Incorporating traditional cultures into fashion can be a loaded endeavour. What sets local label Hardihood Clothing Company apart from those who turn cultures into disposable trends is the way it integrates source material into its aesthetic and philosophy.
In an interview at the Straight offices, Vancouver-born and -raised designer and creative director Angus Wong explains that the inspiration for the screen-printed imagery on Hardihood’s line of men’s shirts and hoodies (sold at stores such as Below the Belt, Brooklyn Clothing Company, J2, and The Men’s Club) came from the Tibetan Buddhist family of Queena Yan (also a designer and creative director for Hardihood). Wong, a third-year industrial-design student at Emily Carr University, formed the company with Yan, Eric Lam, and Wong’s uncle Howard Yang in 2006. Friends Lam and Yang invited Yan, a Vancouver Community College fashion-design graduate, and Wong, a Capilano College studio-arts-program grad, to collaborate with them.
Wong explains that Yan’s mother is a wholesaler of Tibetan Buddhist items. “Queena’s mom supplies statues and tapestries and trinkets of that sort, so going to her warehouse where she sells her things was definitely a monumental step into our development.”
The label’s logo combines the eternal knot—one of the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism—with the H in Hardihood. “It’s very similar to the Celtic knots, where there’s no beginning and no end,” Wong says.
Like the union of dualities symbolized by the endless knot, Hardihood Clothing synthesizes eastern and western influences. Hardihood is an Old English word meaning bravery. While bravado certainly fits into the hip-hop sensibility of streetwear, Wong points out that it also reflects Buddhist ideologies. “Buddhism has a lot of strong iconography. They are all meant to protect the Buddha and other aspects of life….We felt that the strong symbolism and strength and honour that it takes to protect the Buddha or protect what your job is…tied in really well.”
Wong adds that “another derivative of what hardihood actually means is the willingness to do what others will not.” The company’s slogan, which he says has been misinterpreted sometimes, also reflects this idea. “ I am what you’re not,” Wong explains, means “the uniqueness of an individual”.
Many items in Hardihood’s spring-summer 2009 collection (which range from $80 for T-shirts to $175 for jackets) have the slogan emblazoned upon them. On the blue and white cotton V-neck Skull V Tee and the Signature Crest Tee, the slogan is screen-printed in silver foil on the back. One of the most popular designs, Wong says, is the Smoke V Tee, with the eternal knot reversed out in white against black smoke. A first for the label’s lineup is the black polyester Lotus Track Jacket with lambskin stripes. The back flaunts a black gel screen-print design of the Hardihood H on a lotus, where Buddhist deities usually appear seated, flanked by floral elements.
On the Signature Crest Tee, the Hardihood logo appears in a crestlike design surrounded by crowns and staffs (“They’re our version of some of the symbols you would see on thangkas [tapestries] and other Tibetan art as well”), and happy skulls. Instead of representing death, these skulls are positive, life-affirming icons. “Because of the fact that the happy skulls are found everywhere pretty much in the Tibetan culture,” Wong says, “we adapted the skull in an urban essence.”
Explanations at www.hardihoodclothing.com help to teach shoppers what the images mean. “In our past season, we even went to the extra step where our hangtags actually had a checklist…we manually just checked off some of the symbols that were found on the clothing,” Wong says.
Despite the political tensions surrounding Tibet, Wong asserts that the company’s efforts are apolitical. “What we are trying to do is trying to promote good design with some kind of theory or story behind it so the wearer has a little bit more to say than, ‘I just got this new T-shirt.’ ”