Artist of the Month: Kaidon Ho
Kaidon Ho is an Austin-based makeup artist, apparel designer, and model stylist.
Kaidon's work has always pushed beyond the edge of conventionality to explore new ideas and motifs. This is an intentional effort from her - she is always seeking re-invention, she is averse to the stagnant. Her pure motives and ideas around fashion have guided how she interacts with fashion as an art and fashion as an industry. We sat down at
Quickie Pickie to dive deeper into her present moment.
Jason: How often do you get to style?
Kaidon: I try to do as much as I can, but it’s really hard because I have a full-time job and I also work at a restaurant on the east side. I just don’t have that much free time. I used to have only Thursdays off so that’s when I would do all my errands or schedule a photoshoot. It’s been really hard to [make time to style].
J: I can imagine.
K: It’s not something I’m trying to do as a career. It’s not like I want to get signed to an agency and travel to all these places, I don’t think that’s what I want to do.
Actually, I feel that I’ve always had a really hard time knowing what I’ve wanted to do, but right now I feel more sure than I have ever been. I think I am trying to open a pop-up space: coffee, some retail, and a gallery, but more like a safe space for trans and queer women of color.
J: That’s really cool! What made you switch? Did you ever have the intention of going into styling as a full-time career?
K: I went to [The University of Texas at Austin] for fashion design and then I was going to move to New York. Sex in the City life, you know? (laughs) That did not happen at all, something always held me in Austin. I had been working in the industry with a designer and I would go to Paris Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week, and a lot of my friends are [in New York] so I would help out with modeling when I was up there, but I just didn’t really like the industry.
J: Why not?
K: I had no idea what the fashion industry was actually like. I feel like there’s a lot of exploitation. The money doesn’t actually go to the people who matter – the people who provide the content. It just goes to the people who already have the money and I just felt disgusted that I wanted to be a part of this industry for so long.
My parents always told me to go into medicine or law. They are both artists as well and they wanted something more stable for me. I always thought I was going to be going into medicine, but I switched my major second semester of freshman year. I didn’t even tell my parents! Thank God, they could understand where I was coming from.
J: Right! Because they are artists!
K: Yeah! So I felt affirmation to do fashion and move to New York, but when I visited I felt so empty, like “what am I actually fucking doing?” you know? A lot of my friends are trans women of color living in New York – my closest friends all moved to New York – and they are so miserable. They’ve lost their sense of identity within the industry because there is so much exploitation. They take everything. Not only are you left with nothing, but worse off. There’s not an even exchange, or any fruitful aspect of living in New York and pursuing fashion. After that, I didn’t want to design anymore. It became something that I grew far from.
I started doing styling for myself, for Instagram. I got to wear clothes–instead of making clothes, which was a lot of work. The middle ground for me was to work with materials that were already produced and put them together in a way that made it my own. From there, I explored doing makeup and creative direction and even photography sometimes, even though I just shoot on my iPhone X. (laughs)
J: (laughs) It’s a pretty good camera!
K: (laughs) I was really pleasantly surprised! Now I’m doing social media - web content for the vintage store that I work at. I’m exploring everything and I feel like I’m always going to be exploring. I don’t like the idea of committing to one thing because that’s fucking scary. Might as well just buffet, try this and that. I feel like I’ve learned a lot that way. Which is why I want to give that back. Now that I’m older, I feel the importance of giving. Not that I have much to give, but being selfless and taking care of your community. Collectively, we learn so much from each other. It’s like family. That’s the only thing that is really important to me. With fashion, I thought I would make so much money and that shit was so naïve, but I’m glad that I was there to understand quickly enough that that wasn’t what I wanted to do. It felt empty and I wanted more.
J: I feel like exploration is important for you, and you are quick to move on if something is not working for you?
K: Exactly. Even with style, or how I do my makeup, I feel that I’m always going farther. If I feel stuck on something, that’s when I’m in the darkest places in my life. I always want to change and move forward. Economically, socially, it’s such a fucking crazy world right now and being able to adapt as quickly as possible is really important for our generation.
J: You mentioned that your friends in New York felt a loss of identity.
J: What are the things that you do to make sure that you are fully expressing your own identity?
K: I keep going back to the space that I want to have. Yes, I have my own entity, I have my own style, I have my own beliefs, but how I define myself is a collective effort. My identity not only comes from within, but also from my surroundings. I work at a women’s boutique and a lot of the clients aren’t very young or don’t empathize with the dynamics of sexuality or gender. I like to introduce the idea that “Hey, there are girls who look like this, and we can wear clothes too!”
Also, there are so many leeches in industry, that it becomes important to preserve your energy for the people who really matter. You really have to watch out for the people around you.
J: That’s scary!
K: It’s really scary. I notice how little patience I have developed for the people I don’t care about.
J: Were you always that way or do you feel like you’ve grown into that.
K: I’m an Aries! It’s literally been all about me. Everyone’s always like “Stop being so self-centered” I’m like “I’m not being malicious about it!” I just love me! (laughs)
K: Being selfish was a bit of a survival instinct I’ve carried over from when I first moved to America. I felt like I was being taken advantage of. Maybe it was the language barrier. But all the things I had looked different from everyone else’s so people would steal my things. Left and right, my clothes would go missing. My mom told me that in America, you cannot be generous with your resources. You need to watch out for yourself, and you need to stick up for yourself. I was born in Korea where things are more collective. The culture was more generous. I had to unlearn everything I had learned in order to assimilate to this individualistic, capitalist culture.
But as I’ve grown older, letting go of the feeling of watching over my shoulder and re-learning to cater to other people made me feel so much better. It could be selfish in a way, because I give to others to make myself feel better, but I don’t think it’s bad.
J: I read that when you were in Korea, you attended private Catholic school. When you came to the United States, did you go to public school?
K: I went to public school! For the first time, I didn’t have to wear a uniform and that was so liberating! (laughs)
J: Where were you in the US?
K: I moved to Corpus Christi. I was ten or eleven years old. The change was so drastic, but when you are young you just normalize a lot of things, without even really making it a point to normalize them. America came naturally to me, so I assimilated faster than a lot of other immigrant family members. When I think about it in retrospect, that shit was so fucked up. Why did we go from Seoul to Corpus Christi! (laughs)
J: (laughs) It’s a pretty big change!
K: (laughs) Yeah!
J: Were you living in downtown Seoul?
K: Yeah! I could never see the horizon. I took buses and subways to school. It was so weird… I remember landing in Corpus Christi, the first time we were landing in America. I saw all the refinery lights and I thought “Oh my gosh, it’s a really cool city! Awesome!”
K: Cool! I wake up the next morning near sunrise and I go outside and there is just nothing. Just land. It was the most freaky thing I’ve ever witnessed. I was like “Why can I see the horizon?” It was funny.
J: When’s the last time that you designed a piece of clothing?
K: I designed one for a music video shoot for Thievery Corporation. That was like two months ago.
J: So you keep up with design, even though you have no ambition to do it professionally?
K: Yeah, but that comes from the lack of resources in Austin to keep up with clothing. You can’t just go to a store and say “I want the latest Off-White!” It’s very scarce. One way around that is to put all your energy into it and make something that you want. There’s something really organic and elemental about using whatever you have. That’s the whole underground scene of fashion. Everything is so limited. That’s the beauty of the work.
J: That’s very beautiful.
K: I’m inspired constantly.
J: What is your definition of fashion then?
K: Fashion is always a story. I’m always trying to tell a story, whether it’s one I made up in my head, or me incorporating my own life. I don’t think it’s about how much money you have. It’s something that you learn throughout your life. It’s taking all the knowledge you have and putting it into an expression. I can appreciate, you know, Alexander McQueen, a lot of bigger houses that are making pretty clothes, but the things that make me feel anything are the designers who just know how make it work. A lot of minimalist Japanese designers, Rick Owens, a lot of Belgian designers - people who produce work to share their point of view.
It’s hard to sustain yourself doing that, but that can be where the beauty is. If you’re not suffering, then what the fuck is life? (laughs) I wish I could be like “Oh, I love everything in life”, but I do think that the most beautiful moments often come from suffering.
J: If you could do this all over again, would you change anything?
K: I don’t think I would do fashion! (laughs)
J: What do you think you would do?
K: Honestly, I think I would go into business or marketing. Maybe digital media or journalism? I don’t think I would do fashion. I don’t think I would try to go to design school either, or an art institute. It would open up more opportunities for me to do what I love.
J: What do you think the fully realized Kaidon Ho looks like?
K: Shit. (laughs)
K: I don’t know if I will ever feel fully realized. I don’t think I’ll ever get to a point where I’ll reach some nirvana, or I’ll be able to say “I am this person”, you know? I don’t ever want to put a definition on what or who I’m going to be. I always want to be re-inventing myself, that’s a lifelong project for me.
Kaidon Ho is a stylist, apparel designer, and make-up artist. Follow her on Instagram, @fomo.sexual. Jason Ikpatt is really proud of himself for biking up that one big hill. Follow him on Instagram, @jas.ikp. Photography by Eileen Wu. Follow her on Instagram, @theoctopi.