Tony Wong In Depth Interview

Tony Wong In Depth Interview
Words by Alan Ng & Jenkin Au
Photography by Nico Mak

Why the name WrongWroks and what is the concept behind it?
At the beginning, I just called myself Tony Wong, my real name, but there’s so many Tony Wong’s out there. Even in the same class I go to, there will be people named Tony Wong. I figured my name is too common – it’s crazy. I then thought about what to do to my name. One day I thought about putting the R inside Wong. You know how Chinese people say wrong? They say Wong! Then I started calling myself Tony Wrong – I thought it was fun. Then I thought about naming my studio and you know back then how everyone went with the “–works” after their name? I thought WrongWorks is cool but it’s not wrong enough you know? So I misspelled it to WrongWroks. It actually sounds like WrongWroks (as in “rocks”)! I think that’s fun! Wrong Rocks!
Tell us about the connection between WrongWroks and your life.
I am a workaholic. Other than sleeping, I am working all the time. My average sleeping time is 3AM and I wake up around 9AM, I sleep around 6 hours. I also like to play sports but other than that it’s just sleep and work. I really like working. Recently since I have been working on the tasks at hand, I have been lacking on the design aspects of my life, so I have to start to hire more people to assist me because there’s just too much work. I am actually behind on a few projects that need to be done but they are not complete yet. When you talk about the life – I really like designing things, even when I am doing nothing connected to work. I still like reading magazines connected to what I do – see what can inspire me. I really like the WrongWroks life.
What magazines do you read?
I actually don’t really like to read design magazines. Even in school, I remember a teacher saying that if we are learning design, and everyone’s reading design magazines – the outcome of your work will be the same. From the start, I’ve always tried to avoid reading design magazines – I read gossip or anything else. That inspires me. I think that dynamic works the other way.
It’s true, I call it information incest.
Yea, it’s more interesting. Less predictable.
Where do you think you will be today if you were admitted to the University of British Columbia (UBC) instead of going to Emily Carr?
I have no idea, because after not getting into UBC, I didn’t enrol to Emily Carr right away – I didn’t even know about that school. To be honest, I figured that university material is very challenging. I had no idea what they are talking about!
(Everyone laughs)
I was talking this course in math called Stat?
Yes, statistics.
No fucking idea – the whole lecture I had no idea what they were talking about. (Tony’s jaw drops) My friend and I had no idea what was happening – so we left. It’s like they were talking to us in alien language. My concept of twisting ideas has already started at this point. Back in high school, I remember helping a church do a bookmark. Back then, internet and computers weren’t as powerful. Back then, you guys were still pretty young, eh? I already started using the yellow page icon and converted it that image to Jesus Christ. That was the first twist I had ever done. A lot of my ideas spark because I had mistaken something for what they were and I thought this thing was that. When I first saw the yellow page icon, I thought it looked like Jesus so I redrew it when I went home. A lot of my ideas are because I mistaken something for what they are and redraw them in the way I see it A lot of my ideas I come up because of reading things by mistake. That’s how a lot of my concepts come to be.
Once you went to Emily Carr, you have experienced a lot of different pop art and there have been some that really drew your attention, Andy Warhol being one of them. How has he inspired your work and life?
I think the things he talked about are very true. I think some of the things I do now is similar to what he does. A lot of times the artwork he has done, people don’t think they are art. Like, why do you have to print a [picture of] Campbell soup? People didn’t get it back then. When I go shopping, the packaging of various products really draws my attention. I think they are very cool. It really amazes me – the repetition of the same colourful products all lined up. Andy turned that into art. People back then argued that wasn’t even art. People think he didn’t do anything; he just reprinted the Campbell soup can images. Similar to my designs, some people don’t agree on them. My things are kind of tricky in the sense that it’s either you like it a lot or you don’t. Some people think it’s not even cool, it’s just the back of Doraemon – they don’t get it and they never will. It’s really a “yes” or “no” thing to WrongWroks. When I first saw Andy Warhol I thought his work was sick. I saw his Campbell soup designs and thought it was very cool. I don’t know why. There’s no meaning on the Campbell soup designs. When people asked him why he did it, he said, “Because it just looks great.” I think that’s really truthful and cool.
What is your first shirt? Describe it to our readers.
“WHAT IF IT JUST LOOKS COOL”
It’s basically a collage design that looks cool. When I first started out, I actually discovered that I am really good at designing things that sell – I don’t know why. I built a collage and people thought it was wicked and that was the shirt that made it into El Kartel. This first shirt sold 80 units in a snap. Nowhere and no tag, it just looked cool! And it sold well!
Exactly what inspired you to print on tees?
Well I first started printing on FedEx boxed and people really liked them and I would put it away. My friend would ask me why I was printing on FedEx boxes. FedEx people will get pissed off, right? Yeah. What if I transform it onto tees or paper? I choose to start with tees. I started because I think tees are a very good medium to sell.
Tell us about your philosophy on imperfection.
The influence of the digital world including computers means mistakes rarely happen. The computer is always correct; we can always print the same thing over and over again. What stands out? If everything is right, and something wrong is here, then you spot it! I want people to spot me. I am a very careless guy. For example, when I print t-shirts, I don’t know why but ink bleeds here and there – it’s never perfect. When I first started printing shirts, I really wanted to make a correct t-shirt, but I always failed. Then I discovered it. Fuck! This is me, this is cool.
(Tony laughs)
Mistake is cool! Don’t you think it’s tricky? Suppose there is a story, all the words of the text is telling the story but when something is a typo, you will spot it out right away. Why don’t you spot the right and why do you always criticize the wrong? The world is like that. Also, mistakes only happen once. You cannot purposely make a mistake happen again. Say you walk on the streets and trip, you can’t pretend to accidentally trip. Well, you can but then it won’t be a mistake. I am not saying tripping is cool but you get the point. A lot of people buy this: you cannot repeat mistakes, it happened already. I am not saying “Wrong is Right” but this is really just me. Growing up as a kid, I will never erase or use whiteout. When I make a mistake, I don’t fix it, I just cross it out. When you are writing something, and make a mistake, if you cross it out, going back you will be able to remember that this event happened.
There is a clear distinction between your old artwork and your new designs. Some would say that your old designs are more raw and street, whereas your new designs are more playful. What caused this transition, and will we ever see the old style again?
The past artwork I’ve done? Yes, I can go back to that, but it won’t sell. They aren’t that commercial. When I play with art, I can do whatever I want, but when I make t-shirts I can’t. People look closely at the quality and printing work done on tees and if they spot a mistake they will want another one. It’s very hard to do pure art on shirts.
When did you decide to make this transition?
No, not really, I don’t think I went through a transition. As a designer, I also have to think about the consumers – people that buy my tees. It’s very challenging. You have to plan it out very well. Once you put it up in the market, it’s either a hit or miss. If it fails, you can’t even execute your concept. It’s not really making a transition, but a process in which I’ve learned through the past years of designs I’ve done.
What are some of the differences that WrongWroks has experienced with the American market versus the Asian market?
Even when it first started out, the website itself already had traffic rates of 80% from Asia. It’s funny because as people know, Asians live in all different parts of the world. The places that surprises me the most is with traffic coming from Brazil, Argentina, and even Africa! People buy my Doraemon t-shirts in Africa! I don’t even know how they even know about it. The main fans of WrongWroks are mostly Asians. Believe it or not, WrongWroks does not sell in Hong Kong. The reason behind that is because Hong Kong is a place that has a lot of counterfeit issues. My products are compared to these counterfeits out there. Items like Comme des Garçons for example, that product has been counterfeited a million of times. If it’s a fake, people can see its counterfeit right away. It’s printed badly and the quality is horrible. Counterfeits are very different than WrongWroks as my products have a twist on the actual design itself. My Comme des Garçons inspired shirt, the one I added the eye on the hearts – it has a twist. If the counterfeit version added the eyes, it won’t be Comme des Garçons anymore, would it? Fake will not do that. In a place like Hong Kong, people would relate WrongWroks to fakes and counterfeit. The consumers there would also only buy what the magazines tell them to buy. Magazines tell them Supreme is cool, they go buy it. Everyone wants the box tee, that’s it.
Is there tension and trouble between WrongWroks and the original companies that you take the ideas from?
DoraBob… On the internet you see a lot of DoraBob and on the internet there’s a lot of knock offs and twists everywhere, on both the original Doaremon and Spongebob characters. Companies really don’t care about these designs unless it has an item that creates a threat on them. This happened first time to Dorabob in Taiwan, they actually started to catch people. They sent out spies to arrest stores that were selling DoraBob. DoraBob is simply Doraemon plus Spongebob. You know Doaremon has a sister right? She looks really similar to DoraBob himself, in Taiwan; they also gave a unique DoraBob nick name: “Taiwanese Little Doraemon” making it sound really cute. In North America, people also thought this is one of the original Doraemon. At that moment, the company in charge of Doraemon has felt a direct threat to their brand’s image. Then they started catching people. Very intense, eh? So the whole Taiwan knew about “Taiwanese Little Doraemon”. So people can’t sell it officially, but people would still sell them. Funny thing is, the Taiwan Doraemon director’s son actually really likes DoraBob. One day, his son went to buy a DoraBob shirt and wore it at home. So this guy was really angry and started to arrest people selling this shirt. Spies going to stores, people getting arrested and so in Taiwan, DoraBob is ceased. Why sell a shirt and get caught? Maybe people still sell ‘em? Who knows? Well, that was the one and only case that ever had a tension involved. DoraBob has also made an impact in the mix culture of characters in Taiwan. You go to the most popular shopping district there and you can see a lot of designs that are closely related to my work. I saw “Pikachu x Doraemon”, “Pikachu x DoraBob” etc, anything you can imagine is mixed! People kept on putting things together.
What do you have to do with these counterfeit and copies of WrongWroks?
I am fine. I can’t do anything. What are you going do?
There are too many. Everybody steals right?
Yea!
Are these twists in the original concepts how you see them or are they your interpretations on art? Did these designs arise from love or from hate of the original brand?
I actually don’t like Spongebob. Doraemon – I am alright with. Growing up in an Asian background, you can’t dislike Doraemon, but I am not super crazy about him. Actually, the inspiration of this character came from my mother. During that time after the Doraemon adidas collection, I had to move on and think of a new character. First off, Doraemon isn’t my own character and there’s also no face on it. I was home and this just so happened. Well, at home, I had a Doraemon mail holder and I also had a Spongebob toy at home. I was working on designing a new character and I was stuck. My mom walked by and said, “Really? Just put that on his face and it’ll work!”
(Tony laughs)
That’s it! Actually all my designs come from a story like that. I believe that everything is created has a story about it. I like telling that story to my fans as well. A lot of my inspirations are sparked from other people and events. Its fun you know?
Has your pursuit of twists actually twisted your interpretation of real life?
Not really. It’s my life. For example, for Superbored, we’ve been thinking about a store name for a long time. It’s actually inspired from Khalil Fong’s album “Orange Moon”. There’s no orange moon – it’s not real! It’s fun to take a word and change it to your own style – it makes it a lot more interesting. That’s why sometimes I don’t like working with partners. Before, I use to work for big design companies and they wouldn’t take risks. I take risks on my designs. Let’s take the store front of Brag Garden for example; nobody will ever cover half of the store front. When I bring my friends to the preview of my store, they say, “Wow, people will never find your store!” I tell ‘em, “If you know, then you come and if not, then you don’t need to come!” If I have the chance, I would like to take the risk. If it really doesn’t work out, then its OK, I like to try. Did you see the sign outside Superbored? It says “Superbored” and points to the store. Trying things are good. “We are young – we can try!” But so far, touch (knock on) wood, I’ve been doing well. It’s like people that come in to Superbored and go like, “What is Superbored?” It’s really funny. That’s my interpretation of real life, things that are risky and fun, just like WrongWroks. “I like to play with people’s mind”
Without the internet and the growth of the digital age, do you think your brand will be as successful as it is today?
It really helps. Without the internet, I don’t even think I would survive. With the internet you can start an online store right away. I don’t do that much advertising because it’s so expensive and you are putting too much money and trying too hard to brand your brand. I think you are just letting people know that no body knows you when you advertise and I don’t think it works. I think a lot of brands today, they pay money to put their brands up on known sites and think they’ll be a one hit wonder. That doesn’t work anymore because consumers are getting smarter and they understand that this concept is being played out.
What advice would you give to starters stepping into the industry?
Do something that no one has done before!
What was the biggest challenge in starting up WrongWroks?
Patience, lot’s of patience.
Do you still consider your style fresh?
I think it’s alright. Currently, I think I am too busy. With all the projects in hand and with a new store opening, it’s been too busy. I am taking care of too much, which in return takes away my time of my designing aspect of my life.  One designer thinking of what to do all day is a waste. What I do is I live my life, and I think of ideas very suddenly. Like for the “Calbee Chips” character, I thought about it when I was eating chips on the air plane. I think it’s about hitting things suddenly and executing that concept. But I’ve been too busy lately. I am trying to make my stores more stable first, hire more people to assist my store and the brands I manage. Then I will be able to go back and come up with more fresh designs. For now, I think my designs are just alright.
Well then, compared to before, how much thought and effort do you put into each and every single design?
Before, for sure, because I really had nothing to do back in the days. Everyone thinks making a T-Shirt is easy but it’s hard to maintain. If you like the shirts, then buy it and I never force people to buy it. Have you ever been to Comme des Garçons shop? The sales there never talk to you. Of course, if you talk to them they’ll help you. I saw an interview with them and they said, “Good things, you don’t have to sell.” My store is nice – if you need help I’ll help you. Good stuff doesn’t have to sell, it can just be there.
How was your life as a kid? Was there a part growing up as a child that sparked WrongWroks to come to be?
When I was a kid at elementary school, I’ve already started helping people draw characters to make extra cash. People don’t like to draw stuff and hand it in and I kept making random characters and people paid me! Then, they handed my designs in for marks. I am not really that artistic, but I will look at comic books and redraw the things that I like. Do you guys do that too? Now it’s a lot different, before there wasn’t much to do right? I think that’s actually better. Once we have a computer, we always go online, surf on internet, and it’s not bad but for example when you are in a store, when there’s a computer, you might be busy checking stuff online, but when there’s no computer, you will chat, talk to each other, and ideas will spark. I think that’s better. It’s like in Brag Garden office where people are always working and no one talks because of computers…
What was your friend’s first impressions when you first started out the brand?
[My] Friends actually don’t really support me. At the start, they think there’s nothing special about it. A lot of my friends are actually not that encouraging.
At times, it’s same for us.
Yea I think its generally in the Chinese culture that it’s like this.
Anything new and different, they question about it, you know? They think you should follow the norm, get a degree in university and find a proper job.
Exactly, they usually go like, “Oh, whatever.”
Yeah, at first I would show my magazine to people and they will go check it out and put it at the back of their minds.
To be honest, when I first saw your mag, I did that too. As it developed over time, I got a different sense of it. First off, the photos are very nicely done, they are excellent! Also the quality of content in your magazine is very thoughtful. Who can’t make a magazine? First time looking at justalilhype!, I thought it would just be another magazine out there, but it stands out. Looking at various interviews, just by looking at the questions already, you can see if these guys have put their effort into it. Asking stupid questions is a waste of time and people will know if you are writing stupid shit. There are lots of magazines out there, ones that are printed too, and online – even more! People always asked me how to create a successful brand. Banksy once said, “Everyone wants to be famous. To take a dump you need to eat something. It’s like everyone wants to be famous and don’t do anything to get famous. You have to eat something in order to take a dump.” Haha, it’s true! That was what Banksy said.
At first, I also really wanted to be famous, but that’s not a good approach. You should focus hard on what you are doing and work hard. Don’t worry about anything else, just keep going. Doing a magazine is all about effort and hard work. Let’s say two years later, you plan to shut down the mag. It will always be part of your history. Then you will go back and be like you’ve worked on a great project with Jenkin, Jarvis, Nico and Alan, it’s something memorable. It won’t go to waste. If it’s good, go forward – at least you tried! Many people think of ideas, but do not proceed with it. Put your hard work and effort into whatever you are doing and people will eventually discover you.
What did you do after graduation?
That was a long time ago. After graduation, I went to Hong Kong and worked for around nine months and was doing alright. In Hong Kong I helped stars do contracted CD covers, but it’s really not fun – you might think helping CHETLAM create CD Cover is fun, but it’s actually a lot of hard work. It’s really fun for him because he is selling a CD and people think it’s all CHETLAM. On the design side, it’s hard. You are always working under someone but also under pressure. In the office I work at there’s a line just for faxing resumes too. If you don’t work for them, a lot of people out there would want to. If you can’t produce good shit, people will tell you to get out! Just like that! Everyone wants be famous and everyone wants to work for Chet Lam – it really frightens me – and always see people come in to do interviews. Well during that time, I got the job and I am in the position, its all good, but I don’t want to be under that environment. So I gave up on that job.
What was your life like coming back from Hong Kong?
After I gave up that job, I think it took about a year or so before my art got recognized. It’s different from Hong Kong. In Vancouver, back then, there’s not much to do. Go to Parker Place everyday? I had nothing to do and always stayed home. My parents would tell me to go find a job and go work. You can’t because when you work it’s hard to design. I like to put myself in a risky positions at times, so I need to work harder and faster. During that time there was a long period where I had nothing to do. So that’s obviously any parent would say that, you know? When you are staying at home and ask for money…
What was your most memorable moment of WrongWroks?
At the end of 2006 – Colette’s email. It said, “We want to have your stuff in our store.” I read that email many times! I just couldn’t believe it! I still remember that moment; I was actually in LA traveling. I was selling some of my shirts in LA and then I suddenly received that email. I just couldn’t believe it because I always remembered that Colette as a very crazy store and all the products that they carry are really recognized. At that moment, well, I thought if Colette likes my stuff, then WrongWroks should be okay right?
What did friends back then say now? Have their  view on WrongWroks changed?
They didn’t say much. They just go like “Oh, not bad!” That’s fine, I understand. I won’t go get them back or anything.
What do you have to say to people that don’t like WrongWroks style?
Nothing. There are always people out there that dislike you. Even KAWS and even Takashi Murakami have people that dislike them. As being the subject of all this, you just got to be open. At first I didn’t really appreciate negative feedbacks but it’s always there. At first, you might want to try to find out “Why people don’t like my stuff” but there are always people that don’t like you. [With] Every artist, there are a lot stages. First step is to find a style, style is cool, and also not because you can’t get out of the style that you have chosen. A&F shirts will always be A&F shirts – people can recognize them. Style is cool and not because you are running in a circle. My stuff has no style. People now recognize me as something that’s not quite right. People see things that are wrong and people will think its WrongWroks. It allows me to do a wide range of designs. There’s actually no style so I choose not to have a style. I like to take the counter side of things sometimes. Well, as I said earlier “Just try you know? If it doesn’t work then try again.”
What’s your dream or the final destination that you would like to take the brand WrongWroks to?
Actually, when Colette wanted to sell my stuff, there was an art show with a bunch of famous artists together and they held an exhibition. That year, my art displayed there was compared to the one that is set up by KAWS. We both did a fortune cat. Back then a lot of people complained that I copied him. Then, Zara the Colette manager told them that Tony submitted it first for the ‘07 exhibition. When you put the two drawings together. Mine is actually cuter. When I went to that show, I felt very happy. I told myself, “Even if I died that moment,  I made it happen for WrongWroks!”. It felt good. Now, my goal is not really about making a lot of money, in the future, when people look back. I want to be apart of the history of design, and people will understand my philosophy of WrongWroks.
The Asian aspect of WrongWroks’ designs – are they planned?
Well I didn’t purposely plan that but those are connected to my life. For example, sometimes things just so happen in life. For example the baseball jacket coming up. I really want to make a baseball jacket so I made it. Mona Lisa, I really like that idea and many people add mustaches on her for twists, but the eye is what the famous drawing is actually most talked about thing, as people say the eyes follow you. So I ripped her eyes off, but that’s not good enough. So I put the supreme tee on top. But then there’s the Supreme logo, so I ripped the logo off and it was a one time execution thing – that’s cool. People ask me why the ripped part is black and I tell them it’s because the scanner is black. That’s how that design came to be. None of my designs are really planned.
What are your hobbies and interests?
Badminton! WrongWroks is coming up with a badminton tee.  I don’t really watch movies and TV but I really like working because I am doing things I like.
Does traveling inspire your designs?
Many people think that with the internet, you can find out information across the world. But it’s different. You must go to the actual place to truly experience its culture. I travel and I am able to spot a lot of inspirations when I do it. I like traveling, yeah. Vancouver is kind of boring, you know? Yeah – Superbored, Haha.
What’s your favorite traveling spot?
Taiwan! First off, there are lots of very good food. When I go there, I have a lot of meetings and I go through many different meals a day, in small proportions of course. 12:00PM, 1:30PM, 3:00PM, 5:00PM, non stop eating and all of the food is very good! Eat and shit, shit and eat. And Taiwanese girls are the prettiest in the world. Japanese, no more. Taiwan girls are really pretty and really friendly!
When do you think you would like to just go back to being just “Tony Wong”?
I don’t know. I will not sell t-shirts my whole life, but I can’t tell you when I will stop. I look the same since when I was 20 – t-shirts and shorts and now, I even shaved my head. I shaved my head for two to three years. Before, I didn’t. It looks OK as well. I can’t really picture it though. That’s why I am expanding, doing things I like. HYPE is never long lasting. So I want to make WrongWroks something that’s in everyday life. I hope one day WrongWroks will become a culture. For example, McDonalds is not HYPE, but it’s always HYPE! It’s not like a legend. You don’t really pay attention to it but it’s always there and it’s everywhere!
Tell us something that people don’t know about WrongWroks.
I have problem ordering food. A lot of times, when I hit the drive through window, I will forget what I want to order and I will just talk some random shit. Wendy’s & Burger King are all same to me. So Angela one time told me to go get a whopper, Whopper is A&W right?
No, Burger King!
Oh really? Haha, I was at the Wendy’s Drive Through window trying to order Whopper… They said they didn’t have it.
“Why? Really?”
“We don’t make Whoppers here.”
“Really? Well you usually do that!”
“No, we never do Whopper here.”
Then I was like, “Okay, just give me a burger.” When I was paying, the people there said I was funny. Then I said, “Yeah,” then went home. I told them that they don’t sell Whoppers anymore, and then Angela said, “OF COURSE Wendy’s don’t have Whoppers!”
That’s pretty funny, did any other incidents like this happen?
One time while at KFC, there’s an item called Pop Corn chicken right? Well I read it wrong and thought it said, “Pop Corn Children” and there was a parent holding his kid beside me. So I went up to the counter…
“Can I have a Pop Corn Children please?”
“What!?”
The guy besides me took his kid further away from me and I pointed to the menu, “Pop Corn Children!”
“There’s no such thing! It’s Chicken!” It was pretty funny.
Can you tell our readers about WrongWroks’ love life?
Good things to come.
What is HYPE?
I think if you ask me personally, WrongWroks is HYPE. In general, I don’t think anything is HYPE. Seriously, like anyone walking or coming in, if they don’t know what it is, then it’s not HYPE. If you know it, then its HYPE.

Why the name WrongWroks and what is the concept behind it?

At the beginning, I just called myself Tony Wong, my real name, but there’s so many Tony Wong’s out there. Even in the same class I go to, there will be people named Tony Wong. I figured my name is too common – it’s crazy. I then thought about what to do to my name. One day I thought about putting the R inside Wong. You know how Chinese people say wrong? They say Wong! Then I started calling myself Tony Wrong – I thought it was fun. Then I thought about naming my studio and you know back then how everyone went with the “–works” after their name? I thought WrongWorks is cool but it’s not wrong enough you know? So I misspelled it to WrongWroks. It actually sounds like WrongWroks (as in “rocks”)! I think that’s fun! Wrong Rocks!

Tell us about the connection between WrongWroks and your life.

I am a workaholic. Other than sleeping, I am working all the time. My average sleeping time is 3AM and I wake up around 9AM, I sleep around 6 hours. I also like to play sports but other than that it’s just sleep and work. I really like working. Recently since I have been working on the tasks at hand, I have been lacking on the design aspects of my life, so I have to start to hire more people to assist me because there’s just too much work. I am actually behind on a few projects that need to be done but they are not complete yet. When you talk about the life – I really like designing things, even when I am doing nothing connected to work. I still like reading magazines connected to what I do – see what can inspire me. I really like the WrongWroks life.

What magazines do you read?

I actually don’t really like to read design magazines. Even in school, I remember a teacher saying that if we are learning design, and everyone’s reading design magazines – the outcome of your work will be the same. From the start, I’ve always tried to avoid reading design magazines – I read gossip or anything else. That inspires me. I think that dynamic works the other way.

It’s true, I call it information incest.

Yea, it’s more interesting. Less predictable.

Where do you think you will be today if you were admitted to the University of British Columbia (UBC) instead of going to Emily Carr?

I have no idea, because after not getting into UBC, I didn’t enrol to Emily Carr right away – I didn’t even know about that school. To be honest, I figured that university material is very challenging. I had no idea what they are talking about!

(Everyone laughs)

I was talking this course in math called Stat?

Yes, statistics.

No fucking idea – the whole lecture I had no idea what they were talking about. (Tony’s jaw drops) My friend and I had no idea what was happening – so we left. It’s like they were talking to us in alien language. My concept of twisting ideas has already started at this point. Back in high school, I remember helping a church do a bookmark. Back then, internet and computers weren’t as powerful. Back then, you guys were still pretty young, eh? I already started using the yellow page icon and converted it that image to Jesus Christ. That was the first twist I had ever done. A lot of my ideas spark because I had mistaken something for what they were and I thought this thing was that. When I first saw the yellow page icon, I thought it looked like Jesus so I redrew it when I went home. A lot of my ideas are because I mistaken something for what they are and redraw them in the way I see it A lot of my ideas I come up because of reading things by mistake. That’s how a lot of my concepts come to be.

Once you went to Emily Carr, you have experienced a lot of different pop art and there have been some that really drew your attention, Andy Warhol being one of them. How has he inspired your work and life?

I think the things he talked about are very true. I think some of the things I do now is similar to what he does. A lot of times the artwork he has done, people don’t think they are art. Like, why do you have to print a [picture of] Campbell soup? People didn’t get it back then. When I go shopping, the packaging of various products really draws my attention. I think they are very cool. It really amazes me – the repetition of the same colourful products all lined up. Andy turned that into art. People back then argued that wasn’t even art. People think he didn’t do anything; he just reprinted the Campbell soup can images. Similar to my designs, some people don’t agree on them. My things are kind of tricky in the sense that it’s either you like it a lot or you don’t. Some people think it’s not even cool, it’s just the back of Doraemon – they don’t get it and they never will. It’s really a “yes” or “no” thing to WrongWroks. When I first saw Andy Warhol I thought his work was sick. I saw his Campbell soup designs and thought it was very cool. I don’t know why. There’s no meaning on the Campbell soup designs. When people asked him why he did it, he said, “Because it just looks great.” I think that’s really truthful and cool.

What is your first shirt? Describe it to our readers.

“WHAT IF IT JUST LOOKS COOL”

It’s basically a collage design that looks cool. When I first started out, I actually discovered that I am really good at designing things that sell – I don’t know why. I built a collage and people thought it was wicked and that was the shirt that made it into El Kartel. This first shirt sold 80 units in a snap. Nowhere and no tag, it just looked cool! And it sold well!

Exactly what inspired you to print on tees?

Well I first started printing on FedEx boxed and people really liked them and I would put it away. My friend would ask me why I was printing on FedEx boxes. FedEx people will get pissed off, right? Yeah. What if I transform it onto tees or paper? I choose to start with tees. I started because I think tees are a very good medium to sell.

Tell us about your philosophy on imperfection.

The influence of the digital world including computers means mistakes rarely happen. The computer is always correct; we can always print the same thing over and over again. What stands out? If everything is right, and something wrong is here, then you spot it! I want people to spot me. I am a very careless guy. For example, when I print t-shirts, I don’t know why but ink bleeds here and there – it’s never perfect. When I first started printing shirts, I really wanted to make a correct t-shirt, but I always failed. Then I discovered it. Fuck! This is me, this is cool.

(Tony laughs)

Mistake is cool! Don’t you think it’s tricky? Suppose there is a story, all the words of the text is telling the story but when something is a typo, you will spot it out right away. Why don’t you spot the right and why do you always criticize the wrong? The world is like that. Also, mistakes only happen once. You cannot purposely make a mistake happen again. Say you walk on the streets and trip, you can’t pretend to accidentally trip. Well, you can but then it won’t be a mistake. I am not saying tripping is cool but you get the point. A lot of people buy this: you cannot repeat mistakes, it happened already. I am not saying “Wrong is Right” but this is really just me. Growing up as a kid, I will never erase or use whiteout. When I make a mistake, I don’t fix it, I just cross it out. When you are writing something, and make a mistake, if you cross it out, going back you will be able to remember that this event happened.

There is a clear distinction between your old artwork and your new designs. Some would say that your old designs are more raw and street, whereas your new designs are more playful. What caused this transition, and will we ever see the old style again?

The past artwork I’ve done? Yes, I can go back to that, but it won’t sell. They aren’t that commercial. When I play with art, I can do whatever I want, but when I make t-shirts I can’t. People look closely at the quality and printing work done on tees and if they spot a mistake they will want another one. It’s very hard to do pure art on shirts.

When did you decide to make this transition?

No, not really, I don’t think I went through a transition. As a designer, I also have to think about the consumers – people that buy my tees. It’s very challenging. You have to plan it out very well. Once you put it up in the market, it’s either a hit or miss. If it fails, you can’t even execute your concept. It’s not really making a transition, but a process in which I’ve learned through the past years of designs I’ve done.

What are some of the differences that WrongWroks has experienced with the American market versus the Asian market?

Even when it first started out, the website itself already had traffic rates of 80% from Asia. It’s funny because as people know, Asians live in all different parts of the world. The places that surprises me the most is with traffic coming from Brazil, Argentina, and even Africa! People buy my Doraemon t-shirts in Africa! I don’t even know how they even know about it. The main fans of WrongWroks are mostly Asians. Believe it or not, WrongWroks does not sell in Hong Kong. The reason behind that is because Hong Kong is a place that has a lot of counterfeit issues. My products are compared to these counterfeits out there. Items like Comme des Garçons for example, that product has been counterfeited a million of times. If it’s a fake, people can see its counterfeit right away. It’s printed badly and the quality is horrible. Counterfeits are very different than WrongWroks as my products have a twist on the actual design itself. My Comme des Garçons inspired shirt, the one I added the eye on the hearts – it has a twist. If the counterfeit version added the eyes, it won’t be Comme des Garçons anymore, would it? Fake will not do that. In a place like Hong Kong, people would relate WrongWroks to fakes and counterfeit. The consumers there would also only buy what the magazines tell them to buy. Magazines tell them Supreme is cool, they go buy it. Everyone wants the box tee, that’s it.

Is there tension and trouble between WrongWroks and the original companies that you take the ideas from?

DoraBob… On the internet you see a lot of DoraBob and on the internet there’s a lot of knock offs and twists everywhere, on both the original Doaremon and Spongebob characters. Companies really don’t care about these designs unless it has an item that creates a threat on them. This happened first time to Dorabob in Taiwan, they actually started to catch people. They sent out spies to arrest stores that were selling DoraBob. DoraBob is simply Doraemon plus Spongebob. You know Doaremon has a sister right? She looks really similar to DoraBob himself, in Taiwan; they also gave a unique DoraBob nick name: “Taiwanese Little Doraemon” making it sound really cute. In North America, people also thought this is one of the original Doraemon. At that moment, the company in charge of Doraemon has felt a direct threat to their brand’s image. Then they started catching people. Very intense, eh? So the whole Taiwan knew about “Taiwanese Little Doraemon”. So people can’t sell it officially, but people would still sell them. Funny thing is, the Taiwan Doraemon director’s son actually really likes DoraBob. One day, his son went to buy a DoraBob shirt and wore it at home. So this guy was really angry and started to arrest people selling this shirt. Spies going to stores, people getting arrested and so in Taiwan, DoraBob is ceased. Why sell a shirt and get caught? Maybe people still sell ‘em? Who knows? Well, that was the one and only case that ever had a tension involved. DoraBob has also made an impact in the mix culture of characters in Taiwan. You go to the most popular shopping district there and you can see a lot of designs that are closely related to my work. I saw “Pikachu x Doraemon”, “Pikachu x DoraBob” etc, anything you can imagine is mixed! People kept on putting things together.

What do you have to do with these counterfeit and copies of WrongWroks?

I am fine. I can’t do anything. What are you going do?

There are too many. Everybody steals right?

Yea!

Are these twists in the original concepts how you see them or are they your interpretations on art? Did these designs arise from love or from hate of the original brand?

I actually don’t like Spongebob. Doraemon – I am alright with. Growing up in an Asian background, you can’t dislike Doraemon, but I am not super crazy about him. Actually, the inspiration of this character came from my mother. During that time after the Doraemon adidas collection, I had to move on and think of a new character. First off, Doraemon isn’t my own character and there’s also no face on it. I was home and this just so happened. Well, at home, I had a Doraemon mail holder and I also had a Spongebob toy at home. I was working on designing a new character and I was stuck. My mom walked by and said, “Really? Just put that on his face and it’ll work!”

(Tony laughs)

That’s it! Actually all my designs come from a story like that. I believe that everything is created has a story about it. I like telling that story to my fans as well. A lot of my inspirations are sparked from other people and events. Its fun you know?

Has your pursuit of twists actually twisted your interpretation of real life?

Not really. It’s my life. For example, for Superbored, we’ve been thinking about a store name for a long time. It’s actually inspired from Khalil Fong’s album “Orange Moon”. There’s no orange moon – it’s not real! It’s fun to take a word and change it to your own style – it makes it a lot more interesting. That’s why sometimes I don’t like working with partners. Before, I use to work for big design companies and they wouldn’t take risks. I take risks on my designs. Let’s take the store front of Brag Garden for example; nobody will ever cover half of the store front. When I bring my friends to the preview of my store, they say, “Wow, people will never find your store!” I tell ‘em, “If you know, then you come and if not, then you don’t need to come!” If I have the chance, I would like to take the risk. If it really doesn’t work out, then its OK, I like to try. Did you see the sign outside Superbored? It says “Superbored” and points to the store. Trying things are good. “We are young – we can try!” But so far, touch (knock on) wood, I’ve been doing well. It’s like people that come in to Superbored and go like, “What is Superbored?” It’s really funny. That’s my interpretation of real life, things that are risky and fun, just like WrongWroks. “I like to play with people’s mind”

Without the internet and the growth of the digital age, do you think your brand will be as successful as it is today?

It really helps. Without the internet, I don’t even think I would survive. With the internet you can start an online store right away. I don’t do that much advertising because it’s so expensive and you are putting too much money and trying too hard to brand your brand. I think you are just letting people know that no body knows you when you advertise and I don’t think it works. I think a lot of brands today, they pay money to put their brands up on known sites and think they’ll be a one hit wonder. That doesn’t work anymore because consumers are getting smarter and they understand that this concept is being played out.

What advice would you give to starters stepping into the industry?

Do something that no one has done before!

What was the biggest challenge in starting up WrongWroks?

Patience, lot’s of patience.

Do you still consider your style fresh?

I think it’s alright. Currently, I think I am too busy. With all the projects in hand and with a new store opening, it’s been too busy. I am taking care of too much, which in return takes away my time of my designing aspect of my life.  One designer thinking of what to do all day is a waste. What I do is I live my life, and I think of ideas very suddenly. Like for the “Calbee Chips” character, I thought about it when I was eating chips on the air plane. I think it’s about hitting things suddenly and executing that concept. But I’ve been too busy lately. I am trying to make my stores more stable first, hire more people to assist my store and the brands I manage. Then I will be able to go back and come up with more fresh designs. For now, I think my designs are just alright.

Well then, compared to before, how much thought and effort do you put into each and every single design?

Before, for sure, because I really had nothing to do back in the days. Everyone thinks making a T-Shirt is easy but it’s hard to maintain. If you like the shirts, then buy it and I never force people to buy it. Have you ever been to Comme des Garçons shop? The sales there never talk to you. Of course, if you talk to them they’ll help you. I saw an interview with them and they said, “Good things, you don’t have to sell.” My store is nice – if you need help I’ll help you. Good stuff doesn’t have to sell, it can just be there.

How was your life as a kid? Was there a part growing up as a child that sparked WrongWroks to come to be?

When I was a kid at elementary school, I’ve already started helping people draw characters to make extra cash. People don’t like to draw stuff and hand it in and I kept making random characters and people paid me! Then, they handed my designs in for marks. I am not really that artistic, but I will look at comic books and redraw the things that I like. Do you guys do that too? Now it’s a lot different, before there wasn’t much to do right? I think that’s actually better. Once we have a computer, we always go online, surf on internet, and it’s not bad but for example when you are in a store, when there’s a computer, you might be busy checking stuff online, but when there’s no computer, you will chat, talk to each other, and ideas will spark. I think that’s better. It’s like in Brag Garden office where people are always working and no one talks because of computers…

What was your friend’s first impressions when you first started out the brand?

[My] Friends actually don’t really support me. At the start, they think there’s nothing special about it. A lot of my friends are actually not that encouraging.

At times, it’s same for us.

Yea I think its generally in the Chinese culture that it’s like this.

Anything new and different, they question about it, you know? They think you should follow the norm, get a degree in university and find a proper job.

Exactly, they usually go like, “Oh, whatever.”

Yeah, at first I would show my magazine to people and they will go check it out and put it at the back of their minds.

To be honest, when I first saw your mag, I did that too. As it developed over time, I got a different sense of it. First off, the photos are very nicely done, they are excellent! Also the quality of content in your magazine is very thoughtful. Who can’t make a magazine? First time looking at justalilhype!, I thought it would just be another magazine out there, but it stands out. Looking at various interviews, just by looking at the questions already, you can see if these guys have put their effort into it. Asking stupid questions is a waste of time and people will know if you are writing stupid shit. There are lots of magazines out there, ones that are printed too, and online – even more! People always asked me how to create a successful brand. Banksy once said, “Everyone wants to be famous. To take a dump you need to eat something. It’s like everyone wants to be famous and don’t do anything to get famous. You have to eat something in order to take a dump.” Haha, it’s true! That was what Banksy said.

At first, I also really wanted to be famous, but that’s not a good approach. You should focus hard on what you are doing and work hard. Don’t worry about anything else, just keep going. Doing a magazine is all about effort and hard work. Let’s say two years later, you plan to shut down the mag. It will always be part of your history. Then you will go back and be like you’ve worked on a great project with Jenkin, Jarvis, Nico and Alan, it’s something memorable. It won’t go to waste. If it’s good, go forward – at least you tried! Many people think of ideas, but do not proceed with it. Put your hard work and effort into whatever you are doing and people will eventually discover you.

What did you do after graduation?

That was a long time ago. After graduation, I went to Hong Kong and worked for around nine months and was doing alright. In Hong Kong I helped stars do contracted CD covers, but it’s really not fun – you might think helping CHETLAM create CD Cover is fun, but it’s actually a lot of hard work. It’s really fun for him because he is selling a CD and people think it’s all CHETLAM. On the design side, it’s hard. You are always working under someone but also under pressure. In the office I work at there’s a line just for faxing resumes too. If you don’t work for them, a lot of people out there would want to. If you can’t produce good shit, people will tell you to get out! Just like that! Everyone wants be famous and everyone wants to work for Chet Lam – it really frightens me – and always see people come in to do interviews. Well during that time, I got the job and I am in the position, its all good, but I don’t want to be under that environment. So I gave up on that job.

What was your life like coming back from Hong Kong?

After I gave up that job, I think it took about a year or so before my art got recognized. It’s different from Hong Kong. In Vancouver, back then, there’s not much to do. Go to Parker Place everyday? I had nothing to do and always stayed home. My parents would tell me to go find a job and go work. You can’t because when you work it’s hard to design. I like to put myself in a risky positions at times, so I need to work harder and faster. During that time there was a long period where I had nothing to do. So that’s obviously any parent would say that, you know? When you are staying at home and ask for money…

What was your most memorable moment of WrongWroks?

At the end of 2006 – Colette’s email. It said, “We want to have your stuff in our store.” I read that email many times! I just couldn’t believe it! I still remember that moment; I was actually in LA traveling. I was selling some of my shirts in LA and then I suddenly received that email. I just couldn’t believe it because I always remembered that Colette as a very crazy store and all the products that they carry are really recognized. At that moment, well, I thought if Colette likes my stuff, then WrongWroks should be okay right?

What did friends back then say now? Have their  view on WrongWroks changed?

They didn’t say much. They just go like “Oh, not bad!” That’s fine, I understand. I won’t go get them back or anything.

What do you have to say to people that don’t like WrongWroks style?

Nothing. There are always people out there that dislike you. Even KAWS and even Takashi Murakami have people that dislike them. As being the subject of all this, you just got to be open. At first I didn’t really appreciate negative feedbacks but it’s always there. At first, you might want to try to find out “Why people don’t like my stuff” but there are always people that don’t like you. [With] Every artist, there are a lot stages. First step is to find a style, style is cool, and also not because you can’t get out of the style that you have chosen. A&F shirts will always be A&F shirts – people can recognize them. Style is cool and not because you are running in a circle. My stuff has no style. People now recognize me as something that’s not quite right. People see things that are wrong and people will think its WrongWroks. It allows me to do a wide range of designs. There’s actually no style so I choose not to have a style. I like to take the counter side of things sometimes. Well, as I said earlier “Just try you know? If it doesn’t work then try again.”

What’s your dream or the final destination that you would like to take the brand WrongWroks to?

Actually, when Colette wanted to sell my stuff, there was an art show with a bunch of famous artists together and they held an exhibition. That year, my art displayed there was compared to the one that is set up by KAWS. We both did a fortune cat. Back then a lot of people complained that I copied him. Then, Zara the Colette manager told them that Tony submitted it first for the ‘07 exhibition. When you put the two drawings together. Mine is actually cuter. When I went to that show, I felt very happy. I told myself, “Even if I died that moment,  I made it hppen for WrongWroks!”. It felt good. Now, my goal is not really about making a lot of money, in the future, when people look back. I want to be apart of the history of design, and people will understand my philosophy of WrongWroks.

The Asian aspect of WrongWroks’ designs – are they planned?

Well I didn’t purposely plan that but those are connected to my life. For example, sometimes things just so happen in life. For example the baseball jacket coming up. I really want to make a baseball jacket so I made it. Mona Lisa, I really like that idea and many people add mustaches on her for twists, but the eye is what the famous drawing is actually most talked about thing, as people say the eyes follow you. So I ripped her eyes off, but that’s not good enough. So I put the supreme tee on top. But then there’s the Supreme logo, so I ripped the logo off and it was a one time execution thing – that’s cool. People ask me why the ripped part is black and I tell them it’s because the scanner is black. That’s how that design came to be. None of my designs are really planned.

What are your hobbies and interests?

Badminton! WrongWroks is coming up with a badminton tee.  I don’t really watch movies and TV but I really like working because I am doing things I like.

Does traveling inspire your designs?

Many people think that with the internet, you can find out information across the world. But it’s different. You must go to the actual place to truly experience its culture. I travel and I am able to spot a lot of inspirations when I do it. I like traveling, yeah. Vancouver is kind of boring, you know? Yeah – Superbored, Haha.

What’s your favorite traveling spot?

Taiwan! First off, there are lots of very good food. When I go there, I have a lot of meetings and I go through many different meals a day, in small proportions of course. 12:00PM, 1:30PM, 3:00PM, 5:00PM, non stop eating and all of the food is very good! Eat and shit, shit and eat. And Taiwanese girls are the prettiest in the world. Japanese, no more. Taiwan girls are really pretty and really friendly!

When do you think you would like to just go back to being just “Tony Wong”?

I don’t know. I will not sell t-shirts my whole life, but I can’t tell you when I will stop. I look the same since when I was 20 – t-shirts and shorts and now, I even shaved my head. I shaved my head for two to three years. Before, I didn’t. It looks OK as well. I can’t really picture it though. That’s why I am expanding, doing things I like. HYPE is never long lasting. So I want to make WrongWroks something that’s in everyday life. I hope one day WrongWroks will become a culture. For example, McDonalds is not HYPE, but it’s always HYPE! It’s not like a legend. You don’t really pay attention to it but it’s always there and it’s everywhere!

Tell us something that people don’t know about WrongWroks.

I have problem ordering food. A lot of times, when I hit the drive through window, I will forget what I want to order and I will just talk some random shit. Wendy’s & Burger King are all same to me. So Angela one time told me to go get a whopper, Whopper is A&W right?

No, Burger King!

Oh really? Haha, I was at the Wendy’s Drive Through window trying to order Whopper… They said they didn’t have it.

“Why? Really?”

“We don’t make Whoppers here.”

“Really? Well you usually do that!”

“No, we never do Whopper here.”

Then I was like, “Okay, just give me a burger.” When I was paying, the people there said I was funny. Then I said, “Yeah,” then went home. I told them that they don’t sell Whoppers anymore, and then Angela said, “OF COURSE Wendy’s don’t have Whoppers!”

That’s pretty funny, did any other incidents like this happen?

One time while at KFC, there’s an item called Pop Corn chicken right? Well I read it wrong and thought it said, “Pop Corn Children” and there was a parent holding his kid beside me. So I went up to the counter…

“Can I have a Pop Corn Children please?”

“What!?”

The guy besides me took his kid further away from me and I pointed to the menu, “Pop Corn Children!”

“There’s no such thing! It’s Chicken!” It was pretty funny.

Can you tell our readers about WrongWroks’ love life?

Good things to come.

What is HYPE?

I think if you ask me personally, WrongWroks is HYPE. In general, I don’t think anything is HYPE. Seriously, like anyone walking or coming in, if they don’t know what it is, then it’s not HYPE. If you know it, then its HYPE.