The internal struggle of opposing ideals is one familiar to us all. Toronto-based brand KIRA thrives on dichotomies and conflicting ideals – creation and destruction, lightness and darkness, vulnerability and aggression. At 23, self-taught designer and KIRA founder Michael Ji has managed to create a clothing line whose minimal aesthetic and attention to detail has resulted in one of the most exciting lines to emerge from the Toronto fashion scene in recent years.
The brand focuses on basic unisex streetwear staples such as denim jackets, jeans, bombers and basic tees in neutral tones. The garments’ raw and rebellious nature is expressed through distressing and burning, while conversely details such as hems with exposed stitching evoke a simpler, more vulnerable feel. A short stint in the real estate industry fostered a love of tailored suits, and the influence of design power houses such as Balmain, Saint Laurent, Haider Ackermann and Christian Dior is clearly reflected in the emphasis on structure in Ji’s work.
Omit Limitation met up with KIRA founder to discuss the importance of sacred geometry in his work, his favourite spots in Toronto, the necessity of sacrifice as a creative, and why he believes nobody else in Canada is doing it on KIRA’s level.
When and why did you first start creating?
Ever since my hand touched a pen. I’ve always been an artist at heart, always had a passion for it, an eye for it, and the urge to create – to draw, to do something.
What kind of fashion education and/or experience do you have?
I have no fashion background; I studied business in University. I just learned myself, every process. I winged it – met and talked to people, got a little start from them, went my own way and tried some things out – trial and error kind of thing.
When did you decide to make designing your career? What made you feel that you were on the right path?
When I was younger I was very business oriented, but I didn’t know what I wanted to go into. I started hand-painting on t-shirts and people at my school started getting interested in them, and it just spread. I made a Facebook group, and it just kind of blew up from there. I pursued it because it was calling me. My gut intuition was telling me that this was right; this is where you should go.
KIRA, THE BRAND
Where did the name KIRA come from?
KIRA directly translates into “Killer” or “Light” in Japanese, complete opposite definitions. My favourite anime in the entire world is called “Death Note” and the main character in it, his name is Light , but the world refers to him as Kira. He wants to rid the world of all the criminals and evil, but by becoming God himself. So there’s a lot of controversy with that notion, but it’s also very interesting. That’s what intrigued me to make the brand name Kira – it fit perfectly, the theme, the concepts.
How are designs conceptualized and produced?
I spend hours looking at classic styles, and then having my own twist to them – having an eccentric way of presenting how I want to express the garment. For example, the classic denim jacket: I wanted to go with a classic piece that was fitted, cropped and tailored. I added the back panel to give it that taste, that expression of KIRA. And the little side bands, the little details and such, it contributes to that whole aesthetic of KIRA.
But basically: paper, pen, design, samples, revision samples, perfect it. That’s my process.
What is your favourite piece you’ve designed?
I would say the denim jacket, because it was my first piece. People fell in love with it and that kind of inspired me to keep creating, to create the whole collection. This jacket led to the Pure collection, which ultimately led to the Vile collection. So if it weren’t for this piece, the foundation, I wouldn’t be anywhere. I couldn’t think outside the box without this one.
What’s the guiding principle behind the KIRA brand? Is there a certain ethos you try to embody in the clothing?
My brand is influence by spirituality and the Universe, that’s what I’m really looking to create. Sacred Geometry, the Golden Ratio, I apply it to all the measurements of my garments. That’s why they look the way they do. The Golden Ratio was applied in ancient architecture: the Greeks, the Romans, in the Middle East. It’s applied in nature: how flowers grow, how seashells form, it’s applied to everything. So I apply that to the garments and that I think is different from what everyone else is doing; I don’t think anyone else has conceptualized on that yet.
The Cut By Kira website encompasses several different creative elements, including poetry and a visual lookbook. Why did you feel it was important to include these other forms of expression?
With my brand… I don’t want it to be about the selling, I don’t want it to be about the money, I want it to be about the art. I wanted to capitalize on that. So in every instance where I express my brand, it has to be about the art, it has about the visuals, it has to be about the context.
CREATING, COLLABORATING, LEARNING
What do you look for in your collaborators?
Their portfolio’s the first thing, and if they get it. I’ll show them images related to what I want to conceptualize, I ask them questions, and they have the right answers. If they show me the right work – the test shots and the experiments –and my gut feels right, if I feel chemistry between the artist and myself. we’ll get along, we’ll collaborate and the work comes out phenomenal.
What is the best part of running your own business?
The fact that I did it on my own and I got to this stage where I am now – it’s unbelievable, it’s surreal. That feeling of accomplishment, of greatness, that’s what I aim to strive for.
What is one of the biggest lessons or stumbling blocks you’ve had when designing the line?
In the last two years I’ve learned so much, made many mistakes. The biggest one would be having a big heart, and thinking that others have the same kind of that heart you do. You trust someone just to be betrayed, just to have them take advantage of that trust.
What are the biggest sacrifices you’ve made for KIRA thus far?
In order to create a business, one must make sacrifices. The major one, I would say, is loneliness. And… a lot of things like money, family, friends; you give up a lot to see what you want in your heart, you know? I think that’s necessary, it’s absolutely necessary.
What would be your advice to anyone looking to start their own line?
Don’t hesitate, just do it. Don’t plan it, if it feels right and you want to do it, just fucking do it.
First tool he used to start creating: A standard pencil.
Fellow contemporary brands coming out of Canada he loves, respects and admires:
Tame Toronto: “One of my favourite brands, a streetwear contemporary menswear brand – he’s actually a really good friend of mine – just his energy, his creativity, I love that brand.”
Overalls: “Another one’s from my good friend out in Vancouver. Classic overall-style fits, but he’s killing it with the classic silhouettes, and he’s making cargo pants, he’s making distressed… He’s doing so much with a classic silhouette, and that just impresses me because that’s his concept, that’s his niche and he’s killing it with that.
Favourite Toronto spots:
Venue and Workspace; East Room, 50 Carroll St
Bar + Café; Odin, 514 King St E.
Restaurant; Sotto Sotto, 120 Avenue Rd
Restaurant; Bar Isabel, 797 College St
Restaurant; Home of the Brave, 589 King St W.
Nightclub; Lost & Found, 577 King St W.