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At home and work with Kai D Utility

Kai D Utilty Shop

01 Take us back to the early days. What was your first exposure to design and how did you ultimately begin designing for men?

When I was in college in taiwan, I did an internship with an American owned magazine and was exposed to graphic layout, topography and generating creative content. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole creative process from brainstorming, to execution, to seeing the final magazines printed. I became an avid reader of all kinds of magazines, including fashion magazines. This led to my interest in menswear and I finally decided to attend Fashion Institute of Technology with a major in menswear design.

02 From hidden zippers to vintage fabric – all of your pieces have beautiful detailing. Tell us a little more about your process and the inspiration behind the brand.

I started to collect military clothing when I was working as a designer for Nautica. I studied military clothing and started to accumulate a wealth of knowledge of vintage garment details and construction. The appreciation of vintage garments serves as inspiration to update them for modern lifestyles. I believe each detail should serve a purpose in order to stand the test of time.

03 Tell us about where your pieces are made, and how important the origins and relationships to the manufacturers you work with are to you?

Almost all my designs are made locally in New York. I did a collaboration with a Japanese factory and an Italian factory who did my latest hand painted ‘pollock’ jackets and pants. It’s important for me to oversee the production process as each step might deviate from the original design intention if not carefully monitored. Working in the New York Garment District allows me to monitor closely the pattern making, cutting, grading, trim sourcing, washing, and sewing.

04 You opened your flagship store about two years ago. What made you decide on Williamsburg?

The LES pop up shop was my first experience in retail so I learned many valuable lessons of how to operate a retail business. I like many aspects of the Lower East Side. However, I was doing consulting simultaneously at the time so it was difficult for me to fully commit to growing my retail business. I moved my live/work studio space to Williamsburg about three years ago and really like the vibe of Williamsburg. It has a neighborhood feel with not many chain stores (at that time) and yet very easy to get to the garment district. A friend of mine told me to check out the space that I am in now and I just felt like it was the right space for me.

“I call New York home as I’m able to do what I love and find endless inspiration each day."

05 The "inspiration” boards in your shop are so fun. What can you tell us about them?

I refer to The ‘inspiration’ boards as ‘rigging’ boards. They are the way to communicate seasonal concepts when I was working for big companies. I used them to guide the creative process and to give management and sales team a preview of the collection before the actual designs began. They became a very important part of my creative expression.

06 What have been some of the more unexpected rewards and challenges that have come with operating a retail shop while still wearing your ‘design cap’?

The rewards are to meet a very wide range of customers and developed a sharp intuition for people in general. Before I started working at retail, I always felt awkward starting a conversation with strangers. Now it has become very natural for me to initiate conversation. The challenges would be to find the balance to meet the needs of the customers and yet to stay true to who I am as a designers. Another big challenge is to forecast the size breakdown for each design.

07 New York has been your adopted home for 20 years; although you were born in Taiwan and travel overseas regularly. What defines home for you?

New York has been my ‘home’ for 20 years. I established my career here and have had amazing experience working with so many great people (including john and becka). I call New York my home as I am able to do what I love and find endless inspiration each day.

08 What are some of your favorite places to shop / eat / relax around the neighborhood?

Shop/relax is a foreign concept for me as I spent most of my time between working at the shop, working in my studio and working in the garment district. I do enjoy the little public park on Grand street and Kent avenue as well as taking a walk at the McCarren park. Nature relaxes me. There’re many great restaurants such as café Mogador, Aurora, Baoburg to name a few. Other shops I like and support are Brooklyn denim co., Quality mending co., and 10 ft single by stella.

“I believe each detail should serve a purpose in order to stand the test of time”

09 Any tips/suggestions you'd like to share to any young, up and coming designers out there?

Try to work as a sales person and see how the customers react to fabrication, color, details, price points and the visual presentation.

10 What’s on the horizon that you're most excited in the months ahead?

I started the process of working on my fall collection, which is always my favorite season. Also, I am very excited to check out new collections from the brands we carry as we started to bring in more brands in our store. The other exciting project is to continue to build the ‘east meets west’ collection which I started last November with the ‘japanese farmer coat’. Each piece is one of a kind using different vintage garments, textiles, trimmings blending the simplicity of the more fluid eastern designs with military and workwear from the western world.

Photography by: Luis Paez