In the Studio with Khoman Room: Back to Basics
In Khoman Room‘s small design studio tucked away in the Lower East Side, every inch of space is consciously being put to use. Stacks of neatly folded hoodies and T-shirts line the built-in racks on the wall; fabric swatches and cutouts are neatly pinned to mood boards; an umbrella light diffuser even dangles from the ceiling. One half of their design team, Wow Khoman, laughs heartily when I point it out.
“For a designer, I guess it’s good to have everything within arm’s reach!”
Spearheaded by design partners Wow Khoman and Spencer Ahn, Khoman Room is a streetwear label centered at the crux of comfort and design. Despite both designers receiving training at Rhode Island School of Design, the duo decided to take their talents to the city after graduating.
“I started the brand almost three years ago, with a different partner at the time,” Khoman says. “My former partner approached me and he said he loved my work, and he came with this idea of embroidered men’s pants. I was like, wait, I don’t think you see the bigger picture, this could be something really cool! We could produce statement staples. That’s how I look at the brand, it’s basics—but it’s got something special to it that makes your day a little better.”
Despite Khoman’s design background primarily rooted in womenswear and Ahn’s background in industrial design, the two work together to create menswear-focused streetwear collections. In a city where the streetwear scene is undeniably saturated with up-and-coming brands, Khoman Room pieces are designed with the intention of creating meaningful clothing—even if that piece of clothing is simply a T-shirt or a hoodie.
“We want to be different—but not just for the sake of difference,” Khoman says. “For anyone who participates in fashion, you love it, you care about it, which means you need to take care of the industry that you’re working in. Just producing stuff and making shit that people may like, that’s just more of the same stuff that already exists. You’re not progressing forward. I don’t just want to see a reflection of what I already see.”
Ahn agrees, noting the business-heavy marketing techniques used by other brands may not inspire creativity as organically.
“I think a way that a lot of people approach streetwear is very heavily based on what the market is demanding for, and what the market is into at the moment. A lot of people just do a lot of research, they see what’s trendy, and then they make something that’s their brand version of this trendy thing. I think for us, especially for Wow since she’s coming from a womenswear background, I think the way that we approach it is a lot more similar to womenswear—where we’re coming up with a concept, and pushing that concept and see how it can trickle down to the garments we’re producing.”
Both Khoman and Ahn stress the importance of creative collaboration when it comes to developing their collections—a collaboration they are always sure to credit.
“We’ve been working pretty closely with a lot of artists that we have either gone to school with, or who are just in our network and we fuck with their work,” Ahn says. “What we’ve been trying to do is put more of a spotlight on these artists, and give them a little more of the attention that we think they deserve. So many moments in fashion are a collaborative effort—it’s never just the effort of the head designer. We wanted to put more emphasis on more parts of the process, and share the spotlight a little bit more with different people who we feel are very integral to the whole process.”
“It’s developing substance together,” Khoman adds. “Working with illustrators allows their work to live on through the clothing. We live in it, it’s something we do everyday. This way, we can give art a longer lifespan and a greater impact. And simply, it makes the clothing way more interesting.”
In addition to collaborating with other artists, Khoman, who was originally born in Thailand, notes that she is inspired by the motif of juxtaposition—something she particularly notices in her home city of Bangkok.
“Coming from Asia, there’s such a crazy rich culture. It’s so visual, and it’s beautiful,” Khoman says. “Thailand is kind of the outback for me—it’s still very eccentric, to say the least. I’ve always loved how in the city, there’s so much history and ancient shit right next to the very modern stuff. You can find a Thai temple right next to the tallest skyscraper, next to a shitty street food market where you can find the best food in, right next to the most expensive hotel. It’s always more interesting when you’re contrasting things. If you can bring in a lot of stuff, it makes the world feel more whole.”
For Khoman and Ahn, Khoman Room was created for one purpose, and one purpose only—to spread happiness.
“I feel like the thread behind everything we do as brand is that I want people to be happy,” Khoman says. “I want Khoman Room to be a good thing, change someone’s life, make them feel comfortable. I want to do good.
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