Fashion meets Hip-Hop. Finland native Jari Kabongo made his way to the South Bronx to talk about his blossoming clothing line Naked Monkey Kings, the brand's correlation to the music industry and Hip Hop, memorable times at P.Diddy's Daddy House and future plans for NMK in 2014.
Sadly, there's tons of brands that come and go, and there's very few who have a chance to withstand the pressures of an evolving and flourishing fashion business, especially with the many [behind the scenes] kinks of running a biz, this can be a daunting task. Fairly new to the game, uprising clothing line, Naked Monkey Kings, has been blazing its way into the limelight within the Big Apple scene. After establishing themselves as a perennial brand back in March of 2013 at Daddy's House (for their first showcase), it appears as if skies are the limit for NMK, and with deals on the table with several big name artists, there's no arguing they're here to stay. We caught up with co-founder Jari Kabongo (before his traveling to Los Angeles for The Bank Sale Street-wear Trade Show) in the Bronx to discuss everything from the origin of the brand and its name, its Hip-Hop ties, influences and inspirations, the brand's biggest challenges, highlights, advice to up-and-comer designers, and what's next for the line. Get acquainted with the NMK regime:
When did you guys start your brand? And how did a unique name such as Naked Monkey Kings come about?
Naked Monkey Kings was established 2010 in Helsinki, Finland. Naked Monkey Kings is a satire of words that strike a nerve. Think about it this way, “Monkeys are never naked.’’ Me, I'm originally from Kongo, Africa; before moving to Finland at a young age, so the jungle-listic theme feels right at home with us.
How and if did your upbringing or surrounding neighborhoods and/or era mold you into the designer you are today? Do you personally think it crossed over into the NMK style?
Growing up in a small country such as Finland contributed a lot, if not all the way to how Naked Monkey Kings was created. NMK is all about promoting positivity and encouragement to take charge of your own life even if other people or even society as a whole tries to downgrade you. We would be lying if we said it was easy growing up where we did do to the fact of; always feeling a little bit different compared to the rest of the population because of our multi-ethnic backgrounds.
Considering all our success with Naked Monkey Kings Clothing, we’re happy that we did have to work harder and to fight for our right to follow our dreams, since at the end of the day, they have come true. It also taught us to be straightforward and clear in our actions. It shows in our designs and how we brand ourselves. NMK takes everything as a building opportunity to strengthen our image and being true to our mission. Naked Monkey Kings is a lifestyle.
Seeing as many brands, particularly in the fashion world draw inspiration from vintage to newer trends, uh, what were some lines or designers that inspired your style of clothing for NMK?
Naked Monkey Kings draws inspiration vastly through the golden age of Hip-Hop [aka the 90’s], and we are big music lovers and that’s why a lot of our items are motivated by old school hip hop culture. For example, our M.W.A tees. Quality and simplicity is very important to us, so in order to ensure that our followers are taken care of, we hope to provide them with a great garment that will last the test of time.
What has been some of the biggest challenges for the brand considering you're an up and coming line?
This journey is a constant learning process for us and we take it all in without being afraid to take risks, with that being said we feel that the biggest challenges so far have been creating awareness with our audience since we are a fairly new movement in the United States.
What has been a highlight for NMK since you started?
The biggest highlight for Naked Monkey Kings so far has been our first showcase fashion event at Daddy’s House/ Diddy’s Lounge last March. It was an incredible experience and the reception we received was amazing. Wyclef Jean showed us lots of love as well, and at one point he was rocking our stuff heavy at the event. But, we would like to thank everyone that came out that night--it was epic. Also, special thanks to Bow Wow's DJ, DJ Jus. Great dude. All in all, shout out to Bad Boy for the opportunity that day!
Where do you see yourselves in the next five to ten years as a line and who are people you want to work in terms of the industry?
There’s no way but up from here, the sky’s the limit for NMK Clothing, we’re pushing hard to succeed and we feel that in the next 5 years we will continue to grow and evolve to the next stage. At the moment we would like to work with more or less indie to up-and-coming artists that embody the Naked Monkey Kings image and are a complement to our swag. Basically, anyone who respects the NMK movement would be an amazing fit for us. We’re always hungry for more at NMK.
What’s next for NMK? What should we look out for, such as new things—when should we expect that?
At the moment we’re working on various seasonal collections, and putting the final touches on our short documentary film about the Naked Monkey Kings movement, which can be expected sometime this year.
Lastly, what's some advice you would give to an inner city kid who may have the same dreams and aspirations to jump-start their own brand such as you?
Always believe in yourself, fashion is art and art is your vision.