Highsnobiety

Clara Jeon and Kenneth Loo are the founders of Chapter 2, an agency specializing in young designers. Among the brands they’ve helped turned into hyped household names? Rhuigi Villaseñor of RHUDE, Pyer Moss, and Reese Cooper. Their current roster includes Ev Bravado of WHO DECIDES WAR?, Toronto label making waves Mr. Saturday, and veteran skater-owned brand HUF.

The industry veterans have worked just about every facet of the public relations business, and as such know all about how the industry can be more toxic than helpful. They share their advice on how younger brands can find their voice, and why having social media clout is nowhere near as effective as knowing what you want to say through your brand.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Jian DeLeon: Chapter 2’s ethos is “be better,” something you’ve helped plenty of young brands and designers like Reese Cooper and RHUDE achieve. Why is it so important for you guys to work with up-and-coming labels?

Kenneth Loo: We started with the idea of supporting young emerging designers, a lot of them that we started off with were really close friends of ours. We have this belief that the cards were stacked against them to succeed. The responsibility to run these companies financially stably is really put on the shoulders of these young designers with small teams and sometimes very limited resources. And we saw the opportunity to really help them through that.

Both Clara and I had worked at other agencies before and we had seen the good and the bad of it. That was definitely something that we wanted to change as part of our approach in starting Chapter Two. I also think in a small way, we really thought that we could change the world.

Clara Jeon: We still very much work with young talent and young designers. The nature of that means you have to think outside the box. You can’t work within the confines of what is known, what’s comfortable, and what works for like, luxury brands that are predominantly white-owned or have white teams behind them. [These companies] are never going to have a sustainable business if that’s the formula that they try to emulate. You constantly have to figure out strategies that work for you. That’s very much something that’s reflected in the culture that we have.

What we wanted to do was really break free of a lot of the things that we saw as toxic. A lot of the things that we saw perpetuated a lot of the systems that we’re seeing come out now: things like racism and bigotry. I’ve been at brands where I wasn’t allowed to loan to a Black actress but in the same email, I’m being asked to loan to someone from Gossip Girl. To be honest, it’s a mind fuck being in fashion, because you’re supposed to be a reflection of what’s happening, but at the same time it’s incredibly slow to move in a lot of ways.

JD: In the age of “clout-chasing,” I think it’s dope that in addition to talented people like Ev Bravado who are getting all the right co-signs, you’re also working with brands like Mr. Saturday and TOMBOGO that don’t have what people would say is a “huge” following on social media. What do brands get wrong about follower counts and what really matters?

CJ: Quality trumps quantity always. I think this idea of clout-chasing is so prevalent and such a thing for many brands and designers — particularly in this space that we’re in. But a lot of the time, clout-chasing manifests itself as flexing online. And I think that’s a really cheap way to engage and try to get bigger audiences.

We’ve had a lot of conversations with our young designers, the ones who don’t have these huge social media followings who call us and ask: “What can we do? What kind of impact can we make? And how do we contribute to this conversation at the same time when audiences are listening?” I think you have to say things that are meaningful in a way that’s really authentic to you, you have to think of quality, and you have to think of how you’re going to say something in a way that’s true to you and the way that you’ve built your brand.

Stay tuned for new episodes of Vibe Check every Tuesday and Thursday.

Words by Jian DeLeon
Editorial Director

Jian DeLeon is the Editorial Director at Highsnobiety. He is based in New York.