Remix Clothing Taipei is a popular lifestyle brand that revels in merging different aesthetics together. They teamed up with photographer Kenji Haruta, illustrator Jon Jones, and VANS for an exhibition showcasing both artist's work, and the launch of skateboarding journal huarmosa.
How did you two meet each other?
KH: There’s a spot we call “Under the bridge” near Huashan Creative Park. All skaters go there at some point, and one day I met Jonathan.
Jon, you’re from South Africa, and Kenji, you’re from Japan – why Taiwan? Why Taipei?
Jon: The American narrative of success is work to the bone and somehow through pure grind and luck you’ll “make it” - most of the time I had a 50 hour work week, excluding the commute, barely scraping by.
After the second year of being in the US I met Trina and we took a trip to South East Asia. Seeing how far the dollar could spread and the ethos of entrepreneurship, especially in Thailand, was really inspirational. After getting back I had all these ideas about becoming independent and self-sustainable - that was the main thing. Trying that in the States and seeing that it wasn't possible was the catalyst to move here.
KH: When I visited Taipei for the first time, I saw a lot of smiles on the street. In Japan we don’t see that many smiles. It's an interesting place.
Kenji, you transitioned from being a web designer to a freelance photographer. Why?
KH: I changed my job when I was 24. It was a pretty big deal. When I did web design, I realised photos made up the main material. If the photo wasn’t good, the whole design was average. In the beginning I just shot some stuff, and figured out I could make money freelancing, and slowly moved into photography. It was a gamble - but I couldn’t stop.
When you decided to become a freelance photographer, how did your parents react? Was there a mandate on you to be a certain way?
KH: My parents are typically Japanese, so it was hard for them to understand at first. But they eventually got it. Every week I try to send a photo of what I am doing, yesterday I showed them a couple of photos and my mom was so happy – she sent me a message that said “You did it!”.
Normal Japanese people work 9 hours a day, from Monday to Friday, – which to me feels like a dungeon – but it’s a stable income.
What is the glue that inspired this particular exhibition?
KH: One year ago we did a VANS exhibition, and the owner of REMIX was there. He saw our work and was pretty stoked on it.
Jon: The VANS exhibition was 3 pieces that we did together. It was super tight colab work - I took Kenji’s photos, cut them up and put my illustrations into them, so it was a very intimate collaboration. The pressure on that was a lot lower than this one, but the idea had been mentioned about a year ago, and a month ago it got re-introduced as a definite. We also put the magazine together to treat the exhibition as a launch and to promote skateboarding in Taiwan. I think I was super lucky that Kenji saw something I didn’t see in my work and myself and is the main reason for me to get any recognition in Taiwan or Taipei.
KH: The first time I met Jon in Taipei, I thought his work was awesome, but not many people knew about it so I was really confused. He is super low-key. I had the opportunity to work with VANS but I didn’t wanna do it by myself – that’s kinda selfish. I could do it, but its better to bring other people in.
Jon: Kenji's way of supporting and his genuine belief in people is rare. He can really connect on a very sincere level, with a lot of people, and see potential. Seeing Kenji's way has shown me that being selfish and hording things doesn’t get you anywhere – but to be able to spread and share and help other people is really important. That aspect of Kenji’s personality has been really inspirational in how I’m thinking about the future, and how to not necessarily make money, but support other people that I believe in.
The title of this exhibition is “Balance” – how did you come up with this name and what does it signify – what kind of balancing acts do you find interesting/necessary to engage with in your lives?
Jon: It was more of a retroactive choice. What could both suit our work and justify it. Trina's idea was about balance. It is one of the most important things in life, and relates to skateboarding as well as art.
On the balancing acts - doing the real work vs. having fun. Balancing making money vs. not making money. The time and spaces that you do make money are so small compared to the empty stressed out time not making any, and then, as soon as you get the jobs they all seem to cluster at the same time. It’s great but also really confusing. And then the balance of work time vs. other time - I think that’s been my most challenging part, not only as a freelancer, but personally. I realised I had a problem with overworking. The experience, travel, meeting and doing things that aren’t work related are equally if not more important, because they feed that creative element.
Kenji, if you take up full time work would it allow you to have the life that you want?
KH: I don’t think so. If I choose full time work here, phew! That’s a straight two years man - dungeon life. Maybe get a dog, maybe get a wife... I can't imagine that right now. I need to keep moving.
What other form is your work available in? Are there any particular platforms that you like to use, either in person or online?
KH: For the past 2 years, I’ve sold my photos to magazines – that’s the only way I made money. With this exhibition, we printed photos onto the VANS, which is a new and exciting possible avenue.
Jon: When I started out I took that very traditional route of finding bigger companies that had lots of money to commission me to do work for them. I was thinking in a very narrow obvious way – the way you get told to work for a company – and applied that to freelancing. You see these other illustrators get these small breaks and are received really well, and then get recommissioned for bigger pieces and more variation - that hasn't happened yet which is a little bit of a blow.
Using Kenji’s inspirational way of seeing and supporting other artists coupled with Trina who has a better business sense than I do, we're trying to turn into a more business lucrative venture. We're starting to create our own products, not having to rely on somebody else’s taste. While we still haven’t figured out exactly what to do, we’re getting there. We’ve printed a couple of tote bags as the first product to see how that works - this is going to be like a small pebble rolling, slowly gathering momentum.
If you could describe each other in 3 words, what would they be?
Jon: I think the most obvious are thoughtful, dedicated and kind.
KH: To me, Jonathan is like a cloud – he has tonnes of ideas that always come super naturally, so I guess, water, low-key, and skater.