Thelonius Poon: Made in Canada

Thelonius Poon of NOZO

Text: Carola Dolci // Photo: Courtesy of Thelonius Poon

What does it mean being young and fashionable right now?

I'm twenty five this year. We always made this joke that if we could become millionaires off fashion before thirty we'd be satisfied that we were able to truly become "young money". Brands aren't just about selling clothes, we'll leave that to Walmart. This is about living the lifestyle and producing clothing that reflects that. So although the hangovers started at twenty two, being young means staying out all night, pushing your body and mind to its limits, and swagging on a million every chance you get, even whilst nude in the shower. Yohji Yamamoto once said young people shouldn't focus too much on clothing because our skin is still unsaggy and our bodies thin. He said fashion is for people who've lost their natural beauty. I'm not waiting until I'm fifty to rock a pair of Diet Butcher Slims, I'll look ridiculous. I think being young just gives me that option to wear young people's fashion, or old people's clothes. Not to hate on any of you who are into "mature street wear" and wanna look old so badly.

NOZO Fall Winter

What is the meaning of NOZO? Is it an acronym or does it maybe hold a musical reference?

NOZO is a brand name open for interpretation with no cultural implications. We wanted the brand to be open to everybody, and didn't want to exclude anybody by branding ourselves as a hardcore hip-hop or a high-end street brand. To some, our brand stands for Nothing Over Zen Optimism. To me though, it is an easy to spell four-letter word that is simple to say in any language. It's a word that we want to cross boundaries with ease.

How does it feel working for the fashion business in Canada?

People here are super friendly and trustworthy. It's been one of the easiest places I've experienced doing business. Our web store however enables us to connect with a much larger audience, and allows us to really connect with the world. We're currently opening up a NOZO Radio station and interview series to showcase our city to our international customers. We want them to be able to come on to the website and see what's happening in the grassroots artistic scene here.

NOZO streetwear

What is the relationship between music and fashion?

Fashion is music in fabric-format. If you want to design like elitist Scandinavian cult brands, listen to their music. Understand their mentality and lifestyle, and you will be able to produce clothes they can visually identify with. When I came to Toronto, I started bumping their cold-winter rap music to understand the sonic soul of this city better.

Your company is a quite new venture. Which are the challenges and the tools that helped you?

The rest of my team has had a few years’ experience in running fashion start-ups. What's helped us get ahead much quicker is definitely the experience of our staff. Most start-ups take three to five years to break even, and I think that's because you have to spend the first three years making mistakes to figure out how to do your own job effectively. By having already trained staff consulting the project, we've been able to dodge all the newbie mistakes. For some of these guys, this is writing the same exam for the eighth time sans Ritalin.

NOZO camo jacket

You seem to have a clear vision is regards to what you want to do creatively; you have two lines and you also invest quite a lot in content.

I'd say we're fairly thoroughly flushed out in terms of content. We're trying to provide a full brand experience, maybe even have a perfume line someday so the brand can have a scent as well. We have released NOZO Telegraph that gives in-depth interviews with members of Toronto's underground creative scene. We want people to be able to log into the website from anywhere in the world and read the stories of local artists here. Our overseas friends find it quite entertaining! They find our music quite strange too. Shit, even I find it strange, and I'm British.

What inspires you most in your everyday work?

I have a Masters of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, which is an interdisciplinary degree, so my inspirations come from all walks of life: famous scientists and philosophers and smart people in general. I love reading the struggle stories of famous inventors. They say if you can't make it by twenty five or twenty six, you'll never have a breakthrough. Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, all the famous successful geniuses figured out their key formula before twenty six. I'm almost that old, so this better get my career started! Their struggle stories keep me motivated, and help inspire the clothes. That, and quite a few seedy experiences in West London as a teenager.

NOZO vest

Do aesthetics rhyme with ethics in today's post-industrial world?

There's been a resurgence of American heritage manufacturers as a response to the 1990's mass manufacturing of clothing in China and India. Many of these American heritage brands are doing quite well actually, and are better able to manage their control. They cost a bit more, but the design and construction is excellent.

What does Made in Canada guarantee?

It guarantees that our quality control is carefully monitored, and our local consumers are supporting their local fashion industry by pouring their funds into local clothing manufacturing houses. We've paid people's moms and stuff to sew our clothing together, as it keeps the clothes money circulating in the family!

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