Streetwear with an Asian twist

13 Aug 2019

By Joel Chan

Brendan Kor runs The Toxic Friends Co. single-handedly. He does everything from the marketing to the delivery of orders by himself. PHOTOS: JOEL CHAN

Kor loves illustrating parodies and satires. He is also an avid fan of streetwear.

Combine both interests and you get tote bags, t-shirts and iron-on patches featuring Kor’s original designs that are centered around local and other Asian influences.

The first-year School of Art, Design and Media (ADM) student has been selling his products through his online clothing store, The Toxic Friends Co., since 2017.

Kor’s brand had initially started out as a passion project – he had to submit a portfolio as part of his application to NTU and decided to design streetwear to beef up his submission.

“I wanted to do a project that is fun with the potential to get recognised, so I thought why not have people wear my art, as it is the fastest way to get my work out there and be seen by people,” he said.

Recognising the lack of Asian representation in the streetwear scene, Kor wanted to differentiate himself by incorporating more cultural influences into his designs.

For example, the “FairPrice” t-shirt, Kor’s very first piece, draws inspiration from the local supermarket chain and the famous “Supreme” logo. This design was an instant hit among his friends.

“They (my friends) saw the Fairprice t-shirt and loved it. At one point, my recruits (in army) wore it whenever they reported back to camp,” recalled Kor with a laugh.

As demand for his designs grew, Kor knew he needed more capital to produce more seasonal and in-trend designs.

In 2017, he turned his project into an online clothing brand, so that he could broaden his audience base. To reduce cost, Kor only works on a new piece after an existing design goes out of stock.

“My shirt designs are seasonal so that they are more trendy and wearable. For example, during Chinese New Year, my designs centre around things related to the festival, so people can wear them out when they are visiting their relatives,” he said.

As for his choice of brand name, Kor explained that “toxic” is a catchy lingo frequently used among his friends. He also thought it would be cool to have a bilingual brand name; 损友 is a direct translation of “toxic friend” in Mandarin.

From product and website design to the packing and delivering of orders, Kor runs The Toxic Friends Co single-handedly. He uses his bedroom as a storage space for his stock.

Kor markets his products through social media and by selling them at pop-up flea markets. Before joining NTU last year, he would set up shop in flea markets once a month. Now, he only does so during the school holidays.

He noted that during the peak periods, such as Chinese New Year and National Day, he would receive about two to three orders within a week, compared to one every two to three weeks. Kor said that people who purchase his clothes are usually his friends or dancers.

“These two festive seasons are very significant as they are the basis of my brand – orientalism and patriotism. So I hold seasonal sales during the festive season to springboard the promotion and outreach of my new merchandise,” explained Kor.

Apart from being aesthetically hip and trendy, Kor hopes that his designs can evoke patriotism, especially among the young.

“This sounds a little cheesy but I have always been proud of my country and I hope that my designs can influence others to feel the same way,” he said.

He also wants his designs to be thought-provoking.

“I want my visuals to invoke a reaction and spark conversations because I feel our society latches on to viral news but forget about them after a while.

“Also certain issues remain unreported or unheard of, such as the level of censorship in Singapore. I hope that my designs can increase awareness about them,” he said.

For this purpose, Kor uses attention-grabbing texts and visuals to add a different perspective on the issue. Kor revealed that customers would sometimes even ask if it is legal to wear his designs out due to their controversial nature.

“Well, I’m still here. If I ever get sued, I know I’ve made it,” he teased.

Kor, 21, with some of his bestsellers. (L-R) The “Fortune RIP Cat”, the “Creation of Ahwang“ and the “Last Reunion”.

Initially, Kor would sketch out the outline of his designs on a notebook before transferring them to his laptop but he says it is a more time-consuming process. For greater efficiency, he draws his designs from scratch on his laptop now, using the Adobe Photoshop software to sketch out the details and add the different colors into his designs. Here, Kor is working on his “Policeman” sticker. It was inspired by a life-sized cardboard cut-out of a policeman, placed at the entrace of many local supermarkets.

The completed “Policeman” sticker that can be used as a laptop sticker or to decorate water bottles.