Tonk Syndicate

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Edwyn Huang and the rest of the crew from Hoodman have launched Tonk Syndicate, a new lifestyle line that’s out to give streetwear a jolt in the leg. With fresh designs that speak to those of us who eat, sleep and breathe street, Tonk has already dropped one amazing line, and shows no signs of stopping now. Creative Director Edwyn Huang takes a break to sit down with Format. Responsible for overseeing designs, campaigns and production, Huang talks about the work he and his team are doing at Tonk, and what motivates and keeps them going.

“Our look is different than it was with Hoodman. Tonk is more about just repping alternative street culture”

Format: What would you say Tonk Syndicate is all about?
Edwyn Huang: You know, with Hoodman, we were a very political line. I still have strong political views and you will see aspects of it in Tonk pieces or on our web site, but I’m learning that less is more. I’ve been designing streetwear for four years now and my taste has really changed. It’s interesting to see how our look is different than it was with Hoodman.

Tonk is more about just repping alternative street culture. We’re always heavily hip-hop influenced, but we draw from things you see everyday like quarter waters, underground card games, gambling, etc. Tonk is a game I used to play as a kid down south. We used to try and double-up our lunch money everyday playing tonk – it’s ghetto rummy.

Format: Who’s involved in Tonk right now?
Edwyn Huang: Steven Lau, Ning Juang, and myself.

Format: How did Tonk get started? You were already doing the Hoodman line, but what made you need to make Tonk?
Edwyn Huang: We already had Tonk in the works. We wanted a harder, less comical, lifestyle line. Our plan is to finally branch out to accessories next year and pieces besides just t-shirts. For years, we’ve been the Thomas Pink of streetwear in that we don’t do jeans, we don’t do outers, we do t-shirts.

But, the process got sped up because Bergdorf Goodman sued us. The joke has always been that Hoodman was Bergdorf for the ‘hood. We had the domain www.bergdorfhoodman.com and they just bugged out. Hoodman isn’t being shut down, but because the legal status was in limbo, I figured, the smartest move would be to put our energy toward Tonk until we know what’s up with Hoodman.

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Format: What do you feel you’re doing at Tonk that you couldn’t at Hoodman?
Edwyn Huang: Well, with Hoodman, we always had trouble because stores don’t look past the name. Places like Union, Digital Gravel, Vinny Styles that are really tastemakers who take chances, and understand what’s going on in the streets never had a problem with the name. Big cities, bigger outlets – no problem. It was funny though because it’s the little stores in the Midwest, suburbs, that really don’t even have their own street culture that fronted on the name.

With Tonk, we don’t have a name with an urban connotation and more people are willing to take a look. Stylistically with Tonk, it’s less about the punch-line. Hoodman was like Big-L, everything was to move toward a punch-line, but Tonk has less of a need to reach an objective. I’m not trying to get a laugh from every shirt. It’s more just representing a lifestyle and giving people pieces that fit with the rest of their closet. Hoodman, at times, tried too hard and I don’t want to make the same mistakes with Tonk.

Format: You’ve said that Tonk is more focused on vice and deviant culture, could you explain that a bit more?
Edwyn Huang: Yeah, Tonk is about street culture. Not hood per se, but the hustle, the schemes, the things that happen round the way. Its not necessarily looking for trouble, but it captures the mindset, lifestyle, and icons that our culture lives. I like clothing that is for people in the know.

Girls probably don’t know who Ice La Fox is, old people don’t get the Polo Bear Tupac reference, and people who don’t follow hip-hop may not know where the Victory photo comes from. But you, your homies, and all of us who follow street culture know what it is.

I feel a lot of streetwear uses overly obvious references and its not deviant or niche anymore, so we’re trying to pull it back a little. A lot of people are wondering why streetwear is dying – it’s because there are too many people doing it who don’t know their head from their ass — it’s not cool if you’re using obvious mainstream references. We identify things that people in our culture know about, and we’re introducing new language as well.

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Format: You pay tribute to a lot of different people in this collection, like Brianna Banks, Method Man, Tupac and Mike Tyson – what’s the connection?
Edwyn Huang: Correction, it’s Brianna Love! Brianna Banks is old news. Brianna Love is the truth. Her ass is heavy. The connection is really that these are all people that me and my homies rep. It really is what I’ve been talking about with Tonk.

My fingerprints aren’t all over this line like they were with Hoodman. I didn’t say, ‘hey, lets do a line with only Brooklyn shit or just corporate crooks.’ When I go to someone’s crib, I like to see the strange, random, combinations of cultural artifacts. Dude might have a giant OG Patrick Ewing poster, a Manny Ramirez bobblehead or an old Atari.

Format: Could you talk about the inspiration behind some of your designs? Chinatown Republic and the Tical bear, for instance?
Edwyn Huang: I gotta big-up, Steve. He’s been with us for four years and the Chinatown Republic is the first design he’s had that we put to print. He always has good ideas; it’s just been timing, etc. that his other designs didn’t get run. But, he came to the table with a photo of Chinese rice farmers using water buffalo to harvest paddies and a picture of the California flag with the bear. I saw it and I bugged out. He wanted to flip the flag and call it Chinatown Republic.

The Tical Bear is our parody of the Polo Bears. I’m not a big Lo-Head like a lot of people and I thought the bears were a little pussy. I remember back in the day though, Wu-Tang had the craziest style. RZA had the doo-rag before a lot of people, Ghost had Wallos, but I loved when Meth came with the goggles and batting gloves. So we put his wears on the bear.

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Format: How has response to the designs been so far? What are some of the most popular designs?
Edwyn Huang: The bears sold the best with stores, people in Brooklyn really like the quarter water t-shirt, and Chinese people of course love the Chinatown Republic. Online though, people are buying a lot of the Porno Tee. The Internet loves porno.

Format: What kind of designs have you got lined-up for next year? Have you got a favorite design right now?
Edwyn Huang: Oh, I actually haven’t got around to this. But we’ll have something soon.

Format: Where do you want to see Tonk Syndicate go in the future? Expand beyond t-shirts?
Edwyn Huang: Yeah, we got some accessories we’re designing right now. I want to do functional items beyond just fashion stuff. It’s fun to bring our style to items that aren’t already part of the streetwear cannon.

More Info: www.tonkshop.com

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