My parents are Korean immigrants, and I was one of maybe 30 Asians in a high school of 2,000 kids in Riverside, California. I was keenly aware that I was different—that I wasn’t white—and felt like the world was stacked against me.
During that time, skateboarding shaped my life. Through skateboarding I found music, and through music and skateboarding I discovered fashion. From as early as I can remember, I was an artist, but I was told there wasn’t a future in that. My parents told me I needed to concentrate on math and other subjects I was horrible at. Because my creativity was squelched, it manifested in strange ways. Most kids were under their blankets reading PLAYBOY; I was drawing in secret because I wasn’t allowed to in public.
All my Asian American role models were doctors or the karate guy in movies. As an Asian American, you were either the consumer or the kid in the factory making the product. You weren’t the guy running the company. White men ran the clothing brands. Skateboarding helped me realize I could move beyond those invisible borders and be whoever I wanted—an Asian who dates white girls or is loud and outspoken and can fight.
I have so much I want to do and not enough time to do it. I have a higher calling to work.
For the past 14 years I’ve been dedicated to building the Hundreds, the streetwear brand I started in 2003 while I was in law school. As a result, I’ve had to say no to a lot of things. The Hundreds has never been the hottest brand. The times we’ve done well, I was miserable and felt the worst about the company. Other years, we were told we suck, and I was like, “I couldn’t be prouder of what we’re doing right now!” But if you keep going, nobody remembers the losses.
I have so much I want to do and not enough time to do it. I’ve felt this way my whole life. I’ll watch an Apple keynote and be like, “How do I be more like Apple?” I read a lot, so I want to write a book. Every time I enjoy a movie, I’m like, “I want to make a movie!” It’s this total narcissistic, egomaniacal thing—“Let’s see how much I can do before I leave the planet.”
I started my new women’s apparel line, Jennifer, because there’s no women’s brand guys are dying to wear. That hypocrisy bothers me. As a minority, I’ve always been sensitive to inequality and injustice. I’ve had great friendships and relationships with strong, intelligent women who’ve helped me understand their situations. Designers always look for imperfections and try to flatten the wrinkles. If something’s straight, you want to make it crooked. If something’s crooked, you want to make it straight. Let’s give women something their boyfriends will covet. It’s the wrinkle I want to flatten out. Of course I got pushback. “What do you know about women?” they said. Why can’t I do this? I didn’t know how to do streetwear 14 years ago, and I figured it out.
I want people to think differently. I want to disrupt things. I recently opened TikiFish in west L.A.; just because I’m a streetwear guy doesn’t mean I can’t open a poke restaurant. And just because I opened a poke restaurant doesn’t mean I can’t direct a film, like my streetwear documentary Built to Fail. Successes and failures are relative; I really don’t know how to judge them. I’m 36 years old, and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I have a higher calling to work. As long as I do that, my family will be proud of me, and I’ll never be ashamed of what I do.