Interview Jay Smith
Photography Courtesy of fakesickness

Lee Time

KB Lee is a former head designer at California-based brand Undefeated and now runs his own creative agency that aims to build bridges between east and west. The designer recently launched a new project called Emotionally Unavailable with Hong Kong street-culture guru, Edison Chen. MAN had a chat about making connections, working on collaborations and the future of street culture.

(This piece was featured in our AW16 magazine - January 2016)
Can you tell me more about yourself?

My name is KB Lee. I was born in Korea and grew up in Long Beach, California.

What have you been up to since you left Undefeated?

I spend most of my time overseas these days, especially in Korea. I’m basically always traveling.

It seems like you’re working more and more for Korean stores, such as Boon The Shop, and acting as a link between them and the rest of the world.

Boon The Shop is one of my new clients in Korea. They are great and their selection is amazing. The boutique is one of the illest stores in Asia. I wanted to connect them with good people, like Michael Dupouy at [Paris agency] La MJC. He does a world tour every year for the launch of [annual streetwear bible] ALL GONE. I thought Boon The Shop would be the perfect fit for him and his book launch in Korea.

I’ve heard you’ve also got a shop project with Ramdane Touhami.

Yeah, Ramdane is opening a Buly store in Korea in 2016 and I’m consulting for the brand in the Korean market. I’m really exited to be working with him.

I wanted to know more about Emotionally Unavailable. What’s the idea behind the project?

Emotionally Unavailable is a project I do with Edison Lee, who is one of my best friends. It’s like a personal project where we do whatever we want to do. All the collaborative partners are our friends and people we respect and look up to. For example, we have a partnership with United Arrows in Japan and we do a collaboration with colette every season. They’ve both been great supporters since day one. There’s much respect. We’ve also got a new project coming out with Perks and Mini (PAM). Basically, we pretty much put out stuff whenever we want. I don’t want to turn this project into a brand that follows a schedule. It’s more of a fun personal project for Edison and me. At least for now.

How do you see street culture evolving?

This whole market has become mainstream culture. I’m not hating though; it’s just that this was very underground niche market. It feels a little bit weird to see so many of my friends doing good on a business level, even if I’m always happy to see them do well and make money! And it’s good for my résumé, too! 

What does a brand need to do to surprise you?

It all depends. So many brands are doing their own thing. I respect anyone with a unique creative perspective and some hustle. 

Any tips for upcoming brands looking to survive in the fashion business?

Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. People in this industry and consumers are smarter than you think – they catch fake shit. 

What is the future of retail?

No retail.

What are you up to next?

I’ve got lots of new projects, especially in Korea. I have a new project with G-Dragon. I will continue Boon The Shop projects. We’re launching Buly in Korea. Stüssy Korea stuff, as well. I’ve also been writing a lot for Korean Harper’s Bazaar and I’m going to continue that. There will be more fun Emotionally Unavailable projects with Edison. I think I’m going to end up opening two studios next year, one in Korea and one in LA. 

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