how-ex-uniqlo-global-creative-director-ken-leung-got-his-start-in-fashion
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Ken Leung grew up in Perth, Australia, but much of his adult life has been spent in the UK and US, pursuing a career in magazine journalism and fashion. 

After working on the creative and branding side of exclusive fashion labels, such as Philip Lim and DKNY, Leung was appointed global creative director at Uniqlo, where he oversaw the retailer’s designer collaborations. 

But a recent trip back to Perth to renew his US work visa convinced him that it was time to come home. Leung has now left his role at Uniqlo and started his own creative agency, Studio Paradiso. One of his first projects was directing the breathtaking #WeWearAustralian campaign for Showroom-X

Here, we speak about his unconventional path into fashion and what he sees as his greatest strength.

Inside Retail: Can you tell me about your previous role at Uniqlo? It’s such a high-profile position, I’m curious what some of the biggest highlights were for you.

Ken Leung: My highlight was definitely getting the honour of working with Jil Sander — we call her Ms Sander. She’s such an icon in the industry, and to work with her on a weekly basis to revive the collaboration between Uniqlo and her brand was definitely a highlight.  She’s so uncompromising down to the finest detail, and for her to be in the industry for that long is just really inspiring. 

IR: Looking back, what do you think has allowed Uniqlo to go from being a Japanese brand to having stores all around the world? 

KL: We didn’t consider ourselves [to be] fast fashion. My job was to communicate to the customer that we make quality essentials that fit into your everyday lifestyle. The catchphrase of Uniqlo is ‘made for all’ — it appeals to an 80-year-old man in Nagoya, or a teenager in California. The pieces transcend time, age, gender, cultural background, all that stuff. They’re just very good quality pieces that fit into your lifestyle. 

IR: How did you get into the fashion industry?

KL: My background is actually in magazines. I worked in editorial for a long time. I started off in newspapers, and then I [was part of the team that] launched Monocle magazine in London back in 2006. I wanted to move to New York and do something different, so I got on a plane, went to New York, and just went door knocking. 

New York is great because they are willing to give anyone a chance. Obviously, I had my work from Monocle under my belt, so that helped me get in the door, but I literally went door knocking. I happened to approach Philip Lim and I convinced him to take me and start an in-house branding studio. That was my intro to fashion.

He liked that I hadn’t come from a fashion background — I thought outside the box. I worked alongside him for six years overseeing everything visual for the brand other than the clothes. I got to learn how to do retail stores, how to do runway shows, how to create energy and tempo and pace to give them a sense of excitement, how to shoot advertising campaigns, how to make every consumer touchpoint that relates back to the brand feel essentially Philip Lim.

IR: I often think the publishing and retail industries are really similar in terms of the shift to digital, so I can imagine that even if you had to learn a lot of new things along the way, you would have been able to draw on some commonalities.

KL: Someone mentioned to me once, and it was very flattering. They said, ‘You think like an editor.’ And that was my experience of working alongside Tyler Brûlé, who is an amazing editor-in-chief [of Monocle]. Just to learn how to create a story and create a singular message, I think that’s my strongest asset. Working with brands that have so much to say, how do you distil it down to Uniqlo being made for all? How do you tell that message to the customer without it being mixed up with all the other stuff along the way? 

IR: What’s next for you?

KL: My wife and I are starting a creative agency in Perth called Studio Paradiso, and we are going to be focusing on working with Australian companies and brands and really showcasing our country to the world. Everything that we do has to be world-class, and I really want to celebrate what we have in Australia, just like we’re doing with the We Wear Australian campaign. 

The value of the agency is using my global experience working with some of the largest companies in the world like LVMH and Uniqlo, and bringing that experience, that knowledge, and the connections back to Australia to help elevate the Australian community.

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