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Ken Yamazaki


Ken Yamazaki has been killing it since day one. His newest venture, the brand Zaki MCF (stemming from his last name) is not just a clothing line but rather a multimedia company focused on artist collaboration. Therefore, we thought it was only fitting to collaborate on a LYKA lookbook featuring Zaki clothing and the amazing model Sarah Vandecamp. Check out the rad photos and read about Ken here.

Ken Yamazaki created Zaki to be a creative outlet that incorporated his personable skills and artistic taste with the abilities of his friends from different disciplines - skateboarding, music and art. He is personally interested in all of those categories as well, but found that his talent truly lies in bringing these different disciplines and personalities together. “A multi-cultural family,” Zaki’s tagline, directly reflects what the company is - a family of artists and friends collaborating to express themselves creatively and culturally, together.

Zaki is at the forefront of a movement that’s occurring throughout artistic marketing, and something that we’ve touched on in most of our LYKA interviews: collaboration. It’s a form of new wave branding that ties like minded individuals from different disciplines together to expand artistic possibilities.  Ken works as the creative director of Zaki, recognizing the talent and curating the projects. It’s not typically a role that gets much attention but is instrumental behind brands with strong cultural aesthetics. With Zaki, Ken provides an outlet for artists to promote their work to an existing market of like-minded homies.

Ken originally developed the clothing aspect of the company as a means to get the word out about the rest of the lifestyle brand - although every line basically sells out before he even has time to post it online. “It’s more about the company than the clothes - to me it’s not a clothing company but a creative community.” The brand’s success is mostly attributed to word-of-mouth and social media promotion. He started printing his first line of three garments and gave away the whole collection. The response was awesome, and people have been willing to pay for it since.

Zaki’s design aesthetic is graphic, clean and simple. Ken hand-prints all the apparel himself, and the product goes quick. He’s careful not to overproduce, and strives to keep things fresh and in-demand by making only limited runs of garments. “I sell through shit so fast that I can’t even keep up the Big Cartel site; word of mouth has just been so successful that it’s been like, ‘Do I even put it up online?’ Because I know I’m just going to take it down tomorrow. And I don’t want people to be able to a certain line all season or all year. I like keeping it like ‘I’ve got 50 of this run and when they’re gone they’re gone.’ Limited runs.”

Despite being a brand new company, Zaki has managed to do something most budding clothing brands only dream about - getting a celebrity to rock their shit. Ken was able to get a shirt on a celebrity directly related to his branding scheme: Kreayshawn wore a shirt from his first line in Nylon Magazine. Although the placement wasn’t something he specifically went after (a homie gave samples to another friend - a celeb stylist), the fact that Zaki’s shirt stood out amongst a rack of designer clothes is a testament to it’s aesthetic. And the story further supports the kind of person it takes to succeed in this competitive industry, and the kind of guy Ken is - someone with a great personality that’s able to connect with connected people.

Beyond the clothing line, Zaki curates a studio and art space in Minneapolis where he prints the shirts, produces music and videos, and hosts art shows and live performances. Also inside he curates a gallery that gives local artists who work with physical mediums a way to showcase their work. He’s able to offer those artists a much needed platform whose work doesn't translate to digital outlets easily, like painters and graffiti artists. Another way he helps promote them is by featuring their artwork on his garments; he’ll be releasing a run of collaborative shirts featuring art by graffiti artists H-back and Oter, and yours truly - LYKA - in the near future.

Currently Ken is busy developing a music label under Zaki, and tour manages the World Class Art Thieves, who recently opened for LYKA fave Cashmere Cat.  The label will feature producers and DJs and will focus on electronic, future beats, and jersey club music, although he does plan on being open about the genres of music he’ll take on. “As long as it’s progressive.”

We were excited to talk to Ken because he represents what we love about young, ambitious, creative people: he’s willing to take a chance on making a career out of something he genuinely cares about. He subscribes to the mentality that you can get the same job right now or when you’re forty, so you may as well make your 20’s count for something and take advantage of the time you have to take risks.

I didn't go to school or anything; I’m just trying to make a living based off of what I like. I talk to so many people who wish they’d spent their 20’s hustling, because they know they’d be somewhere else by now... I’m trying to BE somebody. I wanna be able to take care of my family, take care of my friends, have a lot of fucking fun, and enjoy everyday of my life. Honestly, it’s sink or swim - I can take these risks now, have a lot of fun, and not make it - but I’ll still have great stories to tell. Or I can get a fucking normal job and do some boring shit everyday. I love seeing new things, I love exploring, traveling, meeting new people who are doing cool things. Right now I may not really be getting paid but I’m definitely getting noticed. And money isn’t what it’s really about. If I can just live doing what I love, that’s more than I could ever ask for.

Hell yea.

What are you listening to lately?
Drake,  Bobby Raps, Spooky Black, Psymun, Allan Kingdom, the GTW, xxyyxx, Esta, DJ Tiiiiiiiiiip, Tyy P, Tennyson, Mr. Carmack, Penthouse Penthouse, Lido, just a lot of future shit, World Class Art Theives, Sango, trippy turtle, Bengfang, Soulection, Team Supreme, Wave Racer, Ronnie Vyce, Soda, Subotu… I love new things you know.

What is your personal artistic aesthetic?
I like anything that moves me. A lot of that is street art. But I love a lot of abstract art also - my first month in Chicago I lived with a friend in his parent’s basement, with artist parents, and I watched his dad paint all this crazy abstract stuff. I would help him do art shows, and I got to go to NYC with them to put on shows. So abstract art is really interesting and appealing to me. But it’s hard to just pinpoint one kind of thing, I’m very open minded when it comes to art.

Who are some of your favorite artists?
Basquiat is a legend... He did stuff with Andy Warhol, he had sex with madonna... haha

But a lot of people that I like and am most passionate about are my homies; Oter, Silk, Jist, Mara Barringer, Keptoe, Euro, John Powers, Hback… My friend Ashen is always in here printing shirts… Charlie Vail, super cool dude.

Favorite brunch spot?
I like going to my mom’s house; going home. Love my mom. And shout out to my sister Maxine, I love my sister, she’s amazing, she can do anything. I see great things for her.

Bloody marys or mimosas?
Mimosas. But I don’t drink that much; I’m fucking allergic or some shit. I get all red.

Current projects?
I’m just really trying to get my shit together, making it as official as possible so I can start building the label side. Trying to do a radio selection thing on soundcloud, or podcast, curating that. I need to prioritize, I get so caught up, and to fund Zaki I have to work outside of it- so there’s a lot going on. Working on balance.

Where do you get creative inspiration from?
Definitely my peers, when I see my friends doing big things, making moves, it inspires me to keep up.

Fav drink?
Sprite - I call it Tammy Turn-Up Juice.