Kevin is currently the Senior Vice President Creative Director of Simmons Design Group. In this role, he oversees the design for all of Russell Simmons’s brands previously including Baby Phat, Phat Farm, Run Athletics, Simmons Jewelry Company, and as of current, Argyle Culture, American Classics and Atman. All of his work is done through his own design company, Black Bean Sauce.
A native New Yorker, Kevin was born in Brooklyn and raised in Staten Island. Born of Chinese descent, he draws from the Asian culture as inspiration for his clothing line, Origami. Based on the ancient Asian art of folding paper, the collection features apparels made from the finest fabrics such as Italian selvedge denim, lambswool and cashmere. A graduate of Fashion Institute of Technology, Kevin studied advertising graphic design before beginning his career with Russell Simmons at the age of just 18 years old.
Like every overachiever, he has multiple projects and businesses that he juggles. In addition to his clothing line and Phat Farm role, Kevin designs jewelry, DJs, emcees and represents various brands. If there is one thing to learn from Mr. Leong, it is that in order to make it to the top, you must have relentless energy, guts and not be afraid to insult your future mentor, lol…Read on!
He sent me to the store to get him some split pea soup. I didn’t know there was bacon in it and he didn’t eat pork, so he threw it in the trash next to me and it splashed up in the air all over the wall and on my shirt.
ASIANCE: I’m sure you answered a million times but tell us how did you land the job with Phat Farm?
Kevin: Back when I was enrolled at F.I.T., I was Urban Director of music at the college radio station called Black Bean Sauce. People stole my records out of the mailbox, so I started going to the labels in person to pick up the vinyl. While at the old Def Jam offices, I met Russell in the elevator going down. I knew it was him, but didn’t know what to say. So I commented on the Asian girl in his current ads not knowing (Kimora) was his fiancée. He immediately started cursing and making fun of my clothes and dissing my style. I told him I was a designer and handed him my school project which was a business card design on an 8.5” x 11” print out. He called me the next day and I came to the office to show him my portfolio. The rest is history…
ASIANCE: What was the hardest part of the job? What was the easiest?
Kevin: The hardest part was getting done in a timely manner. ..so many deadlines back then with limited staff. So I basically had to do everything with just the help of 1 other designer.
The easiest was attending the events within the industry and travelling internationally for forecasting.
ASIANCE: Were you ever scared to piss Russell off?
Kevin: The 1st week I was hired, I pissed him off twice. First, he wanted me to make some intarsia sweaters and I didn’t know what that word meant.
Neither did we, oops (knitting technique used to create patterns with multiple colors – thanks Wiki)
Then, he sent me to the store to get him some split pea soup. I didn’t know there was bacon in it and he didn’t eat pork, so he threw it in the trash next to me and it splashed up in the air all over the wall and on my shirt.
ASIANCE: How did your family incorporate your heritage into your everyday living, growing up as a kid? Were you ever an outcast due to your ethnicity?
Kevin: Being that both of my parents were born in Brooklyn as well as myself, they were very much Americanized. But we would always visit my grandparents on the weekend, and we always made it a point to celebrate Chinese New Year with family every year.
When I started going to school as a kid, my parents had moved to Staten Island. Back then, there weren’t too many Asian kids in my school. So I was automatically outcasted. The few Asian kids that did attend my school spoke Chinese, which I didn’t. So I was an outcast to them as well.
ASIANCE: Is America ready for an Asian inspired brand to go mainstream? What would they have to achieve? What would be your strategy for mainstream acceptance?
Kevin: They already exist. ie. Shanghai Tang, Vivienne Tam, etc…
Asian culture is very much accepted in the USA, more so now than before.
My strategy is to represent the culture through the eyes of an ABC(American Born Chinese), born in Brooklyn, raised in Shaolin, who travels to Asia frequently.
In so many ways, I am very Asian, and in other ways, I am very American. It is the perfect hybrid of both western and eastern thinking that would make for the perfect strategy for mainstream acceptance.
ASIANCE: Would you ever get into music yourself?
Kevin: Being that I started off as an artist, fashion and music are both great forms of expression. I have dabbled in djing and emceeing and still continue to do so currently.
SAER performing Edge of Chinatown Live for CMJ. He’s good!
ASIANCE: Do you follow the progress of any other Asian Americans?
Kevin: Definitely. I have nothing but love for all. I love being inspired by other great people.
ASIANCE: Are you a fan of the rapper Jin? What do you think of him?
Kevin: I have had the opportunity to meet Jin a long time ago. He is a great lyricist and has repped well for all Asian rappers.
I was fortunate to see him battle live and what he does is not easy. It takes a lot of wit and courage to freestyle in front of thousands like he does.
ASIANCE: Who would you love to see wear clothing from the Origami clothing line?
Kevin: My clothing has a very clean and minimalistic sensibility, without sacrificing detail and functionality, which makes it easy for all to wear.
I would like to see men and women wearing my clothes. It’s universal and unisex.
ASIANCE: When will you be presenting your clothing line again?
Kevin: I recently did my 1st fashion show during NY Fashion Week last September. I plan on doing another show then.
ASIANCE: Who are you favorite models right now?
Kevin: In my past fashion show, I had female models walk down the runway and it was a great play on sexuality and androgyny. It was a great pleasure to have such great models walk such as Jaslene Gonzales, Heidi Allende and Flaviana Matada.
ASIANCE: You are a graffiti artist. would you ever incorporate that into its own type of clothing line?
Kevin: Being a graffiti artist at heart, everything is approached this way, whether it be the color palette I choose for the season or the marketing strategy incorporated into the streets.
ASIANCE: Tell us about the jewelry line that is inspired by a recent trip to china.
Kevin: Recently, I went to Ngong Ping Village while visiting Hong Kong. It is the home of the largest sitting Buddha in the world. It is only accessible by cable car and is pretty high up on the mountains. Upon arrival, I had made a donation to the preservation of this Buddha and a monk had given me a prayer necklace. I loved it so much, I wore it every day when I got back to NY. It eventually broke and I had to teach myself the technique by taking apart the necklace in order to rebuild it.
After learning the technique, I started making my own variations based off the original principles. I used 8 knots to finish the closure on the necklaces and bracelets, so I called it the infinity process.
ASIANCE: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Kevin: Taking it one day at a time, just creating beautiful reinterpretations of life and getting inspired by every day I am alive.
ASIANCE: Give our readers some advice on how to break into a company and be a success at a company like Phat Farm
Kevin: Just know your role and be prepared to deal with unexpected occurrences, keep deadlines and stay organized.
ASIANCE: Do you want to give a shout out to any Asians/Asian Americans?
Kevin: Shout outs to Tsai Lun, the creator of the paper making technique. Without him, we would have no paper to fold.
ASIANCE: What is your most favorite thing about your heritage? What do you want everyone to know about Chinese culture?
Kevin: I am always fascinated by the vast history of China. It is what inspires me and motivates me to learn more about our past. Without studying our past, we have no future.
ASIANCE: What is your least favorite thing about your culture?
Kevin: How introverted society views us. It’s simply not true. Those days of the weak, timid and silent Asians are over. No more sick man of Asia. We have a voice and we want to be heard. It’s time for us to speak through actions!!