustrator 9 hours a day...
Mr. Sprinkles edited and filmed the part for this interview. Can you tell us about the footage, how old is it, was any of in other edits we might have seen?
This footage is a remix of my part in the Sprinkles video, which hasn't been on the internet yet - it's a mix of footage from the past 5 or 7 years of living in SF with some of my favorite skaters mixed in and a few more recent sprinks yo.
Check out Evan ripping, filmed and edited by Zach Chamberlin
The best/worst aspects about filming for a part in San Francisco.
It's really the best to push around and see what happens on a given day out cruising and connecting with a spot and getting a clip - but it can be hard because it's a small city and not too many spots you just hang and session all day - it's more of the 'keep it moving' approach which is really fun but can be difficult to film. The houses are the best though, you just go out into the avenues and re-interpret the landscape block by block.
What is next for you and the rest of 2018?
A lot of work honestly. The constant cycle of design/dealing with the wholesale calendar/production - running a small business alone is pretty psychotic, but I'm trying to evolve it to be more sustainable as it grows and hopefully travel more and take a skate vacation with Chris (my future skate shoe company co-owner).
Do you have any last words for anyone that may be at the beginning of their creative life?
Just to work hard - I think to develop any skill to the point it becomes enjoyable or an obsession takes a lot of dedication and hard work before you even feel like its something you really want to do. So in that case the answer to any of it is giving more time to it - whether its playing an instrument or making art, basically you need to work so much that you get through all of the beginning phases until things start to evolve to the point that you start finding your own voice in your chosen medium - and even then you see that its (hopefully) never going to stop evolving, and you just keep creating.
Skating really teaches that in an incredible way - you start with the board as an accessory to hanging out outside in the summer with friends, maybe pushing around learning to ollie and kickflip along the way. Your eased into the work aspect of it, because your just spending time having fun while you develop the foundation of your whole skate life. Then you get a bit better to the point that you are learning faster and its addictive - to skate 8 or 10 hours a day and cruise a city hitting spots or a winter session at the skatepark. Then before you know it, you've been skating for 10 years and can hold your own.
Skating has a really amazing way of making the hardest part, the beginning, some of the most fun times. You don't realize that by most standards you are busting your ass and working like a fucking samurai in training to arrive at a place where you can fully express yourself and ideas on the board.
I can't imagine that the first 2 years of playing piano is like that - you have to be alone and get through many frustrating and challenging moments where you will think "I'm not good at this" or assume you have no talent for it - when it reality talent is a later thing that can reveal itself after enough foundational work has been put in. In skating your frustrated when you cant ollie up the curb but your whole crew is trying it and some are better some are worse, but you all evolve and distract each other throughout the whole process.
"You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.‚" - JACK LONDON
For more of Evan's work: http://www.evankinori.com/ https://www.instagram.com/evankinori/
Interview by Isaac McKay-Randozzi