Thian Pillay

Meet the man featured in our new campaign

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photographs: Paul Ward 

As Brand Director for Losers Footwear Tokyo, and co-founder of Non Conformist UK, Thian Pillay spends a lot of his time travelling.

“Starting the second week of January, I head to Pitti Uomo, Milan Fashion Week, Paris Fashion Week, Berlin, then home for a couple of days before heading out to NYC and London for our showroom sales campaigns. Then I start out the trade show season with a trip to LA and Las Vegas around the end of February. March is a little calmer, as we have our Tokyo showroom sales campaign, and April sees new collection developments and I travel to Turkey and China to visit factories, source fabrics etc. Early May is family holiday time, somewhere hot and sunny, with the latter part of the month involving a collection release at one of our retailers globally. June sees the whole cycle start again from Pitti through to Vegas and I try to make it to South Africa in December.”

Hailing from Mobeni Heights in Durban, Thian’s earliest fashion memories are rocking all-white leather Reebok Classics with denim he’d customised by fraying the edges and cutting the knees. Born into a creative family, he was introduced to design and fashion at an early age. 

“My grandfather owned a printing press in Durban CBD during the late 70s through to the mid 90s. It was here that I had my first encounter with design, experiencing the process of conceptualisation through to development… My mother used to frequently bring me back the coolest stuff from her travels and during her visits to Design Indaba… And I remember in my high school days I would head down to Grey Street to buy fabric and then take that over to the tailor to get pants, shirts and jackets made. Knowing that no-one else would have the same piece gave me a great sense of pride.”

It was when a teenaged Thian's two months visiting his sister in Japan that proved pivotal to his future, and after finishing up at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and completing an associate degree in Economics at the University of London, Thian moved to Hiroshima where he worked on the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme. From here he pursued work as a freelance photographer and style reporter in Tokyo, a city he’s called home ever since, and everything started to fall into place.

So far, so winning for a guy heading up a brand called Losers – which is ironically one of the most recognised up-and-coming sneaker brands in the world. From the provocative name to having the logo on the toe, it’s all part of Motoki ‘Sneakerwolf’ Takenaka’s strategy – the initial idea having been to create something with a sense of iki, the concept of beauty and perseverance unique to Japan. Aiming to merge old and new Japan to present a contemporary product, which is heavily inspired by Edo period Japan (that's 1603 - 1868), Thian’s in the privileged position of working closely with Sneakerwolf.

“For someone who has worked on collaborative efforts with Nike, New Balance, Asics, Le Coq Sportif, Mita Sneakers, Whiz Limited, Kicks Lab and so on, whose art adorns all of the Supreme store windows in Japan during the festive season, he remains completely humble and approachable,” says Thian of Takenaka. 

Despite the jetset lifestyle and being something of a streetwear icon, like his mentor Thian remains a pretty grounded dude, doing regular things like walking the dog, dropping his daughter at school and making time for the game he’s been playing since he was three-years-old.

“My work schedule is extremely demanding, so to take a little time each day to enjoy these simple things keeps me motivated and happy. Having played football at a high level growing up, I’m always down for a kick about if my schedule allows. Actually I will play at the NYC Adidas Fanatic tournament this coming weekend.”

According to Thian a trend to watch out for is the blending of vintage football brands with high fashion, and having grown up with brands such as Umbro, Fila, Kappa and Admiral, he believes that these heritage sportswear brands will be making waves in 2016 and especially in coming collections for 2017.

“I’ve always been a fan of the terrace look and to see this transition into high-end fashion is extremely exciting for me. Gosha x Kappa, Off-White x Umbro, Maharishi x Hi-Tec… 70s and 80s football is set to make a huge impact in 2017.”

And not content to merely be an early adopter of trends as they drop, Thian recently started his own menswear brand Non Comformist UK, and is now setting the trends, too.

“Non Comformist is a contemporary streetwear brand that takes inspiration from historical social movements and uprisings, using graphic prints, badging and fine embroidery techniques as the backbone of the brand’s offering.”

Already collaborating with Simon and Mary on some hats for the Non Comformist SS16 range, which went into 35 retailers globally, next up is a Losers x Sol-Sol collaboration that’s sure to be worth the wait.

“The capsule collection consists of twelve pieces in total including some footwear and headwear. It was meant to release this AW16 however we have pushed it back to SS17 as one of the collaborations to celebrate the Losers 5th anniversary, with plans for a Tokyo pop-up flagship store. More details will be announced in October.”

Thian leaves us with his winter layering tip: “Don’t be afraid to go Bandito, pairing items that wouldn’t conventionally go together,” and says that while the Superbalist collaboration happened rather spontaneously, with his old buddy Paul convincing him to be photographed around Shibuya for our new campaign, it must be stated that he was coaxed into doing that Japanese peace sign.