Written by The Strategy
Speaking with TAIKAN’s founder and brand manager, Garret Louie and designer, Mada Phiri.
We’d like for you to meet TAIKAN, if you haven’t already been living in their hoodies or listening to their Spotify playlists. It’s a street-focused essentials brand that has so much more to offer than just bags and apparel. Each piece has a story behind it’s creation, and an artist who’s story TAIKAN wants to share.
We sat down with TAIKAN’s founder and industry veteran, Garret Louie, and designer, Mada Phiri, to learn more about what inspires the TAIKAN brand, and the culture behind it.
Garret, what made you decide to start TAIKAN?
Garret: One venture I’ve been doing for a long time has been distribution. We’ve dealt with many different brands over the years, and we were thinking about what we needed in our market after all these years of experience and what we were missing. We got inspired and first started with bags, but after Covid, we realized people were not going out as much. Apparel is really the forte of where I started with distribution, so during Covid, we pivoted to add apparel to the collection, and that was where Mada jumped in.
What is the inspiration behind the brand?
Garret: The main thing with the line is we’re not trying to be high-end or low-end, but a middle ground with a lot of culture behind it. Our vibe is good quality, minimal aesthetic, but with attainable prices and curated for people who are into our vibe, with a lot of culture in the background. We’re into art, design, photography, skateboarding and music. You’ll see a lot of this tied into our backend, where, if you go to our news blog, you can research a lot of the artists we work with.
Mada: It’s a lot about the creative community in general. We work with a bunch of different artists in a lot of different disciplines. We like finding ways we can bring different artists together and have a brand identity that exists outside of clothes and in culture in general.
Garret: We don’t like to do just a collaboration; we do a series called, TAIKAN BY. The word “taikan” isn’t necessarily something you’ll find in the dictionary, but it’s a play on words – what are we taking in our bags, who are we taking on this venture as we’re growing. With our TAIKAN BY series, we let the artists go nuts. We let them interpret their whole vibe into it. We follow it up with a full interview, so people can get to know them. We are taking them on a journey of exposing their talents around the world.
A lot of inspiration for the last couple seasons has also been the fact that Mada and I both live in the city. We’re both Vancouver-heads. We’re going out to places, these little party spots, but at the same time, on the weekends, we like to get out to nature. A lot of the colours that we’ve used for the next couple of collaborations are influenced off of deep forest greens, navy of the oceans, brown bark on the trees. The overall inspiration theme would be city-meets-nature. But, the concept of the actual apparel is clean minimal aesthetics at fairly attainable prices.
What are your personal influences and have they been incorporated into the TAIKAN brand?
Mada: Luckily for me and G, we have a lot of similar interests from music to culture to clothes. I know G works a lot with skateboarders and takes a lot of influence from skate culture. I don’t skateboard, but I’ve always been a fan of the culture and I love the way that it intersects with streetwear. I too have taken influence from skate culture. We both take a lot of influence from music culture and the ways we see people dressed at parties. I think being a creative in general, there is a lot of different routes that I personally get influenced from. Having a lot of similar interests with G, we just mesh well.
Garret: We both really live this culture. Mada is putting on a lot of shows and a lot of things for the scene, whether it’s for the LGBTQ community or the Black community, or working with cultural DJs. We just love and live this culture, and this is what started everything for me 25+ years ago.
Does the current political climate around the world effect how you design and the products you sell?
Garret: One thing we do every season, is we like to have a piece or so that can relate to something in the political climate. We worked with Mada and her collective, Made By We, on one of our first t-shirt collaborations.
Mada: When we designed the t-shirt, it was around the peak of the BLM movement and 2020. I wanted to make a shirt for the cause and donate the proceeds. The shirt will be launching in the next couple of weeks and we are donating the proceeds to the NAACP.
The graphic says “Whatever is bad for the oppressor has got to be good for us.” I basically took a flip on a quote from Emory Douglas, who was a graphic designer for the Black Panthers. His original quote was, “Whatever is good for the oppressor has got to be bad for us.” I wanted to take a flip on it and take the proactive stance that was happening in 2020. The colours in the graphic were inspired by the Black Panther flag.
The fashion industry can be difficult to break through as a BIPOC. Did you experience this and how did you overcome it?
Mada: There is obviously still a problem, but for my experience as a Black person living in Vancouver, there aren’t as many Black people here as you would see in Toronto or Montreal. The scene is also a little bit fragmented. What I find helpful is just connecting with your community. The most helpful thing for me has been finding other BIPOC or LGBTQ friends who support each other. The biggest thing is creating your own community. G has also said before that you sometimes have to build those safe spaces yourself.
Garret: Instead of complaining about something, do it yourself. Start your won brand, promote your own parties. At TAIKAN, we make sure to choose to work with brands who’s ideals and morals we agree with.