“HIGHLY INFLUENCED BY ROCK N’ ROLL MUSIC, PHOTOGRAPHY, TRAVELLING AND JAPANESE/AMERICAN STREETWEAR OF THE 90S, THIS BRAND SPEAKS TO THOSE WHO PLAY BY THEIR OWN RULES.”
Liberaiders – a combination of 2 words “Liberate & Raiders” is a brand founded by a longstanding member of the OG streetwear community, Mei Yong. Highly influenced by Rock n’ Roll music, photography, travelling and Japanese / American streetwear of the 90s, this brand speaks to those who play by their own rules. The non-conformists, the rebels, and those who create new values that they live by. Intrigued? We are. So we have a chat with Mei and find out how it all began and where it is all heading.
Q & A
Can you share with us your background and how you started it all?
I was born and raised in Beijing and moved to Japan when I was 20. I was one of the first group of kids who went abroad and experienced the underground/skate culture during the late 80’s. I met lots of young artists and designers both in Japan and America during the 90’s, and I was very lucky to have worked with some of them for many years.
To be honest I've never come across the word "Liberaiders", can you explain to us the meaning behind this word?
The brand name is a mix of 2 words: Liberate and Raiders. Meaning everything has 2 sides, whether it is good or bad they both exist simultaneously.
“SO INSTEAD OF SELLING OUR PRODUCTS, I WANTED TO SHOW PEOPLE HOW OUR BRAND PERCEIVES THE WORLD.”
Last FW19 during the Paris Fashion Week, you had your 1st exhibition there. What surprised many was that on the exhibition, you only showcased your products but none was for sale. Care to share why you did so? Was it some kind reverse psychology?
Many people had said the same thing to me in Paris. For me, it was our first time attending the Paris Fashion Week, so instead of selling our products, I wanted to show people how our brand perceives the world. That's why we did our first exhibition in a gallery to showcase photos taken in the countries where Liberaiders had been. Everyone has been creating great products nowadays, but I think the culture as a substance is very important to the generation from now on.
At the same time, what we found very interesting was there were many Liberaiders posters all over the street alleys in Paris. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that was the 1st time any Japanese brand did that kind of marketing campaign in such a city as Paris.
When we talk about Paris, the only image appears in our mind would be High Fashion, but since the root of Liberaiders is from Street Culture, we think it’s the best to express ourselves this way. And the gap between high fashion and our brand is very meaningful to us.
“THE STREET-WEAR INDUSTRY HAS BECOME MAINSTREAMED AND ORIGINAL STREET STYLE IS LESS VISIBLE NOW BECAUSE OF THE CONVENIENCE THAT THE INTERNET HAS BROUGHT US”
What is your opinion on the current situation in the street-wear industry?
The street-wear industry has become mainstreamed and original street style is less visible now because of the convenience that the internet has brought us. The street style in my younger days was the opposite of mainstream which made it very cool. I understand that it is the changing of times which we have no control over. Having said that, this may also become the beginning of new non-mainstream brands. We are very excited to be a part of it.
Anyone who knew you well, knows that you travel a lot, even way back before Liberaiders. Can you tell us why travelling is very important to you?
I kept thinking what wealth really means when I was younger. I truly believe that money is not everything and the more I know about the planet Earth where I was born and raised, the fullest I am living my life since the time we have in this one-time only life is limited. That's why traveling is very important to me.
Out of your many travel trips, which had the biggest impact on you and why?
The trip that had the most impact on me was my recent trip to Russia in 2018. I was devastated throughout my trip having to find that I have been living in the capitalism society for 30 years now and that we only have the information about Russia from the western media. I felt strongly that each country's media is quite subjective and if you want to know the truth, you will have to go to that country to see for yourself.
“I HAVEN'T BEEN THINKING ABOUT BALANCE PARTICULARLY. I LOVE WHAT I AM DOING WITH MY BRAND, SO WORK IS NO LONGER WORK FOR ME.”
Other than designing for your brand, you are also into photography. Do share with us your favorite camera & why?
I actually started getting into photography way before I created my brand. Photos are like a diary that has been helping me to record my life. Canon and Leica are the two I have been using the most. Canon is like a tough combat camera and Leica has its uniqueness in colors which brings out the view of the world.
How do you balance between business, photography & family?
I haven't been thinking about balance in particular. I love what I am doing with my brand, so work is no longer work for me. I am doing what I love. As for photography, I have always been taking photos for both work and my family. I started my family late, so I really appreciate them. I think business, photography and family are the 3 things that complete me.
Other than designing for your brand & photography, what do you do to relax and de-stress?
That will be listening to music! I used to listen to Punk Rock, Heavy Metal and Hard Rock when I was younger. As I got older, I started enjoying Jazz and many other genres too.
Can you share with us 3 movies/documentaries that you've watched during this lock-down period?
House of cards, No country for old man, and Training Day.
“AS FOR BRANDS, THOSE WITH MEANINGS AND HAVE ORIGINAL CULTURE WILL REMAINED, NOT BECAUSE OF THE TREND OR THE BRAND IS WORN BY CELEBRITIES.”
Most of your designs have very strong subculture & music influence. Care to name 3 musicians or bands that are considered important to you personally?
The Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR), and Eagles.
What are your activities during this lock-down period in Japan ? Any difference on how your country is tackling the pandemic compared to others?
I had been really busy to the point where there wasn't a month I had not been on any business trips in the past 20 years. I can't believe that I’ve only stayed in Tokyo for 2 months already because of the Covid-19 situation. I had a lot of time to read, arrange the photos I took from previous trips, work on designs, and play with my children. Japan does not have a strict lock-down like other countries do. It all depends on self-discipline. Many countries have different solutions to this but I don't think we can say who's right or wrong until the vaccine is made. I am very interested in this topic.
What is your opinion on the current global situation and what are your forecasts on how things will be particularly for our industry, post pandemic?
This may be the question that everyone is thinking about right now. My thought after speaking to many people from different industries in these 2 months is that the world after Covid-19 will not be the same as what we used to live in. I think our industry is going to have big changes too. The world is being reset this time. What is happiness? What are the necessities and meaningful things? People would become more serious when considering these questions. As for brands, those with meanings and have original culture will remain, not because of the trend or the brand is worn by celebrities.
Any last word for us and the Liberaiders fans in Malaysia?
Thank you very much for supporting Liberaiders! We are looking forward to the day when we can meet in the near future.
Interview: Jem | Translation: Khalisa Johari | Photography: Mei Yong | Graphic: Adrian Nunis
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