• Featured Brand: M.R.K.T.

    Inspiration can come from anywhere, and our featured brand this week, M.R.K.T., draws theirs from architecture and the structural world surrounding all of us. Short for Mad Rabbit Kicking Tiger, luggage and accessories company M.R.K.T. was created by Harvard-trained architect Tom Pen and international branding guru Shaun Nath. We checked in with the duo to talk about drawing inspiration from the structure and concepts of architecture to create usable, everyday bags. 

    Briefly explain the history of your company. How did M.R.K.T. come to be? Where did the name come from? How did you guys meet?

    TP: Our story started five years ago in Shanghai when my architecture firm bought a large-format laser cutter so we could build architectural models. But most of the time it was just collecting dust, so I decided to use it to make felt-based products as a side project, since felt can be precisely cut on this machine. What we made turned out to be so popular and gained so much recognition in Shanghai that I decided to sell the architecture firm and concentrate on what would become M.R.K.T. I wanted a name that represented the spirit of our products and the craziness of the founders having little or no experience in fashion for trying to make it in the “market.” So, based on the movie “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon,” we came up with a fun version “Mad Rabbit Kicking Tiger,” thus M.R.K.T. I knew that if the brand was to make it, I needed to find someone to help me who could build and guide the brand’s vision beyond the product itself. Through a few architects’ connections (Shaun’s girlfriend is an architect), I met Shaun three years ago and we hit it off right away. 

    Describe your creative process.

    TP: The process I have in coming up with a new bag design is very similar to my architectural ideas. It’s usually outside in or inside out. This is to say, sometimes I have an idea for a look or a form, and then I develop the bag from there. Later I try making it as functional and producible as possible. Other times, I think about the function and the structure of the bag first, and then figure out what it could look like later.

    Where do you find most of your inspiration?

    TP: Seeing what bags real people use in different cities and settings help me understand all the different attitudes and tastes different cultures have. Often, when I see a fashionable person with an interesting bag, I imagine what other variations could work. Could one of our bags make this particular person more interesting? 

    How would you say incorporating architecture design improves the quality, look and feel of luggage?

    TP: I feel that there are two substantial advantages for an architect to design bags of this type.  First is the understanding of the nature of the materials we use, especially their structural characteristics; so I can fold, bend, flip, or cut accordingly to achieve the best structural balance and integrity. The other advantage is having an eye for shapes and proportions. Every bag has many details that need subjective design decisions to be made to help define its look and functionality. I use my architectural aesthetic preference for pure forms and clean lines to make each product look like it was meant to be.

    Which cities do you find most exciting and inspirational, architecturally? Any specific buildings?

    TP: Most European cities are pretty inspirational, but my favorite is probably Amsterdam. The city is beautiful, pedestrian scaled, and the people are educated and open-minded. In Amsterdam, every corner has gorgeous buildings, both old and new.

    How did you guys choose to incorporate some of the unique materials used for your bags?

    TP: Our main material is synthetic felt. We loved this material from the beginning because it’s beautiful, strong, and recyclable. It is suitable for making bags because felt is light, water resistant, anti-static, and anti-mold. In fact, we have spent the past four years working with the leading German felt supplier to make our regular felt hyper dense using extra fine fibers so to minimize pilling as you would get on wool sweaters. 

    What upcoming projects are in the works?

    SN: Aside from working on what will be a truly stimulating Fall 2015 line-up, we are in talks with a major tech company about designing cases for their upcoming tablets. We are also working on some exciting collaborations with like-minded brands.

    What were your dream jobs growing up?

    TP: I wanted to design cars, but I was more practical, so architect it is.

    SN: I had the idea of shaping experimental surfboards using radical shapes and colors. I wanted to open up a shop to sell them and call it "Smorgasboards," offering a little bit of everything.

    If you had to create a different type of product, what would it be?

    TP: Personal smell ID code system (long story…), or anti-perspiration underwear.  If money is no object, I want to build cars.

    SN: Coffee mugs. Easy. I have some wild ideas.

    What is your favorite city in the world? And why?

    TP: Still and always New York. It is a true melting pot of cultures and mindsets like no other city. New York at the end of the day is about pragmatism, which for me is the key to living well.

    SN: Aix-en-Provence, France. I lived there for a year in college. It’s a strikingly beautiful city that is easy to enjoy and has great historical depth.

    What fictional characters could you see rocking M.R.K.T. gear?

    TP: Maybe Tintin?

    SN: Hansel from Zoolander. The man had style.

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