The Sustainable Innovation of Kanghyuk

Reinventing the Discarded

Kanghyuk's FW19 "SRS Sole fury" / Kanghyuk /

You may be familiar with the “Airbag” shoe (pictured above), which went viral a few years ago. Instantly recognizable due to its unusual construction, the shoe embodies the brand behind it, Kanghyuk. Kanghyuk is perhaps best known for their use of repurposed deployed airbags, but the brand’s appeal extends beyond this specific aesthetic. Their combination of interesting materials and a focus on futuristic clothing, excellent tailoring, and artistic expression synergize in a captivating and innovative take on menswear.

Detail picture of Kanghyuk's FW19 collection / Kanghyuk /

The fashion world has taken note. From the label’s conception, Kanghyuk has received support from renowned high fashion retailers like H. Lorenzo and Machine-A, who regularly work on exclusive drops and installations. Additionally, the brand was nominated for the LMVH prize in 2019, a prestigious award given to young upcoming fashion designers. Further exposure came with A$AP Rocky’s “Tony Tone'' music video, in which he wears one of their jackets, and Kanghyuk’s ongoing collaborations with Reebok.

A$AP Rocky's wearing Kanghyuk in his "Tony Tone" video / A$AP Rocky / Youtube

The artists behind Kanghyuk

Kanghyuk is a Seoul-based brand, headed by two designers, Sanglak Shon and Kanghyuk Choi. The name comes from the original founder, Choi, who created the brand as a graduation project in the Royal College of Arts in 2016. It was during this tenure at the Royal College of Arts that Choi met Shon. The duo formed a relationship, helping each other with their respective studies.

Following their graduation, Choi continued to work on Kanghyuk, developing its second collection, while Shon focused on his own projects. It was not until Kanghyuk’s third collection in 2017 that Choi and Shon renewed their collaboration, which has persisted since.

Kanghyuk's instalation for Comme des Garçons Trading Museum / Kanghyuk / 

The brand benefits from both Kanghyuk and Sanglak being experts in their respective field. While Sanglak focused on the exploration with repurposed materials, Kanghyuk prioritized tailoring. Both of these strengths shine through Kanghyuk, as the garments produced unite materials and cuts to a compelling effect.

Detail picture of Kanghyuk's FW18 collection / Kanghyuk /

Brand identity

Kanghyuk’s popular repurposing of materials from deployed airbags requires the painstaking process of removing airbags from their oxygen tank. Airbag fabrics are then rearranged to highlight the original airbag pattern. The resultant clothes are adorned with serial numbers and bold contrasting stitching unique to each piece. The characteristic contrast stitching that appears in many Kanghyuk garments also highlights the complex construction of these garments.

Kanghyuk's SS18 collection / Kanghyuk /

Along with the airbag construction, the brand references automotive themes in the form of motorcycle jackets, car tire inspired shoes, and “helmet” hoods. Additionally, Kanghyuk’s repertoire often features mesh garments and sportswear elements that allow the brand to remain familiar and easily accessible. Experimentation with dyes, materials and reconstruction are other recurrent motifs.

Detail picture of Kanghyuk's FW19 collection / Kanghyuk /

Kanghyuk blurs the line between artistic expression and practical clothing. Balancing the two is not an easy feat, but Kanghyuk manages to create wearable and compelling clothing from a consumer standpoint while successfully bringing the concepts behind the collections to life. A good example is their spacesuit-inspired garments. Spacesuits are complex, detail-ridden, and expensive to recreate. To make this concept a viable option the design was simplified, with some of the stickier details stripped, leaving a jacket which successfully conveys the reference while remaining wearable.

Kanghyuk FW18 Astronaut Jacket With Detachable Gloves / Zeke Hemme /

Along with the ability to balance materiality and concept, Kanghyuk has succeeded in fleshing out a robust world of garments within a narrow concept and aesthetic. On paper, the repurposing of airbags into garments seems like a good idea for just a small number of garments, but Kanghyuk managed to build an entire brand around this concept. Each collection produced under the label is fresh despite the aesthetic limitation.

The brand is also beginning to expand the materials used for their collections, continuing an exploration of sustainable clothing. The best example of this expansion is their recent collaboration with the Korean Industrial conglomerate Hyosung, which uses the same concept of airbag reconstruction with new materials (waste from the Hyosung) to create a distinct collection.

Kanghyuk x Hyosung's Collaboration / Kanghyuk / 

Beyond the clothing

Looking at the work of Kanghyuk, it is clear that well-crafted clothes and artistic expression are prioritized. Beyond the clothing, though, Kanghyuk is concerned with the presentation of products and the expression of concepts through other mediums. The presentation of each collection is particularly remarkable, publicized and shot in ingenious places carefully selected by Choi and Sanglak. These locations offer a lens through which customers can perceive the collection, and a new way to interact with it. Examples include clothing frozen to the ground, hanging off meat hooks, and presented in a room made of the same materials as the clothing.

Kanghyuk FW17 instalation / Kanghyuk / 

Kanghyuk has also produced a number of installations over the years for stores like H. Lorenzo and Machine-A. Similar to the clothes produced by Kanghyuk, these installations often feature recycled materials, like their “robot” and “bird” sculptures made of metal pieces, or roses and giraffes made of airbags. These installations often impart similar ideas relating to sustainability and recreation to the clothing. Through their installations, Kanghyuk expresses their concept in a new mode.

The shoes

In light of Reebok’s recent spree of collaborations with fashion brands, ranging from Margiela to Vetements, it is no surprise that they reached out to Kanghyuk to reinvent some classic Reebok staples. The ongoing collaboration between the two brands is intriguing. Not only did Kanghyuk apply their airbag concept to classic shoes, but they also managed to reinvent themselves, exploring the concepts and aesthetic characteristics of the experimental brand by reimagining classic Reebok silhouettes.  

Zig Kinetica Advanced / Kanghyuk /

The collaboration between the two brands started with the “SRS Sole Fury,” which earned Kanghyuk international recognition for the first time. The shoe was a direct translation of Kanghyuk’s aesthetic onto a shoe, made of airbag scrap parts on top of a “Sole Fury” sole. The viral shoe resembles the aesthetic of Boro patches with frayed edges and raw construction offering a distinctive look.

Like Kanghyuk’s clothes, each shoe is unique, as the scraps, graphics and stitching are all one-of-a-kind. Following the success of the “SRS Sole Fury” shoe, Kanghyuk re-created the concept behind it for its 8th collection, this time on a “Zig Kinetica” sole.

Road Premier Modern / Kanghyuk /

The third pair that the two brands collaborated on was the “Premier Road Modern,” which features a distinct look from Kanghyuk’s earlier work. The shoes are a part of the Reebok Premier Running line, a sub-division dedicated to incorporating elements of past Premiere Running shoes into contemporary designs.

The clean design and inventive materials makes the “Premier Road Modern” an outlier not only in Kanghyuk’s repertoire, but also in the Premier Running line. The shoe is constructed from several technical materials, including mesh, rubber, and foam, to provide different layers and depths. These materials are successfully integrated to mimic a car tire, furthering the overarching automotive theme of Kanghyuk with a twist. This shoe has proven to be a staple in Kanghyuk’s collections, and have been released in two new colorways since the initial release: baby blue (Kanghyuk x  Hyosung 01) and red and white.

Red Road Premier Modern / Kanghyuk / 

The latest offering we have from the ongoing Reebok and Kanghyuk collaboration is the re-imagination of the Reebok Classics. This model is offered in two different ways. First is the characteristic airbag re-construction on top of a Reebok Classic sole, offered in white or red. Second, the latest collection features a redesign of the classic model, which includes a circle behind the Reebok logo, and the characteristic contrast stitching with Kanghyuk’s branding. This option is also available in a characteristic white with red stitching and in blue.

Kanghyuk has become synonymous with airbag clothing. The brand’s ability to balance artistic concepts and materiality through clothing results in complex garments that are not only interesting to look at but practical to wear. Ultimately, Kanghyuk’s ability to innovate and reinvent themselves within a limited concept makes them one of the most compelling contemporary brands.