Banyans, Bright Lights, and Point Breaks: Introducing Roark Revival’s Hong Kong Collection
Adventure-ready goods that are built with a purpose. Roark Revival has always created clothing with a desire to explore woven into their very fibers, and it’s certainly no accident. Founder Ryan Hitzel, spoke to us about the newest collection of clothing that was inspired by a trip to Hong Kong full of surfing, rock climbing, and authentic dim sum. In true Roark fashion, these designs convey stories that aim to shake you awake, inspire you to look around and, as Hitzel says, “explore first hand, not swipe along a screen” — an idea that we, at Wayward, can really get behind.
From the city streets to the South China Sea, read on to hear about the time spent soaking in the storied history and culture of this Chinese hub through the lens of Roark Revivalists themselves.
WAYWARD: What was the origin story of how you landed on Hong Kong as your destination?
RYAN HITZEL: I had spent a ton of time in Hong Kong working on product development and general business stuff and was always intrigued by what was under the veneer of the city and outside of its metropolitan footprint. When I was there, I’d try to get lost on short timetables, but wasn’t able to get as deep as I wanted. It’s such a modern, intense and culturally-rich place that it can be intimidating to get off the beaten path.
I’d met an Aussie expat years ago and he sold me that on the backside of Hong Kong Island there were a handful of waves that were really good on the right typhoon, which frothed me up. I had no idea that there were waves, or that it felt like Hawaii once you left the city. So I thought it would be rad for Roark to explore Hong Kong in a way that isn’t often portrayed. There was so much opportunity for us to dig into unique stories and inspiration for the collection, I couldn’t pass it up.
WW: How would you describe the energy and vibe of the city?
RH: Intense and constantly evolving. Everything is next level, the proximity of crowds, color, smells, and the difference between opulence and poverty is striking. Hong Kong has been the crossroads of the world for thousands of years. It’s prominence as a trading hub has made it a melting pot of worldly cultures combined with Chinese roots. More recently, the British colonial influence added a western sensibility of pomp and circumstance. Hong Kongers view themselves as their own unique culture; very much apart from Chinese and British influence, although they will acknowledge the foreign contributions. One thing that I think is amazing is the perpetual progress of the city that is omnipresent. New buildings built upon old buildings, a cuisine that’s constantly morphing into something fresh and a culture that continues to reinvent itself. It’s radical!
WW: In what ways did your experiences translate to your designs?
RH: We try to identify 3 main points to help us design a collection inspired by a destination.
First, what type of gear does the climate and itinerary demand? In this case, we were adventuring in a wet, humid environment that had us in the city, jungle and on a boat. Sort of perfect for us. We built the “Recon” – a 2.5 layer waterproof coaches jacket with taped seams and a detachable hood. It’s functional without compromising style in the jungle or at a bar in Kowloon. A new version of our “Bless Up” micro-perforated woven popped up with a print found in 500 year-old textiles. Because of it’s breathability and quick dry characteristics, It was perfect for climbing and hucking off the boat into the South China Sea. Our sorbtech denim was also super functional, with its breathability in the Highway 133 fit.
Second, we absorb the culture found in the streets and countryside. Food was a big source of inspiration, from the noodle houses of Hong Kong to the Seafood Stew that Captain Sun threw together while we were on the Ninepin Islands. We dug into the Banyan trees that line the streets and the ancient symbolism that the lotus flower and tiger offer up as well. There’s an iconic photo we shot on a canal in the ancient fishing village of Tai O’ that became a hand illustrated T-shirt.
The color palette really captures the brightness of the streets in Hong Kong with pinks, greens, orange and red. You could peek around any corner in Hong Kong and identify our color in neon signs, flowers, restaurants and faded textiles.
Third, we try to use a local artisan to build product. Tailoring has always been a big deal in Hong Kong; from heirloom-quality $15,000 dollar suits, to street hustlers ready to make you one for the night at $150. We stumbled upon a tailor that had made a suit for Parker Coffin’s Dad in the 1980s. An institution named Sam’s. Later, we’d learn that Sam was a mythos, he never existed – only a persona of two immigrant brothers that needed a name that was easy for the British to remember in the 1960s. It sort of reminded me of Roark in weird way, perhaps a long lost wingman to our beloved character. So we commissioned “Sam” to make 75 limited edition woven shirts, hand numbered and sewn in Hong Kong. Jamie Thomas worked with the tailors to create an epic print and camp collar silhouette that he really liked for skating there. 75 isn’t an arbitrary number to make the shirts more valuable, it’s literally the maximum amount they can build by hand without causing a shutdown of their business. These local projects stoke me the most.
WW: What were some of your finds that sparked a new idea, or gave you a vision for the Hong Kong collection?
RH: One other find that was pretty unique, was the project we did with Star Crossed Tattoo. Tattoos weren’t a thing in Hong Kong until WW2. It was more so a Japanese tradition with roots in Chinese mythology. Once US navy men started to flood the streets during the war, a Hong Kong tattoo style evolved. It mixed an American traditional style with Japanese characters. Kind of a Sailor Jerry meets Yakuza thing. The guys at Star Crossed really hit the style on the head with some modern twists. So we had them do a few graphics for the collection. In true journeymen tradition, Jamie Thomas, Mikey Rangel and myself went in and got some ink right before we departed – a nice keepsake from Hong Kong.
WW: You guys were all over. From the streets, to the shops, to climbing near the outskirts of the city, and even surfing local swells. Anything in particular that surprised you or stood out as a highlight?
RH: The climbing and surfing really tripped me out. Hong Kong is known for a lot of things, none of which are even close to climbing and surfing. The funny thing is that they’re hiding in plain sight. Just obscured by the vitality and chaotic nature of the city. Drew Smith literally walked from a rad little dim sum shop to a picturesque wall inside the city limits. The photos are some of my favorites ever, they really illustrate the juxtaposition of Hong Kong. And who knew you could finish up a meeting with your Swiss financier in Kowloon, jump on the subway and be surfing a fun little beach 45 minutes later? I guess those are the stories Roark aims to tell. The world has become such an open place with adventure travel demystified, we love to find the nooks and crannies that still exist in an effort to inspire people to actually explore first hand, not swipe along a screen.
See some of Roark’s favorite highlights from the trip