“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” — John Donne
Left to one’s own devices, great work can come forth. But something new can also come about in a meeting of minds. The collaboration process has been gaining currency in the fashion world, either as a provocation or a provision to a complex fan base, while allowing for the elevation of a designer’s craft and ideas.
You might have seen a yellow label with the phrase ‘Unsuitable for the Young’ stencilled on it. This is the standard consumer advice label that’s often found on material that the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) deems as… well, unsuitable for the young.
So, we approached five creatives to give us their take on ‘Unsuitable for the Young’.
This is the result of what happens when people come together.
This is, in a very loose sense, a collaboration.
P.S.: To purchase these T-shirts, head to The Esky Shop for more details.
Mark Ong AKA SBTG Shoe Customiser, Designer, Artist
ESQ: What do you think about the idea of collaboration? You seem like someone who marches to the beat of his own drum.
MARK ONG: We don’t have our own product so whatever we put out exists through collaborations.
ESQ: But is it really a collaboration if you’re just taking a brand’s shoes and putting your own spin on it?
MARK ONG: Customisation is the whole DIY ethos that I abide by. It’s like how I apply my grip tape in a certain way to my skateboard. It’s the same approach to a lot of things.
ESQ: What is a genuine collaboration to you?
MARK ONG: If I were to make a toy with Jeffrey Koh (founder of FLABSLAB, a designer toy production company), it would exist from a character that I draw and Jeffrey will take that and turn it into a figurine. So, in that sense, yes but mostly I collaborate with brands because I’m already a fan of their shoe models. I’ll add to it but I don’t want to be competing with the brands I love. That’s why I still don’t have my own sneaker brand.
ESQ: When it comes to customisation or collaboration, do you prefer getting a brief? Do you like working within a parameter?
MARK ONG: I’d like to work with a brief. It gives me a chance to break the boundaries. Take the ASICS GEL-Lyte III. That shoe has a winning silhouette. So now my job is to see what I can add to that shoe and transform it entirely.
ESQ: What’s your take on ‘Unsuitable for the Young’?
MARK ONG: Throughout the years, I have gotten a lot of grief about my logo. My logo looks like Arabic script but it has no meaning. There was a collaboration with Johnnie Walker and we couldn’t put my logo on it because an Arabic-looking script on an alcohol bottle doesn’t look good. That’s understandable. In the end, I invented another similarly stylised signature for the bottle.
Through my talks with you guys, you mentioned that you’re only allowed to put out two issues a year with an ‘Unsuitable for the Young’ sticker. And that felt similar to what I had to go through. I had to be told what not to say or write. When I looked at the label—‘Unsuitable for You’—it’s very punk lah.
E S Q : According to your design, who is ‘you’?
MARK ONG: The censorship board. Basically, the censorship board is telling the public what to see and what not to see, but with the Internet their words fall on deaf ears.
Steve Lawler AKA Mojoko Co-creator for Eyeyah!, Artist
ESQ: You got Russell Taysom (@russelltaysom) to do the design.
STEVE LAWLER: Yeah, well, that’s because he’s in every Eyeyah! issue.
ESQ: So, why ‘Internet Addict’?
STEVE LAWLER: One of the Eyeyah! issues was about the Internet and we thought slogan shirts would work. We were supposed to make them but no one would buy them for their kid.
ESQ: Why not?
STEVE LAWLER: Because it’s too weird. It’s an art piece. This T-shirt is not for a kid but we wanted to make a kid’s shirt. So, it remained an idea, floating about until you guys approached us to do something around ‘Unsuitable for the Young’—and Internet addiction is unsuitable for children but it’ll take some pushing for parents to buy that for their kid, no?
ESQ: What’s your take on collaboration?
STEVE LAWLER: The thing with collaboration is that everyone needs to be on the same trajectory. People move at different speeds. There are those who can collaborate once and never again. Due to the nature of our magazine, we work with many, many people and that includes Russell.
I don’t know whether that’s, in a true sense, a collaboration. We take the work that they have done and reshape it for our own purpose. For example, we take Adeline Tan’s artwork and we start animating it. She needs to make new assets and she needs to create stuff in various layers. That is a collaboration, in terms of technical collaboration; they are the ones pushing the boundaries.
Artist collaborations are historically interesting but they run for short periods. Then, there are others who partner for life. Collectives are an example of that.
ESQ: Do you feel that the word ‘collaboration’ is used very loosely today?
STEVE LAWLER: It’s just as disposable as anything else. It’s about the innovation involved in the collaboration that gives it any kind of attention or gets people to notice. There are lazy collaborations between brands and artists, for sure.
ESQ: Do you have a favourite collaboration?
STEVE LAWLER: For something recent, I quite like Mark’s (SBTG) work with ASICS. I thought that was nice, very Star Wars-y. I’ve never seen anything like that before. They both brought something new to the table on that. Now that’s between a brand and an artist, for one that’s between two artists, I’d go with Stranger Twins, a project that Hideki Katsufumi has been working on with Thai artist TRK for about three years. It’s a beautiful harmony of weirdness.
ESQ: I just want you to know that as we’re interviewing you, your kid is watching a streaming video on your smartphone.
STEVE LAWLER: I guess I’m a hypocrite. [laughs] The truth is, he is an Internet addict. So, I’ll call him out on that.
Chris Chai, Illustrator, Artist
ESQ: What is the usual process in drafting out a T-shirt design?
CHRIS CHAI: Like most art forms, there isn’t a hard and fast rule for coming up with a T-shirt design aside from dimensional considerations and how it is printed. These are technical things that most professional artists would be well versed in. Conceptually speaking, I find T-shirt designs have a lot more free play than commercial work. At the end of the day you want something that screams personality, no matter what that may be. I lean heavily towards large prints / all-over prints and love the idea of excess. As the old adage goes when it comes to an epic T-shirt design: bigger is better.
ESQ: What’s the design about?
CHRIS CHAI: The Roman philosopher, Seneca, described monsters as “a visual and horrific revelation of the truth”. Divine, natural, imaginary or otherwise, monsters often function as allegories for the power of belief, human emotions and perhaps the unknown. They probably look awesome to young people, but why are we drawn to them?
ESQ: Where do you get the peculiarities of these creatures from?
CHRIS CHAI: I work a lot from photographs or imagery. I mean, they come from my imagination but many times I work from things that are already there. I use elements that already exists.
For the T-shirt design, those drawings were exercises from my sketchbook. It was a study in filling a space: I put in random elements and fill up the rest of the blank space, making sure that everything connects. It’s a game of push and pull.
ESQ: So these were chosen for the T-shirt for how they look?
CHRIS CHAI: In part. Some of them look demonic, nightmarish. If you look at the individual elements, they are things that you’d find in Chinatown. The top image is drawn after a barong, which is weird because in Balinese culture, all their gods in their mythology look demonic but they aren’t demons. It’s that the less human they look, the more godly they appear.
ESQ: You can’t really judge by appearance.
CHRIS CHAI: Yeah. It’s up to an individual’s interpretation. Not all monsters are evil.
ESQ: What’s an ideal collaboration?
CHRIS CHAI: I don’t really have an ideal. It denotes a fixed idea and I think that moves in contrast to the idea of a collaboration. Although to answer your question, I think a good collaboration would be between artists of differing styles, ideologies and world views. It makes for a more interesting and unpredictable end result. Having said that, I feel that there always has to be a high level of personal discretion and free play between the individuals. A perfect melding of two distinctly different entities.
I did this thing with Adeline Tan aka Mightyellow at the Esplanade. We had a tight budget and we were quite adamant with not coming up with new work. Her work and mine… we had similarities but I take a more mechanical approach to things—stark contrast, black and white, little details—and anything she does is organic. It’s super colourful. Nature that shouldn’t exist. It was a good blend. That was my favourite collaboration as we were two individuals with different ideologies and styles and we made it work.
ESQ: Is there a favourite collaboration, not necessarily yours, that you love?
CHRIS CHAI: Locally, my recent favourite has been a large full back-piece between two tattoo artists, Bradley @bradleytattoo and Augustine @gimmelovetattoo. Bradley has a hyper-realistic style and Augustine works mostly in the traditional Japanese style. They made vastly differing image styles work on a tattoo and the end result was epic. Masterful in the making and beautiful in the result.
Ivan Prasetya AKA Pras The Bandit Designer
ESQ: What’s your experience when it comes to collaboration?
IVAN PRASETYA: Honestly? I’ll look at the terms and conditions first. Let’s say if the other party has guidelines like you cannot show nudity, then that turns me off. I’d always ask if the other party has any restrictions before I start work with them. Which is funny, when it comes to you guys. When you told me about ‘Unsuitable for the Young’ I was interested but my initial idea was rejected.
ESQ: How so?
IVAN PRASETYA: Sex is no longer conventional. You go to a porn website and there are specialised channels for different fetishes. Like foot fetishism. I don’t get it. Maybe it’s a millennial thing, maybe it’s something that’s as old as time, I don’t know.
It took me a day to do up the design. So, when I sent in my initial design, it was rejected because the art was a streaming sex site and, along with a foot fetish, there were suggestions to other kinks. So, your guy said that y’all might work with retailers for this project and the design might not be appropriate for them. So I had to tone down the design.
ESQ: The original idea was more risqué.
IVAN PRASETYA: Yeah.
ESQ: So, is this an ideal collaboration?
IVAN PRASETYA: I mean, I was told that the theme is ‘Unsuitable for the Young’ so it has to be something that’s boundary-pushing. Even if you did work with retailers, they should also take that chance to be daring.
ESQ: You took out the recommendations and stuck with the foot fetish design.
IVAN PRASETYA: Yeah.
ESQ: What is your ideal collaboration then?
IVAN PRASETYA: One that has no boundaries. I know that there are limitations but the best collaboration is one that is between friends. The most memorable was with Goodluck Bunch (a retail space) because they’re on the same frequency as I am; we’re the same age and we talk about similar things. When I had that pop-up with them, they were cool with me getting in a mee rebus stall for it. I don’t care if my stuff gets sold out or not, it’s the process of a good collaboration that’s appealing to me.
Lydia Yang AKA Oak & Bindi Illustrator, Designer, Creator of Die Hard Lover, One-fourth of Tell Your Children
ESQ: What do you make of ‘Unsuitable for the Young’?
LYDIA YANG: Anything that is outside of childlike innocence.
ESQ: What is your usual process in drafting out a T-shirt design?
LYDIA YANG: I usually start with gathering visual metaphors and wordplay around the theme. Once an idea is solidified, the execution is usually pretty straightforward.
ESQ: Your design is modelled after the Precious Moments figurines.
LYDIA YANG: ‘Precious Thots’ is a perspective on social media and the younger generation. An exaggeration of finding love and being obsessed with likes and follows, say, on Instagram.
ESQ: But you do play the game on social media, right?
LYDIA YANG: Sure, but I’d rather not be called an influencer or anything like that. I just enjoy curating and producing content or work with brands I vibe with.
ESQ: What’s an ideal collaboration?
LYDIA YANG: Two entities coming together to complement or elevate each other’s brand or craft. I enjoy collaborating with independent artists or makers, one of which was Unusual Felines (Hakim Samat) where we collaborated on a Die Hard Lover (DHL) release called ‘Traits Of A Gemini’—I silkscreened a graphic on canvas and he fashioned it into one of his tote bags.
ESQ: Were there any collaborations that stood out?
LYDIA YANG: I launched the third DHL collection at The Refinery and got to create beverage specials for it. The guys from Saturday Selects, a music label from Malaysia, also came through to play a set at the event—that was quite the dream collaboration for me.
ESQ: What about collaborations that you’re not involved with?
LYDIA YANG: It’s hard to pick a favourite but anything M/M Paris does, as well as Byredo, is usually amazing. I enjoy seeing Ryse Hotel artist collaborations as well it would be a dream to work with them someday.
To purchase these T-shirts, head to The Esky Shop for more details.
Photographs and styling by Eugene Lim