The Creative Nature: A Conversation With Justin Ryan Kim


The Creative Nature: A Conversation With Justin Ryan Kim

Interview & Photos by Zayyar Win Thein


It's really amazing how small the world really is. I've been following the work of Justin Ryan Kim for a few years now from and was blessed enough to meet him on a recent trip to Las Vegas and New York City via Instagram DM. The 25 year old can really be described as a "Jack of All Trades" with mediums such as art direction, photography, graphic design and poetry all under his arsenal. His freelance work is second to none with global brands such as Helmut Lang, Highsnobiety, Aimé Leon Dore and Under Armour co-signing his talent and expertise. 

From our time spent together in New York City eating Korean BBQ and browsing the shelves of Dover Street Market what intrigued me the most about Justin is his approach to the creative industry and his "low-key" nature when it seems all everyone wants to do is show off. This is apparent in his personal style, equally nonchalant backed by a love of good design and well made products - preferably from Comme des Garçons. With my visit to NYC I was able to sit down Justin for a few questions and pick his brain about the creative industry there, what young creatives should be working towards and the era of brands.


Zayyar: Hey Justin, to start with what did you study in school and do you think it has impacted what you do now?

Justin: I went to school in Texas, to study art-direction/advertising. Honestly, I didn’t retain anything I’ve learned in school. Prior to going into university, I always wanted to do something creative with my life, I always loved writing music, taking photos, cooking, etc. So when I saw that there was a major for Art Directing, I had no idea what it was but figured that it looked simple enough. I’ve always been a very “do it yourself” kinda guy, so my mode of learning has always been hands-on and really absorbing information first-hand. Although I guess I can’t say that I regret going, if I hadn’t gone to school its likely that I would have taken much longer to figure all that out. At the end of the day, I guess it’s just about having high hopes and having a “fuck-it” mentally and just go for whatever it is you want at full force.


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Zayyar: You've worked with some a-list brands and companies such as Hypebeast, Helmut Lang and Aimé Leon Dore to name a few. What put you on their radar in order to hire you and how did you form those relationships?

Justin: Honestly, I have no idea how it all happened. I’ve never been the best with people; networking has always been a challenge, as I generally take relationships a little too seriously. It’s been hard you know? I don’t feel like it was a formal thing. Living in a city like New York, you kind of just meet people, its a small community, which has its pros and cons. Being a young creative, generally, you fuck up. A LOT. So it’s definitely a humble experience.

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Living in New York City has definitely taught me how to be a human being. I try my best to stray away from labels or ideals, I try my best to do me the best I can. Obviously a huge part of working is growth, and I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve fucked up. I guess what put me on brand’s radar is just doing me. Never stop moving forward, you know? If you have an idea, just do it, don’t worry about killing it or about what other people might think. Everyone fucks up, which is one of the biggest things keeping creatives from sharing their work. But with so many free open-source platforms out there, no one has an excuse anymore to be sitting on work or dope ideas and concepts. Just don’t be an asshole about it and own your mistakes. If you do that and try your best to be yourself, people will fuck with you. At least that’s how I did it, I mean, I’m still doing it haha. Fucking up everyday, but that’s what it means to grow, right?

Think about your life, where you want to be, write it down and then throw it away.
— Justin Ryan Kim

Zayyar: Yes growth is important! How would you describe the creative industry in NYC? Is it competitive to stand out or is everyone more involved with the community aspect?

Justin: It’s competitive for sure, but there’s definitely space for everyone as long as you’re not completely incapable. There are dickheads out there that are only out there for themselves and there are shitheads that will make your life miserable, that’s everywhere in this world. Try not to think about them too much. They’re doing their thing the best way they know. Most people are quick to judge and jump to conclusions, real quick too. But don’t let them or their words get to your head. You can do it. If you have to put a sticky in your fit mirror, do it. Flames, fire-fit, you look good, etc. whatever you have to do to keep your sanity, do it. It’s a man eat man world out there, no matter where you are.

People in NYC may operate differently, as the culture is obviously different, but at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to live. So don’t put a front. Don’t be a fuccboi or a Hypebeast or a whatever-other-label people might call you, its only perception. Make some friends that can become your fam equivalent and grow with them. Walk with them, that’s what life is all about. You were put on this planet to do something right? So go do it, with the people you love, with people who can and will always lift you up. And make sure you find someone that will really kick your ass when you do something wrong, make sure that the people around you keep you accountable, with love though, no one has time for hate, its fucked that there’s so much of it, especially in the creative circles. But fuck em haha.


Zayyar: On the subject of creativity what do you think the next generation should be thinking about? Schooling seems to be important but not necessary so what are some things kids could be working on now?

Justin: Think about your life, where you want to be, write it down and then throw it away. Goals are important of course, but when you’re young fuck it all. It’s about absorbing as much as you can and saying yes to everything. If you need school to put you in your place, do it. If you don’t even better, use that time and money and those resources to hone your craft. But if you don’t have a plan, don’t front like you do. School is a good time to fuck up, make mistakes, get your heart broken, discover all the crazy shit in life and of course learn. Honestly, those are all things you can learn on your own. But it’s definitely not for everyone. Nothing is for everyone, so just chase after what you love and make sure whatever it is you strive to become the best at it. Don’t talk about it too much, trust me, if you’re killing it, it’ll show. No one likes a talker.

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On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re a kid pursuing a medical career, please go to school. If you want to be a lawyer, please go to school. But if you’re trying to do something that doesn’t require an education, you might want to reassess what people tell you is the right thing to do and go with what your insides are saying and feeling. You have your life to go to school and be what the world calls an “adult.” Going with the safe option might be for your friend Jason, or Josie or Michael or Jennifer. But it doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Don’t sip on the Kool-Aid just because everyone else is, unless you really fuck with it, why be like everyone else. Do whatever you can to be yourself, whatever that means haha.


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Zayyar: Lets say a kid's dream is to work for some of the businesses you have been affiliated with, what's something that in the era of "brands" they should know?

Justin: Know everything, absorb everything and be receptive to what you don’t know and be ready to get called out for what you know wrong. If you really love something, you should be strive to be an expert, no one likes a know it all, but on the other side of the spectrum, no one likes surface level people either. It’s all about the humble-flex. Just show up, do your thing, don’t make too much noise. And try your best not to name drop, I did that way too much in the past and its gotten me nowhere. People are always watching, so you don’t have to remind them of what they already know. Whatever you’re trying to do, whether its fashion, creative or being a porn star. Do your research, learn your history and build your stance. People will respect you for it. It’s all about context. Yeah, of course, something can be dope, but why is it dope? Why do you fuck with it? What is it worth to you? There are people who commit their blood sweat and tears for that thing you just called “dope” so check yourself and keep in mind that people take their passions uber serious. 


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Zayyar: Now you're a very "low-key" guy, why is that we're in the age of social media and information everyone is trying to out flex each other?

Justin: I can’t say I’m a low-key dude, I’d definitely like to think it haha. Honestly I talk way too much shit to be given the “low-key” label haha. But social media is a total crutch, it turns your insides out and it really fucks you up. The internet is a tool, not your life. It’s a gateway drug to self-absorbance and it’s self-prescribable, which is dangerous. I always have moments where I forget to look up and totally miss out on life. So, I keep away as much as I can from it because as a creative, I absorb my surroundings, I see what I see and once something's seen it can’t really be unseen, it can’t be undone.

So getting back on topic, sorry for the tangent. Social media sucks, just as much as it doesn’t, I think everyone should take a break from it when they can to see life the way that people have before the first social, swipe left/right, double tap, platforms came to be. I try my best to find a balance, to be in the world but not of it. People will see you whether they like it or not, but why blast your whole life to the world? And why take the odds of coming off as a total asshole? I always ask myself why people blast their lives so high on social, like why? Keep your personal life to yourself or stay on private. Although, I can’t say I don’t appreciate it lol. I’ve spent way too many hours on social peeping on all the Instagram thots, babes, honeys, puppies, memes, influencers, it’s honestly a black hole. All in all, it just makes your head bigger and no one wants that. Let people be and let them live their lives the way they want to. If being low-key is the goal, don’t say it just show it, and if you’re lucky you’ll fall off the face of social media and you’ll finally be able to achieve cultural nirvana, lol. 

Zayyar: Insightful and in-depth haha. So now to top if off - five best places in NYC to eat?

- That one Cubana truck off the Myrtle/Wyckoff stop on the L by KFC
- Prince Street Pizza
- Pancakes at five leaves wait Clinton street baking company too
- Tacos El Numero Uno
- Bangia

There are so many more, fuck. 5 is definitely not enough. Change it to 10 to the next person you ask and if they can’t do it, bless them with this (it’s a work in progress, so don’t judge.)

Make sure to check out Justin's portfolio and his Instagram too.

Interview & Photos: Zayyar Win Thein



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