Eshan Kali is an outdoor lifestyle photographer and a writer for “We Are Outlanders”, a men’s fashion styling brand and group of creatives with a passion for amalgamating Eastern and Western cultures. Their styling brand has an ethos of exploring by experiencing and aims to push boundaries through creative storytelling and reaching diverse audiences. We caught up with Eshan in Greenwich to discuss Asian representation in fashion and what it’s like to be a British-Nepali person working within the creative industries.
OON: Hi Eshan, could you please talk us through your journey and struggle to get into the creative industry?After graduating with a degree in sportswear design, all of my friends got internships with brands like Marc Jacobs and Julien Macdonald, but I didn’t want to intern for a company where I was working for 16 hours with hardly any pay. It just didn’t sit right with me. I used to always go to Dover Street to seek inspiration for my work and it was around the time I graduated that I received an email from DSML (Dover Street Market) inviting me to their store to celebrate their 10 year anniversary. When I was there, I got chatting with a guy who was head of PR for Y-3 and we exchanged contact details. Y-3 is a big inspiration for me because they are an Eastern company that has made it in Western society. I ended up going to London Fashion Week with them and on their digital platform, the looks that I created for the occasion went viral. As a result of this, I got to meet lots of like-minded creatives in fashion and this is when I met my friend John, who is now the founder of We Are Outlanders. From there, we got to thinking about how we could incorporate Asian culture within this setting to make our mark on the fashion industry. In terms of the struggles we faced, we set up the company before social media really took off, which meant we were mostly relying on agencies for exposure. In the beginning, we had to really push to get the business off the ground. We worked for a year without pay because we really wanted to focus on getting the brand out there and building relationships with industry professionals.
Can you tell us more about how “We Are Outlanders” came about?
Initially, when we started Outlanders, there were 7 or 8 of us involved from Asian backgrounds, and all working in very different industries. Not everyone could commit to the number of hours we wanted to put into the business and eventually we were down to three of us. Galih Richardson is a Scottish/Indonesian musician, writer and digital creator and John Jarrett is a Vietnamese/Malaysian/Chinese fashion editor. We thought about how we could bring our Asian influence into British society. We decided on hats because it’s a big part of East Asian fashion - go to any event where there are East Asians and I guarantee you will see people wearing hats.
Have you faced any difficulties in your line of work as a result of your cultural background?
Coming from a Nepali background, it can be difficult to pursue work in the creative industries. The number one thing Asian parents care about is if you can make money from what you’re doing and not everyone understands how this can be a stable career. It can be hard to maintain your passion in this field when you constantly have to ask yourself, would my parents approve?
Does your background have an influence on your work?
Definitely, my background is the reason why I do this work. It also greatly influences which brands I work with. The main idea behind Outlanders is about bringing our identity to the project, which is why our styling has a lot of Eastern influence. Take, for example, the wide-leg jeans we sell which are heavily influenced by Japanese workwear styles.
Your recent editorial project “Son of Gurkha” was truly inspirational and speaks to a lot of British Nepali living in the UK. What was your inspiration behind the project?
As sons and daughters of Gurkhas, we often don’t feel connected to our parents - our dads especially. Growing up, my dad was always overseas for work so I only saw him every few years and this inevitably had a large impact on our relationship. When I was doing some research about the Gurkha Welfare Trust, I listened to a podcast hosted by Tikendra Dal Dewan and I just knew I had to meet him. Tikendra fights for three things: the right to equality, the right to have a pension and the right to a settlement. When we spoke, he informed me about the Gurkha Justice Campaign and how Joanna Lumley has wrongly taken much of the credit for this campaign. When the government was in talks, there was no Gurkha representation and despite their promises, we are still not entitled to an equal pension. It demonstrates how little they care about our lives as British citizens. Gurkhas have been fighting alongside the British army for more than 200 years, but we are only getting paid a third of a British army pension. It was this which inspired my photographic documentary and magazine work.
Do you ever struggle with your identity as a British Nepali? Tell us about your experience of growing up in two different cultures.
Growing up in Nepal, I was always one of those mischievous kids but I was still very much aware of how my parents expected me to behave. After coming to the UK, I felt much more independent and free to make my own course in life. Having the experience of living here has also taught me that there are more ways to interact with different cultures and communities. The multi-ethnic factor in London has definitely helped me to become the person I am today.
As a British Asian, what’s your stance on race relations in the West?
I think, first of all, we are lucky that we aren’t facing the kind of violence that other people are around the world. It makes me sad that not every minority community has rallied to support the Black Lives Matter protests and I believe there should be more support for this from people of colour. We are all gifted by the colour of our skin and we would want the same kind of support if our community was going through the same thing, so we have a duty to stand with the Black community. Sometimes people support the movement but they don’t say anything because they don’t think it’s their place to speak up. What we need to be doing now is have these uncomfortable conversations and bring the discussion home so that we can tackle the anti-Blackness in our community head-on. Black lives definitely matter and only when Black lives matter will all lives matter.
A few year’s back you took part in a campaign with Pharrell for the BBC. How was it working with one of your idols?
It was definitely one of the best moments of my life. Obviously, I’m a big fan of Pharrell but I had to be professional because we were working on a job together. I also found it to be a very humbling experience. When you get to meet artists like Pharrell, you begin to realise that they are just creatives like myself and are still hustling to get to where they want to be.
Clearly, you have a fondness for hats. How did you find your niche?
Hats fit everyone differently and there are so many varieties to choose from. It can become very expensive when you’re trying out lots of different hats and aren’t sure what you’re looking for. With Outlanders, we wanted to make it easier for the consumer to find a hat instore that suits them, whilst making them feel assured by our commitment to quality and finish. Personally, the base of any outfit I wear starts with either a pair of shoes or a hat, and then I go from there. To some people, it may seem like a niche, but to me it’s a fundamental item of clothing that can transform any outfit.
Has this always been your goal or did you take this path by chance?
I had a tutor at school who encouraged me to do B-Tec Art and Design and it was this that made me realise I was a creative person. Streetwear and culture really came into play in my art and design classes. At this point, my focus was mainly womenswear and at university I was actually accepted to do a women’s fashion course. I got into menswear when I did a project about the colour blue and I decided to dedicate that project to Michael Jackson, who had died that year. From there, I sought a lot of my influence from menswear, for example, through basketball kits, Gurkha military uniforms and even punk and hip hop cultural references. After that, I never really looked back.
How do you motivate yourself as someone who is self-employed?
I think when you do it for more than 5 years, it’s not even about motivation, it just becomes a habit. Once you’ve accumulated resources and reliable clients, the work becomes regular and you don’t have to worry about there not being any new jobs. If you already have the work coming in, it just becomes like any other job. The major difference is that when you’re self-employed you have to be more forward-thinking. If there is an event coming up that you want to make money from, you have to plan ahead and submit your creative proposal to an agency or to a brand ahead of time. You have to be mindful of your budget and make sure you stay on top of expenses, which might not be something you have to consider when working for a company that isn’t your own.
How do you overcome setbacks?
When it comes to creating something new, I get a lot of inspiration from visiting art galleries and that helps when I’m in a creative slump. I also read a lot of blogs and articles - every day I’m on the HypeBeast website so I can keep up to date with current trends and there’s an app called Medium with really interesting articles that make me more inspired to write.
There were times where there was no work, but what could I do? In the meantime, I would carry out my own personal projects and look for people to work with. In doing that, I grew to become more business-minded and learnt how I could capitalise off a certain event or opportunity. There are no courses that can tell you how to do this, you have to hustle and face constant failure before you can achieve the lifestyle you want for yourself.
Out of all the projects you have worked on, which has been your favourite?
I really admire the design and ethics of the headphone brand, Bang & Olufsen, so I felt very privileged when they approached me to work with them on one of their recent projects. But, of course, working with the BBC was a memorable experience. I remember they came to pick me up from Soho in a Lamborghini and a Range Rover and they drove us all the way to Gloucester to stay in a lodge with our own private chefs. Now that was something else.
Who inspires you?
In terms of styling, I’m inspired by Johnny Depp. The guy dresses so effortlessly and has such an authentic style. No one else can pull off wearing chains and a suit on a red carpet like he does. The inspiration for my hats comes from him and also from Run-D.M.C whom I’ve always been a big fan of. Apart from that, I have a few creative friends who have motivated me in my work. For example, my cousin, Gaurab Thakali, is a successful illustrator and skateboarder who has been a big inspiration for my creative work.
What’s next for Eshan Kali?
We’ve just finished creating a campaign for Dr Martens but because of lockdown, we’ve not been wanting to go out and shoot. Coming out of lockdown we will be looking for new opportunities and brand partnerships.